Expert Opinion

How to handle tears at daycare drop off

We’ve all been that parent before – the parent that’s battling to detach their child off their legs at the daycare drop off. Those big, tear-filled eyes staring up, silently (or oftentimes, not so silently) screaming “don’t leave me here!” Nine times out of ten, once the parent leaves, the child calms down and is happy to be there. But as a parent – we’ll spend our day at work, plagued with guilt and a broken heart, worrying that our child is going to be permanently scarred from the trauma of daycare drop off.
Parents often want to know why their child struggles with drop-offs – whether that be at daycare, kindergarten or even later in life when they’re at school. We see littlies having trouble in these situations when they are experiencing anxiety, but there can be other reasons causing the tears.
Sometimes, children are reluctant to attend a setting where they feel they lack the confidence to manage the day without the comfortable scaffolding offered by their parents or caregivers. They might struggle with transitions throughout the day, have challenges engaging socially or have sensory difficulties that make their environment uncomfortable.
There are two ways to tackle this problem; proactively and reactively.
A proactive strategy is to anticipate the behaviour, and put a preventative plan in place before the behaviour starts. A reactive strategy refers to how we respond to the behaviour in the moment, once it has already started. Focusing on proactive strategies is generally the most effective way to tackle this situation, as it requires you to determine the cause of the problem and teach your child some skills to manage it. You’ll need to dedicate some time to thinking about it and putting systems in place, but it will be worth it in the end!
Proactive strategies for daycare drop offs may include:

  • Implementing a morning routine which increases predictability for your child and consequently removes an element of the ‘unknown’, which may be causing their anxiety. Try using a visual schedule or a list to show your child what the morning will look like (i.e., have breakfast, get dressed, drop siblings at school, go to daycare).


  • Consider your arrival time at daycare. Some children get overwhelmed arriving at ‘peak’ busy times, which can exacerbate their behaviour. This can be particularly true for children with sensory difficulties, such as aversions to loud sounds or visually stimulating environments. Try dropping your child off earlier or later to avoid this.


  • Ensure you are as organised as possible so that your morning can run smoothly. When we rush as parents, our verbal and nonverbal communication becomes very different. This is hard for children to understand, and the rushing may overwhelm them. Prepare as much as you can the night before, get up a bit earlier yourself if needed, so that your morning can run smoothly.


  • Try to establish a ritual or routine for arriving at daycare. Entering through the same gate or door, having a goodbye ritual and giving your child ‘something to do’ will make the drop off far more predictable. Giving them something to do could include a direction to follow, such as a special job for their educator, showing their carers a special item from home, or taking a toy over to a friend to play with.


  • Sometimes, the tears at drop off can become habitual, meaning there’s actually no problem – but it has subconsciously become part of your child’s routine to cry at drop off. To combat this, try breaking the habit by adding an element of change to the routine, such as a different parent doing drop off, stopping off on the way for a babycino, entering through a different door or having one of the other parents from daycare pick your child up from your house and drop them off.

Of course, you need to be prepared with reactive strategies for the period of time it takes for your child to adjust to your proactive strategies, as these changes won’t happen overnight! Try to be aware of your own emotions and ensure you’re responding to your child sensitively and by ‘taking charge’ with kindness. This means that your child needs to see that you’re confident that they’re safe and secure at daycare (so put on a brave face), while at the same time communicating kindly with them and acknowledging their feelings.
The daycare tears won’t last forever, but it is important to ensure your child has the tools they need to get through the day with confidence. Make sure you keep the lines of communication open with the carers or educators, and seek professional help if you’re concerned.
Handle daycare drop off

About the author

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD) – multidisciplinary paediatric practices in Melbourne. Working directly and indirectly with hundreds of clients each year, Amanda’s mission is for every child to achieve their best outcomes by equipping families and educators with the tools they need to help kids thrive.
Amanda draws on her own experiences of being a parent along with her extensive training and well-honed skill set to get families thriving. Having worked with families for almost two decades, as a psychologist for the past 11 years in a variety of settings, and a valued board member of the Autism Behavioural Intervention Association, Amanda loves building the confidence of the adults in the lives of children so that they can connect meaningfully, help them reach their full potential, and live a life that reflects their values.
Often appearing on Channel 7 and 9 News and regularly featuring in print media, Amanda is on a mission to make the world better for kids through her clinical work, consulting to some of the biggest global toy manufacturers and educating the digital media industry about making the internet safer for kids.
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