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Back to School Drop off Drama: Four things our kids need from us for confident classroom entry

My friend just posted a cry for help on her Facebook page. Her son loves school, but he freaks out in the mornings when she drops him off. He screams and won’t let her go. What should she do?!!

I checked out the answers the other moms gave: it will take a while, but he’ll get used to it, write a heart on his hand - one on your hand and one on his, give him a picture of you or a stuffy to hug, read this book with him, etc.

I get it. You know why? Because of my youngest. She DID NOT want me to leave when it was time for her kindergarten class to start. We had worked out a thumbs up system where I PROMISED I would not leave the room until she gave me the thumbs up. I thought, “this is honoring of her needs but still setting boundaries. This should be good!” But some days, I ended up staying almost an HOUR every day, or more, before the thumbs up came.

I know. Everything from “What a good mom” to “that’s ridiculous” could apply.

I did this for a WHOLE year. To be fair, it was a part time kindergarten class and I helped the teacher and sang songs with the kids and read stories and helped out a bit.. but the morning routine thing with my daughter?? It did not get better or easier. Aaaand I couldn’t make plans because I never knew when I’d get out of there!

When grade 1 came, the teacher put up with this for about 1 day and then said, “Heidi, it won’t work. Parents can’t stay in the classroom. You’ll have to tell your daughter that you can’t stay and even if I have to rip her off you, we need to do it. I promise that she will adjust and she will be fine after a couple of days.”

RIP HER OFF ME?? What kind of young whippersnapper teacher is this? She’s not married. She doesn’t have kids. She doesn’t know what it’s like. I was so upset. And scared of wounding my kid for life. Wouldn’t this be a betrayal?

But I had done all the negotiating and notes in the lunch and patience and being present and book readings and life gymnastics that I could think of. All that was left was to walk away while the teacher held my screaming kid.

So I did. The teacher and I talked with my daughter and told her the grade 1 rules: No parents in the classroom after drop off. My daughter and I talked and I said that I was going to walk her to the door, go inside the school and help her get her indoor shoes on, walk her to the door, hug her, and then walk away.

My kid had ZERO interest in this plan. But she didn’t have a choice - I was clear. The teacher was clear… and so... she was clear.

First day she screamed and ran and grabbed me and . . . literally had to be ripped off of me after I hugged her. Her teacher looked me in the eyes and nodded while she wrestled my wild octopus of a child, then I walked away, down the stairs, out the door, and I cried.

It took about 3 or 4 days and there were conversations and adjustments between me and the teacher and my daughter like, “when you get dropped off by your mom, where would you like to go first?” She had some thoughts. Her main concern was that after school she wanted me to be at the door (and not in the van or at the playground) so she’d see me right away. I agreed to do that.

And I learned a lot. I also went and talked to a child development therapist because I was SO CONFUSED about what had gone wrong! I had a good relationship with my daughter. She trusted me. I listened, I was consistent, we had a signal, I was respectful, and compassionate. How did that not work for my kid? How did that create anxiety and all this screaming and freaking out when it was time for me to leave?

Here’s what went wrong: I was not in charge. My daughter was. It was her wishes, her signal, her wim. She controlled my coming and going. Well, I came and . . . barely went.

So this back to school, our kids need 4 things from us: And I think they need it in a certain order. FIRST, I think, our kids NEED us to be in charge.

After that, they need us to be PREDICTABLE and CONSISTENT . . . aaaaaand then AFTER we have established that we are in charge and they can count on us to do what we say we will do over and over again, they need us to provide COMPASSIONATE COMMUNICATION.

I had the predictable, consistent and compassionate communication down, but NOT the in charge part. When I’m missing that, or when it’s out of order, EVERYTHING falls apart.

Books and signals and hearts and stuffed animals are all tools and can be part of the plan between us and our kids when it comes to the parting that causes significant sorrow… they end up just being useless gimmicks or wastes of time if we as parents aren’t in charge.

But also, if parents are JUST in charge but not consistent or predictable or compassionate communicators, that doesn’t work either!

Parenting is so hard. But our kids really need us to do it. We aren’t their buddies or their pals. We are the first authority in their lives. We are their protectors, their advocates. Their safe place. We are the standard that sets them up to enter the world.

The days of grade one have long since past and never once have I had a problem dropping my daughter off at school. BUT my kids play video games and sometimes when the timer goes off, they keep playing and it gets longer and longer and I keep saying “I’m going to turn it off” but they beg “Just this last thing I need to get!! Please… I’m almost there!!” So I just stand there and wait or get distracted with something else. I let them go and forget hold them to our agreement. That’s when I realize - I’m doing it again! I’m not in charge. I’ve set a boundary and I’m being compassionate in my communication (I’m trying but it’s getting harder as they take advantage of me) but I’m predictably and constantly not following through.

So the other day I looked my kids in the eyes before the game started and said, “When the timer goes off, I’m going to give you a warning and chance to turn it off, then I’m going to walk over and turn the game off NO MATTER WHAT - even if your progress is not saved.” They all nodded but played right through the warnings and the timer. I walked over and turned it off.

They lost their progress in the game and FREAKED OUT.

I had to do it it the next day as well.

After that, the timer went off and they signed out. Done.

I can’t believe how quickly I forget that my kids need me to be in charge and set the tone. After that, even if they scream and holler, they NEED me to be predictable and consistent. AFTER that, they need the compassionate communication. They need me to hear them. I’m totally fine with adjusting or accommodating or being flexible, but it’s by agreement AHEAD of time.

I am in charge. I will do what I said I was going to do. You can count on me. I will hear you and make adjustments if we need to because we are in this together. AND REPEAT.

You will figure out and then forget and need a refresher. We all do. Hope this helps.

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