Trouble Adjusting to Preschool

Parent Q&A

Son having a hard time in Pre-K Sep 10, 2019 (4 responses below)
Aide for a 3 year old in preschool? Jul 6, 2018 (3 responses below)
  • Son having a hard time in Pre-K

    (4 replies)

    Looking for some sound advice. Our son (3) is in his first year of pre-k immersion private schooI. His is having separation anxiety. Each day he states he does not want to go back to school. Once he is there and surrounded by stimulation we assume he is enjoying school. Recently he has been saying he is bored at school. We are waiting another week to reach out to the school. We realize that kids in new environments go through this as our son has a group of friends he grew up with that he no longer sees each day and is an only child. We are wondering if we made a mistake separating him from his last situation. Although it has only been two weeks since school started it seems that the kids with separation anxiety are not getting the one on one once the parent leaves the room. Yesterday I dropped my son off. He is getting better in his classroom environment but still does not want me to leave. I noticed that other kids that were upset some crying were walking around the classroom with very little acknowledgment from the teachers. There are three teachers in the classroom and it seems to be too overwhelming for them. Yesterday when I left the classroom I looked back in the window and watched his teacher place my son by himself in the a window where he could see me leaving. He was crying. He was then given construction paper to play with with not much additional attention. Can we get some advice as all is welcomed.

    This is the difficult stage that almost all kid have to go through, and unfortunately they have to learn how to adapt to the new unfamiliar environment by themselves. I don't see anything done significantly wrong by the teachers, so why not give him some more time, play with him for a few minutes in the classroom everyday, and arrange playdate with friends in his classroom? My daughter spent a whole month adjusting to her new school and she was perfectly happy afterwards.   

    I think that it is rare to have a teacher give extended 1 on 1 attention to a child experiencing separation anxiety in all but the smallest preschools.  We had that for our younger child at age 3 at a small immersion school in Palo Alto but I honestly don't know how much of that is policy and how much of that was the teacher's choice.  She has left the school and I haven't seen anyone else there do quite as much as she did for our little one.  Our older daughter, at age 2.5 at a different immersion school was left alone to keep crying through the day as reported by an older student who knew me personally.  Unfortunate since I liked the teachers at the school.  Anyways, after forfeiting a number of deposits at a number of schools, this older daughter settled into a place where she was not crying and not bored.  It was a small Reggio-inspired preschool in Los Altos where kids were allowed to get dirty and make mistakes freely.  I'm not saying that this kind of place is for everyone.  It has certainly grown and changed to be more in line with mainstream schools and it was not our younger child's cup of tea. I'm suggesting that some kids are more outspoken (in their own way) than others about their preferences in schooling.

    My daughter just started preschool. I've been talking to other parents from our cohort who moved up together, and we're having similar experiences: the kids resist in the morning and complain about not wanting to go, but end up having a good time. It's still a big adjustment from an intimate toddler room to a class with 24 kids. BTW my daughter tells me she did nothing all day etc but 3 year old reports are, let's just say, less than reliable. Because our class is so big, I walk into the class or yard with my daughter and help her find an activity or group of kids to play with. Usually there's a teacher nearby whatever she chooses, and I check in with them before saying good bye.

    That said, if the teachers aren't being warm to the kids, I would be concerned. Having a teacher welcome kids in the morning is a standard thing to expect from a preschool.

  • Aide for a 3 year old in preschool?

    (3 replies)


    My daughter attends The Good Earth preschool in Kensington and due to some sort of Sensory processing issue we are trying to diagnose, has had a very difficult time in her big transitions (to the point where it is distressing to both us and her teachers).  We are looking for an aide to spend one on one time with her in school part time three days a week and wonder if anyone has navigated this process before and can give guidance on where to find such a person?  Any advice helps.  Thanks so much!

    I think for a 3 year old, you could contact the Regional Center and/or get ABA through your health insurance.  I can also recommend the fabulous Kendra Frautnick

    to provide in-school services.

    Your situation sounds a lot like me ~3-4 years ago. I'd suggest starting with an Occupational Therapist, though you may already be on that path as you work to diagnose. An OT, can evaluate (including school observation), do one-on-one sessions to help you and your child develop tools and strategies, as well as provide wrap around care (at school, in the moment assistance and help her teachers understand and utilize tools to better support). Your insurance may have some in-network, though most in the Bay Area seem to be self-pay and then you can try to get reimbursed from your health insurance. Another option is a Neuropsych evaluation. It's not cheap and, again usually out-of-pocket, though you may be able to get reimbursed from your health insurance depending on the diagnosis. Your Pediatrician should be a good resource to help document the need and may be able to suggest some Neuropsychologists and/or OTs. It can help with insurance if it's deemed medically necessary. You can also do a search here on BPN for ones in your area.

    In our case, the understanding of our child's issues from the Neuropsych evaluation, on-going support from our OT, and most recently addition of medication for other non-sensory issues has made a world of difference. We've tried to be diligent about incorporating and reinforcing the tools across environments and proactively communicating with new teachers. We've gone from a preschool situation of repeated (dreaded) calls and requests to pick up early to an elementary school environment where the most recent progress report was that our child is a delight to have in class. 

