My son has been in some version of school since he was three months old. From his days as a baby at daycare to his first day of kindergarten this fall, he has never batted an eye about going. Quite the contrary. He loves school and heads inside his classroom enthusiastically each day. At the opposite end of the spectrum is my two year old daughter. Ellie’s opposition to preschool is … biblical (weeping, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments). I work part-time from home, so we’ve had her in a two days/week program since she turned one. Despite a full year of this routine, she still does not share her brother’s fondness for school. However, we have cultivated a series of methods and tricks that make dropping off our stage four clinger a little bit easier.
- The first rule of going to preschool is you don’t talk about preschool. This one took me a couple of weeks to figure out. Any mention of “school” around Ellie is now verboten in our house. If I try to talk about what she might learn that day, seeing friends, seeing teachers, etc., it turns into five minutes of her screeching,”No school, no friends, no teachers, no like!” in increasing levels of intensity. So, we just don’t talk about it. On preschool days, we load up in the car with nary a word about our destination.
- Find a distraction. If I can’t mention going to school, how do I get her out of the car when we get there? Simple: I tell her that we need to go see the iguana. You see, there’s an iguana that lives in a fish tank in the same hallway as Ellie’s classroom. She loves the iguana. She spends several minutes oohing and aahing over him and trying to get him to flick out his tongue. As far as she’s concerned, Tuesdays and Thursdays are iguana-visiting days. Preschool? A distant second.
- Arrive a few minutes late. Thanks to steps 1 and 2, we usually arrive at the door to her classroom in pretty good spirits. This is where it can all go wrong, though. Maybe there’s a line to sign in on the clipboard, which gives her enough time to figure out that I’m leaving. Maybe there’s another kid screaming his head off, and that’s all the encouragement Ellie needs to chime in. Arriving five or six minutes late helps us dodge the hustle and bustle (and any last-minute derailments that might bring).
- Don’t linger at the door. I pause just long enough for a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek with an “I love you.” Then it’s time to skedaddle—making sure I sign in on the clipboard before saying goodbye. I don’t hang around outside the door peering through the window, and I don’t hold my breath and listen for the sound of her wails to start.
- Call or text later to check in. Drop off is hard, and being the strong, stoic one can take its toll. I like to relieve my guilt-ridden mind with a call or text to the teacher or director (depending on their preference) after a couple of hours. I make sure she’s settled in and isn’t still pining for me. Note: they almost always settle in.
After a few weeks, we now skip a step or two. We don’t have to get there late anymore, and I don’t text her teachers to check in. But I still don’t mention one peep about our destination every Tuesday and Thursday morning! She’s happy as a clam while she’s there though. And she fills the car with her enthusiastic chatter the whole way home about everything she saw and did.
With a mix of love, creativity, and a few boundaries, my little stage four clinger has adjusted happily to preschool.