As I write this it is one week until my youngest daughter starts Junior Kindergarten. It will be the first time we drop her off at a “big school”, rather than the preschool that she attended for the last two years. It got me thinking that a lot of parents are soon going to be dealing with school drop-offs, and trying to figure out how to deal with kids who are afraid of leaving your side.
The preschool that both my daughters attended was awesome. The women who work there have all been trained in Adlerian methods. Named after Alfred Adler, this is a values-based method of raising children. The principles align very well with my own beliefs. And it was at this preschool that we first heard the phrase “The happy snappy drop off”. Whether or not they coined the term, I’m not sure. But I love it.
What is a happy snappy drop off? It’s quite possibly the best way to deal with kids who seem to suffer from separation anxiety, or kids who are resistant to entering school without Mom or Dad next to them.
The principle is simple enough. Maintain a happy state of mind and be matter-of-fact with your child about what’s happening. They’ll be going to school and you’ll be there to pick them up when the day is done. There is no discussion, no debate, and no negotiation about it. It’s just what goes on, and the child needs to learn to understand the new routine. Don’t think of yourself as some kind of drill sergeant, but more like the sign on a store window telling you the opening and closing hours. They are just facts, and you’re the informant to your child.
Under perfect conditions, the child realizes there is no choice and simply goes. But what if they throw a tantrum and cling to you? The trick is to prepare in advance. At my daughter’s preschool they simply come up to the clingy child and carefully pry her off the parent’s leg. It’s all friendly. They carry the child into the classroom and close the door. That’s it. I’ve witnessed them comforting a child behind closed doors, but they don’t let Mom and Dad into the room to help. They want you out. It’s the fastest way for your child to adjust.
So how do you prepare in advance? You need to have a partner in crime. You need to speak to someone at your child’s school in advance to arrange for a human pry-bar. You need to take yourself out of the equation once you do your parenting job by safely getting your kids to school. Call up the school and ask them for help. I think you’ll be surprised how willing they are to help out.
But let’s back up for a moment here. Let’s chat about what you should be doing in the weeks or days leading up to the first day of school … and sorry … I should have published this last week to give you more time to prepare!
I recommend that you discuss the school drop off process with your child. Explain to him what time you’ll arrive, who else will be there, and what you’ll be doing while he is attending school. You shouldn’t drop this news on your child like a first day of school psychological bomb! Prepare them.
But don’t over-discuss the topic either. Your job is to educate your child about what will happen ahead of time, not to discuss it to the point of generating more fear. Remember this might be a bit scary for them. Think of yourself in a similar scary situation. Imagine you’re afraid to drive over narrow bridges, and someone tells you that you’ll be doing exactly that next week. If they start explaining every aspect of the bridge-crossing, it will just freak you out even more. So don’t over talk. Just explain the basics and keep it friendly.
If you sense some hesitation from your child, you might also want to take him to the school ahead of time and show him the school yard. Show him the door he’ll be entering. Ask if you can show him the classroom too. The school won’t mind.
You can also discuss what kind of comfort objects they might like to take into the class with them. Every child has a favorite stuffed toy, soft blanket or similar object. There’s nothing wrong with letting him bring it to school. Just remember to explain to your child that it’s his job to bring it home.
Remember that your job is to prepare your kids to be independent adults, not to protect them from all of life’s little discomforts.
Enjoy your children,