You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 6:08 a.m.

Working through painful preschool goodbyes

By Jen Eyer


Happy times with Lunch Box.

Jen Eyer |

As I dropped Wes off at preschool yesterday morning, he ran off to play with a friend and didn’t even glance back.

I walked to my car elated by my first guilt-free drop-off.

Thinking back to the three-week period when they had to peel him off me every morning, I marveled at how he worked through this major change in his life. I also marveled at how much our goodbyes affect my feelings about work. Here’s a look at the evolution of our drop-offs:

Day one: Wes is excited to go to preschool. He’s especially excited about his new Diego backpack, which he simply calls “Backpack.” He also seems to be talking to it. When I take him in, he secures Backpack in his cubby, and takes his lunch box to the snack table. He rejects their pancakes in favor of his crackers. He lets me leave without incident.

Week two: “Lunch Box” replaces “Backpack” as his security item. Every day begins at the snack table with Lunch Box. He refuses to eat their homemade muffins and instead dives right into his peanut butter and jelly. I start packing two so he has something for lunch. Also, he’s definitely conversing with Lunch Box, who responds in a high-pitched voice that seems out of character for an item covered with construction vehicles. He asks me to stay, but doesn’t object when I leave.

Week four: Wes is now waving to me at the window every day. They have this big picture window in front with a bench right underneath it — perfect for kids to wave goodbye to their parents. He sits with a friend or his teacher — and Lunch Box — and waves merrily before turning to play. I’m feeling great.

Week six: He’s getting clingy. The teachers are working really hard to keep him entertained as I leave. Of course, when I pick him up, he doesn’t want to go, so I spend 20 minutes watching him play before coaxing him away with the reminder of a favorite game at home. Or chocolate.

Week seven: All hell breaks loose. I try to leave and he flips out. I look around for support. His teacher is out with swine flu. His best little friend is out with swine flu. I sit on the bench and hold him tightly, saying reassuring things that he can’t possibly hear for the screaming. I look helplessly at a teacher, who says, “It’s best to just go quickly. He’ll be fine after you leave.” I know this, but it doesn’t stop me from crying in the car as I drive away.

Week eight: Two full weeks of screaming every morning at drop-off. They assure me that a minute after I leave, he’s fine. It’s like the novelty has worn off and he’s in revolt. Or maybe he’s just missing his teacher.

Week nine: The third week of screaming. One night, my daughter and I are looking through her preschool scrapbook, and it struck me how present I was for her preschool education. I wasn’t working then, and she attended a co-op, where I often helped in the classroom. If I weren’t working now, Wes would be at a co-op too, going to preschool for six hours a week instead of 22. Guilt.

Week 10: And suddenly, the screaming stops. He gives me a hug goodbye, and goes off to play. No Lunch Box, no snack table, no window. I walk out on eggshells, waiting for him to melt down. It doesn’t happen. At home, my husband and I notice how much he’s developing. He’s drawing real pictures, singing songs, telling stories and even playing board games. My outlook shifts again, and I begin to see his preschool as being exactly what he needs.

As it stands now, the good drop-offs continue, and I’m feeling optimistic. I know it can change on a dime, but we’ve made it through the worst, and we can do it again.

How have you handled difficult drop-offs? Share your stories in the comments below.

Jen Eyer is on the Community Team at She oversees the Parenting and Home & Garden sections, and writes feature stories, blog posts and opinion pieces. She can be reached at 734-623-2577 or


Sara Arsenault

Thu, Dec 10, 2009 : 4:18 p.m.

I couldn't stop thinking about this subject after my last comment. I recalled a few other things that really seemed to help my child and some other moms at our preschool. I also realize how overwhelming this can feel to a parent (and a child) when going through this...hence my second comment post. Three more things to try are: books on the subject, a photo locket or small laminated photo of mom/dad the size of a pant pocket, and of course the final verbal reminder that 'you will be back' when you are leaving your child! Even though by preschool age (developmentally speaking) they know you're coming back, it really seems to put their mind at ease to hear you say it. Good luck preschool parents...I hope this helps!

Sara Arsenault

Thu, Dec 10, 2009 : 1:58 p.m.

Good story and wow did it bring back some intense memories! There will never be anything like that first drop-off at 'school'. I found a few things that worked for difficult drop-offs: A fun character digital watch (one they can read)that offered her some tangible comfort of when I would come back; the notion that I would 'stick around school' after I left the classroom- which I technically did for 10 minutes from the hallway and my car; and a surprise note from mom with words of encouragement and proudness sometimes even with a little treat (think dum-dum sucker)that was waiting on her booster seat after school each day. This came to be something that my child really looked forward to and thought about on those days when she just didn't want to go.