Tearful School Departures
Q. My child likes kindergarten but gets teary-eyed and has a difficult time separating from me when I drop him off at school. The teacher tells me that after only a couple of minutes, he's engaging happily in the activities of the day. But then my son wells up with tears again 10 minutes before class dismissal time. He tells me he worries that I won't be there to pick him up. I'm always there on time. What can I do to stop these tearful periods as he goes into and out of the classroom?
A. If your son's teary entrance into the classroom were occurring at the beginning of the year, you would be concerned about his transition into kindergarten. If he didn't like his teacher, friends or classroom activities, you'd be worried that he's not mature enough or that the curriculum isn't suited to him. But since it's late in the school year and since he gets over his tears and then enjoys the activities of the day, it's more likely that his daily tearful entrance into and departure from the classroom are nothing more than habits in which you, the teacher and he are all participating. He needs you and the teacher to help him change these sad routines. It's time to withdraw your attention focused on those teary eyes and that worried face. If you're trying to talk him out of being sad or if you're trying to convince him he'll have a happy day, you're reinforcing all those sad emotions and accompanying teary behavior. Tomorrow morning on your way to school tell him that you understand that he's sad to leave you. Then tell him that no matter what you won't be lingering at the classroom door. Explain that when you get to school, you'll walk with him to the classroom door, give him a kiss and a hug, and then he needs to walk into the classroom. He can cry and be sad, that's okay, but you will be leaving right after the kiss and the hug. Warn the teacher of your new approach. Toward the end of the day, when he gets teary again, have the teacher say, "Your mom will be picking you up. Remember, she's always here on time." If he displays sadness, so be it. The teacher need not try coaxing him into being unconcerned. He needs, at this point in the school year, to manage his concern on his own. If the teacher gives him lots of attention for his sad face, he'll express more of those sad faces day after day. When you pick him up, don't say, "See, I was here on time." Just say, "Hi! How was your day? I'm happy to see you." Don't ask him if he's been sad at school. By changing your approach, you're giving him the opportunity to become more competent to manage such transitions in the future. It's time for him to more accurately describe the emotions that reflect what he's really experiencing at school, which for the most part is probably joy.