8 daycare drop-off tips for clingy little ones

crying upset boy being held by parent

This morning at daycare drop-off my toddler was doing his usual koala cling to my leg, making it almost impossible for me to walk. As I shuffled us to the sign in desk and shoved his little backpack in the designated basket, I could feel his separation anxiety rising.

Then, when I hoiked him up on my hip to say goodbye, his little face dropped and the tears and wailing erupted out of him. Sigh. Drop off can really suck some days.

Then, his gorgeous teacher, Ellie, did something rather cool.

She spoke to him gently and held up a little bottle of lavender oil for him to sniff. In a matter of seconds his distress was replaced with intrigue. Next, he wriggled down off me and toddled over with her to investigate some other smelly things she’d brought in.

Now, I don’t know if it was the calming effect of the lavender, the distraction it provided or the bond Ellie has been carefully finessing with my little Sam that did trick, probably all three. Whatever it was, I was able to kiss him goodbye and walk happily out the door knowing my boy was settled and happy. 

So it got me thinking, what other tricks can we learn that might help our clingy little ones with saying goodbye to us at daycare? Here are a few I found.

1. Foster your little one’s connection to his carers

The relationship your child has with his teachers is so important. If he feels comfortable, safe and loved by them, he will be more able to settle. This is something that will grow over time but you can help to foster it in lots of ways.

Talk to him about his teachers when at home and on the drive to daycare. If he’s talking, help him to say and learn their names. Show him that you like them by always greeting them and talking to them warmly – even babies pick up on your emotional tone and get a sense of reassurance from this. 

Encourage him to bring something from home to show his teacher or even pick a flower from the garden for them. Assure him that you also trust them by handing him to his carer after you say goodbye and then going so they can help your child to settle in their own way – this will build trust and a healthy dependence.  

preschool kids teacher

2. Have a drop-off ritual

Just like a bedtime routine helps your little one anticipate that it’s time for sleep, a daycare drop-off ritual will be comforting and reassuring to him.

Have an age-appropriate sequence of things you do when you get to kindy, such as put bag away, wash hands and kiss mummy goodbye so your little one is prepared for you going.

3. Don’t linger

Stick to your drop-off routine and try not to linger as this can make the goodbyes harder for your child. She also won’t want to be settled and soothed by her teacher if she has you around to cling to. 

4. Have a goodbye script

As part of the daycare routine, a goodbye script which is something you say to your child every time you leave her at kindy, will help her learn when it’s time to say goodbye to mummy and that you will come back for her.

This could be something simple like, “Time to say goodbye. Ellie (or whoever the teacher is) is going to look after you now until I come back to pick you up. Bye bye.”

5. Always say goodbye

As tempting as it may be to slip out the door when your little one is happily distracted and playing, doing this may make it harder for her when she realises you’ve gone and doesn’t have any reassurance from you that you will be coming back for hier. Always say goodbye, even to babies.

6. Bring something from home

A comfort item such as a blanket or a soft toy to snuggle when you leave will help to soothe your child. Likewise, anything that smells like home for babies, such as your t-shirt will be of comfort. A laminated family portrait she can look at during the day is also a great idea.

Bringing something from home to share with her teacher and classmates when you leave is also nice. This could be a loved book or a favourite toy. 

7. Make daycare mornings all about daycare

When your child wakes up on kindy mornings, tell her it’s a daycare day, even if she kicks up. This will help give her time to process it before being dropped there.

Read her a story about daycare, such as Maisy Goes to Preschool as this will get her excited about her day. Then talk to her over breakfast, when getting her dressed and on the drive to daycare about what fun things she might do, such as playing with playdough, singing songs and painting. Also, mention the teachers and certain friends she can expect to see today.  

Sisters at daycare

7. Learn what their favourite toys are at daycare

Chat to your child’s teacher about what toys she likes the most at kindy and ask if these can be put out when you drop her off. That way after you do the drop-off ritual and say goodbye, her teachers can do a combination of soothing and distracting her with her favourite toys as you leave. 

8. Start off gradually

If your little one is new to daycare, drop-off tears are to be expected. You can help to reduce these though by making sure you transition your child into daycare to ease her into it. Most centres recommend orientation visits anyway. Try going with her for an hour on a few days and then leaving her there for 20 minutes to play while you go get a coffee. Then you could start her off with half days and build her up to full days.

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