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My 36 month old boy will happily walk or ride on my bike to the creche (daycare), will lead me right up to the door of his room, as if he is looking forward to the day's activities. Then just as we open the door of his playroom, and he sees the other kids inside, he will have a meltdown. He want to go home, needs to be picked up, tries to leave, cries & screams etc. This happens almost every time, for at least the past year.

He will usually calm down after a few minutes if distracted by the daycare attendants with toys etc.

I know he has a good time there and like some of the other kids. If we visit during the day, he seems perfectly happy and engaged with other boys.

He is only in daycare on Tuesdays and Thursdays (from 9am-6pm).

His other peers seem to handle the 'drop-off' much more maturely.

What can we do?

Edit:

In light of some of the answers, I'll add a bit more information. We usually try and not make a big deal of the separation, just give him a hug, tell him we'll be back later and slip out when he's distracted. Never cajoling/pleading or bribing.

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You have probably talked to the daycare staff about this - what do they say? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 27 '12 at 11:45
    
the daycare staff just shrug it off and say he'll get over it eventually –  Ken Jul 9 '12 at 20:12
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4 Answers 4

As a child care provider I found this to be quite common in both the two's classroom and the threes classroom so the information that it "usually ends around two" is not accurate in the reality of my experience.

What I would suggest is two fold:
Your child does need reassurances from you in your words and behavior. Are you having a hard time with the separation too? Your child can pick up on this if you are. He or she does need reassurances from you in your words and behavior. This may sound harsh, but the upset - fit throwing kids that maintained this behavior for longer periods tended to be kids whose parents did one of two things: slip away, or respond pleadingly or with bribes (who often seemed really upset themselves).

Resist the temptation to "slip away". I don't know your situation, but if you've "snuck out" or slipped away while the child was distracted, it made it easier for you and momentarily easier for the child care provider, but not for your child. It is a form of dishonesty and does not reassure your child of trusting in your return even when you do return day after day, after day, after day.

Avoiding pleading and begging for your child to calm down. This is attention that is negative but it is delaying your leaving. Therefore it is working for your child.

Instead, develop a "leaving routine". Put stuff in the cubby, snuggle your child for a couple of minutes while you go over the schedule (never rush this, but don't let it take longer than 5-10 minutes either). What is going on at the daycare that he/she can be excited about today? What is for lunch? and finally, when will you return so he or she has an activity "marker" for when to expect you. Something like, "You'll _ (fill in the blank with something super fun for your kid), have lunch, take your nap and then after you've played a little more I'll be here and I'm looking forward to seeing you then and hearing about your day". With Alice we then finished up with a "nuzzle" (resting our foreheads together), a "monster kiss" (rubbing of noses), a hug and then a regular kiss. Peal them off you, pass them over to their teacher/childcare provider, blow a kiss and walk away with a happy confident demeanor. A good care provider will then distract your child with something fun and after a few weeks your child will begin to trust in the routine.

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I like the idea of a leaving routine, we'll definitely try that. Thanks. –  Ken Jun 27 '12 at 17:44
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My oldest son (now 4) had a hard time because he was overwhelmed by the noise and sight of so many children. Part of our "leaving routine" was to stop at the door before we went in and get prepared. I would get down on his level and say "There's a lot of children in there." He'd reply "It's a wild rumpus." Then I'd say, "Ready?" and he'd take a deep breath and reply "Ready!" (or say "not yet I need a hug first" or something) and then we'd go in. It really helped. –  KitFox Jun 29 '12 at 13:11
    
That is brilliant advice! I never liked the "sneak out" that my son's first day care provider would encourage. I tended to ignore her but always felt strange doing so. I had to balance what I felt was right with what a professional was telling me. Your line about temporarily making things easier for the parent and the provider was particularly poignant. –  Thomas Paine Jul 5 '12 at 22:58
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First, I'd establish a routine when leaving the day care/preschool. We have a routine called 'going to the window'-- the preschool/day care has a window overlooking the parking lot. Whenever the boy is feeling like he's being left behind, his teacher takes him by the hand and leads him to the window. Once there, he and I both wave to each other. Sure he's a bit sad, but then he gets over it. He knows that 'going to the window' means I'm leaving.

Second, going twice a week on non-consecutive days can be really messing with his head. That's not a particularly regular schedule; he just had a day with mommy/daddy, why is this day different from the one before? He may not even know the days of the week yet, what a weekend is, or any of these other scheduling details that we as adults take for granted. I understand that there can be many considerations about why you couldn't make this a five-day-a-week event, but doing so would really stress the regularity of being dropped off.

Also, maybe hardening your heart a bit will help as well. No explanations, no cajoling, no discussion-- just say that you're dropping him off, and the drama has no effect on the outcome. There's a feedback loop at play here, where he knows he will get some dramatic attention if he has a meltdown. Don't give him the attention, and then he'll get over it. Having a leaving routine can help channel his energies into the routine rather than the meltdown, but the redirection will be helped quite a bit by knowing that the dramatic alternative is no longer available.

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we don't do cajoling/pleading etc, so it is something else. –  Ken Jun 27 '12 at 17:51
    
Are you confident that he's not getting bullied or treated badly? That's another potential cause for separation anxiety-- of course, the teachers aren't going to say that anything bad's going on, but you can ask him why he has such problems. He's old enough to say if someone hit him or scratched him or the like. –  mmr Jun 27 '12 at 18:24
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Similar to those mentioned earlier, we too have a routine to leave. For us it's the "push out" where he gets to push the parent out of the room. It lets him feel like he's in charge. We used to "wave at the window" but he's too cool for that now, only the two year olds do that (so he tells me). There's a triangle shape on the floor outside of the room, sometimes we "bowl" the parent out knocking down the imaginary pins. I firmly believe that coming up with a routine is the way to go. Our's currently is

  • Give me a 5
  • Give me a hug
  • Give me a kiss
  • Shake my hand like a gentleman
  • Push me out of the room

Do not deviate from the exciting ritual by stopping to hug or say, "it will be okay" because they will learn to behave that way to get more attention and that will be the ritual / routine (as it sounds like it is now).

And reassure him that you'll return. And when you return, remind him, "See, I told you that I was coming back to get you. I missed you."

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This is remarkably common. One of ours had the same problem - seems like a form of separation anxiety - where she would get really upset as she realised we would leave her there.

Working with the daycare assistants, we would try and make sure she was distracted while we slipped out. It was seeing us leaving that was the problem. Once we were gone she was always fine, and when we came back for her we would let her know then that we would always come back and point out that the same thing would happen the next day at nursery. After doing this for a few weeks the problem went away.

From the linked website:

From 8 - 14 months, children often become frightened when they meet new people or visit new places. They recognize their parents as familiar and safe. When separated from their parents, particularly when away from home, they feel threatened and unsafe.

Separation anxiety is a normal developmental stage. It helped keep our ancestors alive and helps children learn how to master their environment.

It usually ends when the child is around 2 years old. At this age, toddlers begin to understand that parents may be out of sight now, but will return later. There is also a normal desire to test their independence.

To get over separation anxiety, children must:

  • Feel safe in their home environment
  • Trust people other than their parents
  • Trust that their parents will return

Even after children have successfully mastered this developmental stage, separation anxiety may return during periods of stress.

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