Parenting Thoughts: Dropping Off Your Child

This parenting thought is brought to you by our Director and 3 Day Teacher, Justine Saffir, and is in our latest newsletter. Click here to read more about what’s going on at Sunnymont-Westside!


It's so hard to say goodbye. Many parents are feeling unsure about leaving their children at school.

For some, it’s the first time a child has been left somewhere. For others, the struggle over separation is a familiar one. For still others, their previously easy separators are suddenly balking and wanting a parent to stay with them.

It’s important to understand that there are two parts of the separation process. The first part is being somewhere without your parent, and the second is saying goodbye to your parent. These are very different struggles.

If your child truly isn’t comfortable being without you, we’ll ask you to stay. Children who truly aren’t comfortable functioning without their parent aren’t ready to do so yet. They will only be stressed by having to be on their own, and won’t benefit from their school experience. That’s simple.

It’s hard to say goodbye, it can be scary, and not being able to convince you not to go is distressing and frustrating. It can be even harder on the parent. Leaving your child crying for you can break your heart, and make you doubt your decision to leave. Your child’s anger at you later for leaving when they didn’t want you to, and their anxiety over whether you’ll leave them again, can only add to your guilt and doubt.

So why bother? Because there’s a lot your child can learn from navigating that goodbye:

  • She learns that she can DO things even if they’re difficult.

  • He learns to form trusting relationships with other adults.

  • She learns that emotions are transient, that being unhappy doesn’t mean she’ll always feel that way.

  • He learns that he has the power to respond to his own distress and make himself feel better.

  • He learns to take pride and esteem in his independent experiences.

So once you and the teacher determine that your child is ready to be on his own at school, you have a choice to make. Either stay with him because you choose to do as he asks on this, and he’ll learn that you’re willing to do him favors and that you’re there for him; or leave him, and let him learn the coping, independence and resiliency skills that come from that experience.

  • If you decide you’ll stay, then stay cheerfully, without stressing your child by making him feel guilty or as if he’s displeasing you. Resist continually ask him if he’s sure you should stay.

  • If you choose to stay, but are worried your child is limiting his interactions because you’re there to be an easy partner, there are several things you can do. You may want to make yourself “boring” at school to encourage your child to explore a bit more independently. Bring a book and sit in a corner reading, or do a task for the teacher than keeps you in one place.

  • If you decide to leave, be calm, and be clear about when you’ll leave (“after group time”) and then leave quickly and decisively. Waffling, offering to stay “just 5 more minutes” if your child looks upset, or renegotiating will leave her more stressed.

Help your child choose an adult to help her while she’s sad. For some, the teacher is preferred, but other kids might have another parent who feels safe to them and who they’d like to connect with. Take your child to their chosen support person, and let them know you’re leaving.

Create a ritual for leaving. Some parents say goodbye at the gate, others hug and countdown 5 to 1 to the moment of leaving, some read a story and then leave. But a predictable ritual will help.

Don’t try to leave while your child is distracted. You’ll feel better because you don’t hear your child crying, but your child will probably be even more distressed when he discovers you’ve left, or isn’t sure where you are. She needs to know she can trust you and that you’ll do what you say, and that she doesn’t need to fear you may sneak off at any time, which will make her more anxious, instead of more relaxed.

Don’t try to convince your child that he’ll have fun, that he is fine, or that you’ll be back before he knows it. Acknowledge his sadness, and reassure him that he’ll be cared for. “Debbie will take care of you while you’re sad.”

If you’re worried after you leave, call in to check on how your child is doing. If your child needs you to come back, we’ll call you. But most likely, your child will spend some time crying, and then watching, and then enjoying their day at school, and learning that they can get through saying goodbye.

When you return, tell your child you’re happy to see him, and congratulate him: “It was hard staying at school by yourself, and you DID it!” He’ll likely be worried until the next class day. Just keep reassuring him “Debbie will take care of you if you’re ever sad at school.” Each day, he will handle it a little more easily, gaining a little more confidence, building his resilience and coping skills day by day.

Over time, it will get easier, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you’ll reach the days when your child will not want you to be seen dropping him off.