Joanna Fortune: My child still gets upset at school drop-off time … – Irish Examiner

My four-year-old son started school recently and gets very upset when I drop him off in the morning. It’s heartbreaking to hear him cry and ask me not to leave. His teacher says he’ll get used to the new routine and that walking away is best. He has always been a sensitive child and also found it difficult at the start of playschool. What can I do?

The start of school is a big adjustment for children and their parents. The advice to walk away from a crying child who is begging you to stay is counter-intuitive and can be very distressing for a parent. 

That said, schools support children to adjust to their environment every year and they have a system they know will work for them and (many) children. Trust your school and try to work collaboratively with the teacher during this adjustment period.

It is still early in the back-to-school calendar so his reaction is not unusual.  

Say to your son: ‘I know it is hard to say goodbye to me at school. I also know that when you get into the class with your friends you will have fun and enjoy it. Let’s come up with a way that makes saying goodbye easier for you’.

Here are a few strategies you and your child can try: 

  • You each draw red hearts onto your wrists and touch them together when you get to the school gate to charge them up with love. When he misses you, he can touch the heart, and you will feel it in yours and send him love.
  • Develop a special four-part handshake that you can do at the point of separation and again at the point of reunification. You add a part (maybe a standard handshake) then he adds a part (he might add a high-five) then you add a part (perhaps a fist-bump) and he adds a final part (something like touching the backs of your hands) and repeat this so that you both know it well and can do it each day. Whatever moves you choose are fine. 
  • If you drive to school have a song you play in the car each day. It should be the same song and one that you can both sing along to. If walking to school decide on a song you can sing together. The song will act as a cue for the start of school rather than the separation occurring to him at the classroom door. 
  • Play fun games on the way to school. Things like, I spy, I Went on a Picnic and I Brought… or Jelly and Ice cream — every time you say jelly, he responds ice cream but must use the same voice you do and you can have fun with different tones/pitches.  
  • Try to ensure you get a walk and a coffee on your way home or meet a friend for a walk or chat to support you during this separation phase.

If you have a question for child psychotherapist Dr Jonna Fortune, please send it to 

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