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My 4 yr old has always been going to daycare happily ever since, and I don't remember ever having problems with him during drop-off. Now during lockdown we were home together for two months! Daycare finally opened (to my relief) on June 15th and he got a new teacher. He told me that he likes her and that everything is fine at school. He comes home happily when I pick him up and he doesn't seem to be in distress, this makes me wonder why he puts up such a fuss during drop-off. Some of his close friends didn't come back to school and I think he's acclimating to his new teacher, so he's having some hard adjustments but that still doesn't explain why he's so distressed during drop-off. I tried reasoning with him, bribing him, telling him how proud I'm gonna be if he goes alone to class, but I could see in his eyes that he's petrified to go to class.

In the beginning I thought he's being bullied again (At a certain point he did have trouble at daycare, and the kids would bully him but that was a long time ago), I asked his new teacher but she said everything is fine. I asked my child (he's very expressive) and he didn't indicate any major problems at school, and as I said he comes home happily. But he seems so scared to go into class, and I almost feel bad for him, but at the same time I know it's an irrational fear that he must overcome. He even told me today at daycare that he doesn't want to go home because he's looking forward to go swimming, getting prizes, etc. but somehow when he sees that classroom something triggers his brain to scream NO! Today he was real bad, clinging onto me for dear life, shrieking at the top of his lungs bloody murder, and I left him there helplessly with a horrible feeling in my stomach.

I personally think it's got something to do with the lockdown, the past two months he's become emotionally dependent on me and he's having a hard time letting go of it. He's also getting used to his new environment, new teacher, etc. and maybe that's what causing him distress. On the other hand he's already four and a half and I feel like he should be able to handle his emotions better. Additionally, I feel like he's taking advantage of me, he knows that I have a soft spot for him. I was thinking about punishing him today when he gets home, but it just doesn't feel right to punish him for something he can't control (he really wants to make me proud, he just can't). So how could I encourage him to go to daycare happily? How could I avoid the whatever is triggering his brain to become hysteric and irrationally fearful?

  • While it's obviously not specific to COVID, I wonder if the answers here might be helpful - parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/5401/… . – Joe Jul 1 at 16:08
  • Thanks Joe, that's definitely helpful. But I would appreciate advice more specific to my situation. I feel like I could reason with my child, I just need the right kind of words to say, he's smart and old enough to understand what's going on. But then again I might be wrong on this one, maybe he just needs a big cuddle. That's why I'm asking. – Bach Jul 1 at 16:25
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I definitely wouldn't punish him - opinions on punishment in general aside, it would have no impact hours later, and would just add to the stress later on.

The key to dropoffs at any age is routine. The reason they got hard is the same: change of routine. Any routine change will cause difficulty for children - some handle it better than others, but it's always going to be an issue.

Focus on getting back into a routine at dropoff, and stick to that. Be prepared for some tears and some challenges, but understand that it will go away pretty quickly once you leave. Don't focus on the crying, don't put any attention on it beyond normal gentleness - if you show it's not a big deal for you, it will not be a big deal for him eventually. Just be patient - this was a big interruption and change for him (as for us all!) and it will take some time for him to get to where he's comfortable with dropoff again.

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  • Thanks for the thoughtful advice! However, besides for the lockdown which messed everyone's routine, there is nothing really that changed in his routing. It's same drop-off same time every day, everything really is the same. It's hard to see what I can make more routine-like than what it already is. – Bach Jul 1 at 20:21
  • Btw I made him a chart today for when he goes to daycare happily he gets to put on a sticker. He loves charts! We'll see how that goes tomorrow (not very positive that it will work). – Bach Jul 1 at 20:23
  • @Bach That's like saying, aside from the bullets, I don't see why he should be dead! The lockdown is a big deal, and it will take sime for him to get back to feeling like this routine is normal - add on the fact that he is now not sure if this will happen again (heck, I'm not sure either!) – Joe Jul 1 at 20:24
  • Charts work for some, but my belief is that they're not that effective overall; too far apart from the actual thing, and they focus the attention too much on it being different, rather than it being a normal thing needing no special attention. But - as with anything in child rearing - do what works for you! – Joe Jul 1 at 20:25
  • Gotcha, I thought you were saying I should make my day more routine like, which isn't really possible. – Bach Jul 1 at 20:26
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I agree with your analysis that the lockdown is the likely culprit. I usually read problematic drop offs as a display of affection. He enjoys being with you. If up until now he has accepted these routine separations as inevitable, the lockdown will have shown him that it's not the only way imaginable.

Publishing him for wanting to be with you should, I think, absolutely be off the table. You're saying he has become emotionally dependent on you. I'd say four year olds are emotionally dependent on their caretakers in a very literal sense, regardless of whichever coping mechanisms he has previously been able to employ. So with all respect for your needs to be able to drop him off for your life puzzle to work out, I think it would help if you were to approach this as a natural and rational reaction, however unpractical, as opposed to some emotional affliction that needs to be fixed.

I think that you need to work with his feelings rather than against them (disclaimer: I almost always think this). Validate his feelings. Tell him that you too enjoy hanging out, and that that has been the only good thing about this whole lockdown. Only then, when you've established that that need is accounted for, you can go on to talk about how you need to get to work, and how you can't look after him at that time. If you miss that first step, it's easy for a child to perceive the outcome of a situation as simply you having it your way disregarding their needs, when it might be framed as you reaching a conclusion even after having taking their needs into consideration.

At this point, he will probably come up with other suggestions for how to make your needs work, without having the negative side effect of you having to drop him off. You should entertain these ideas, to reinforce that you're taking his needs seriously. You will probably be able to come up with an honest answer to why their suggestion isn't solving your situation. Take the time to explain. If you can't, ask yourself why you're not going for the solution your child would prefer.

Only then, when you've established both that his needs are seen and valid, and that the drop offs are still inevitable, you can go on to talk about how much he usually enjoys the things he does in class. Before this point, anything positive about school will be weighed against just staying with you, which is hard to top for a child, so the positives just don't add up to tip the scale. When it's established that staying with you all day isn't an option at the other side of the scale, the positive aspects of school will stand for themselves.

This work with his emotions around drop offs can be done ahead of time. In the heat of the moment, when you're having to leave him at class, I usually recommend introducing play to lighten the mood and make the separation less scary. My goto suggestion is something like saying "ok, I'm leaving now, bye" and then instead of going out through the exit, you walk into the bathroom. "oh, sorry, wrong door. now I'm leaving", and you step into a closet. Etc.

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  • Can you elaborate on your "goto" suggestion? I'm not really understanding what that would accomplish. – Bach Jul 3 at 1:13
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    @Bach: just silly playacting around the stressful event. To introduce play and make the situation less threatening. While I certainly think 4 year old are old enough to reason with, we are all inhibited in our reasoning when during distress, so your task then is just to comfort and diffuse. It also helps him transition into a new activity by transitioning gradually, starting the new activity (of playing, eventually with his peers) before the past activity (of being with you) has come to a definite end – dxh Jul 3 at 7:55

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