    I applaud you for recognizing and working to address the issues early (vs. just hoping they'll grow out of it).

    One more idea: your child is now old enough to be evaluated by your local school district to possibly receive school district-provided OT and/or an aide in her private preschool.  Contact the special education department for WCCUSD.

  • My 3.5 year old son used to love preschool and was having a good time when he was attending for half a day, typically around 3.5 hours. He has been going to preschool for 1.5 years and we were glad that he didn't have any problem with school. We sent him full day for a couple of months around 6 months ago and he had tough time for a couple of weeks and then he was fine.

    Few weeks ago, we started sending him full day as both of us are working and no one will be at home to take care of him. He's been crying at drop off and has been crying on and off at school through out the day. He doesn't eat anything at school and doesn't engage much in the activities. He's been miserable at home as well and cries when we speak about his school. It seems he doesn't like the school at all now. He's been very clingy at home and doesn't like to play.

    He's very attached to me (dad), but he doesn't have any separation anxiety normally. It seems he's asking for me the whole day now and he's in tears when I drop off/ pick him up. I discussed with his teachers and they have tried a couple of approaches. They've been very caring & nurturing initially. Later on, they have been a little stern with him and encouraging him to participate in activities. But, nothing seems to work.

    He used to be a very happy kid, so to see him like this is painful. We are thinking of waiting for a couple of weeks more and then switch to half day or a new school. Any suggestions are appreciated. Thanks.

    First of all, solidarity, it is SO hard to see your little person in distress. Also, with my now 4.5 yo twins we have gone through many ups and downs in their excitement about going to school (or lack thereof) so my first thought is a wait-and-see approach is probably best before making any drastic moves. We have gone through many such of these periods (although in our case we have moved preschool a few times due to house moves) and they have more or less always passed. My other thoughts are:

    1) how are YOU handling these transitions/talking to him about school? Are you feeling confident that this is a good school and that he will be happy there and are you sure you're communicating that to him? Are you feeling confident about your need/desire to be at work full time (or if this is a more recent change for one or both of you you may still be adjusting yourselves) and do you think this might be being communicated to him somehow?

    2) Read some books like Llama Llama misses Mama and Timothy Goes to School to talk about adjustments to school and making friends (sorry, both are a litlte mom-centric but still useful)

    3) make sure you feel happy with how the school is handling it and supporting him. I can't tell from your message if you do feel 100% on board with how they've dealt with it but if not make sure to figure out how to make sure they keep supporting your little guy, giving him some space for his feelings but also (and without a LOT of delay) moving him on from them in ways that aren't too much 'telling off' 

    4) I would go to earlier pick ups rather than back to part-time if I were you (and I needed to work). 3.5 seems old enough to be able to handle a full day if the emotional stuff can be dealt with but the difference between a 4pm pick up and a 5:30 or 6pm one can be huge in terms of how much time you'll have to connect at home after

    Hope any of the above help, good luck! But I would definitely  make sure you give it a fair amount of time before making a drastic change 

    The biggest mistake that I think that I've made as a parent is putting my son in full-time childcare and then after-school care until 6:00 at night. It was just too much for him and it caused all kinds of problems. While I thought that he was doing okay, he wasn't and he was under stress all the time. We'd pick him up at 6:00, start dinner, and then finally start his homework. Every night was a nightmare. His second grade teacher highly recommended that we stop sending him to the after-school program at school and instead figure out something less stressful for him to do. She thought that he should be allowed to come home after school, have a snack, play for a little while, and then do his homework and reading with the goal of being done before dinner. It has made a world of difference. Our son is happier, more confident, having less social issues, and we're no longer having the very unpleasant homework battle after dinner. This has required spending more money on a nanny for some days and changing our work schedules for other days. We have less disposable income but a much happier child who is doing better in school.

    I was adamant that both of us needed to be able to work full-time and that the after-school program was fine but I was wrong. Hindsight is 20/20 but I really wish that we had figured this out before kindergarten. In my opinion, you should consider whether your child is like ours and just can't handle that much stimulation for that long of a period. If you can figure out a way to shorten his days you might have a much happier child. 

    I am sorry your son is struggling with school. Is he potty trained and is he willing to use the bathrooms at school for everything?  If not this might be the problem. Some kids do not want to go at school and wait until the get home. This obviously makes it very uncomfortable 1/2 day versus full day. If he is “withholding” and avoiding going number 2 this would make him uncomfortable when he eats and it made my son very whiny and generally miserable. We solved the problem with changes to his diet and daily doses of miralax. It did take a little while but then things were much better. Best of luck. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Really rough transition for 3 year old 

Jan 2015

My son will be 3 in March, we started him in a 3 day a week/2.5 hours preschool program this fall and it has been a really rough transition. Four months in he still cries at separation in the morning (he's the only one), as well as off and on during the day sometimes. It was getting better but now it feels like we're back at square one after the holiday break. The school has been great in working with us and the teachers are so sweet with him, but I am just not sure if we should pull him out or keep pushing and eventually he will get used to it and actually enjoy going. I do not think it's the school itself, he has always been a sensitive, more introverted child.

The main reason we wanted him in school is because my husband and I both work full time and my mom watches him during the day, so it's a much needed break for her as he gets more and more active. Also, we believe it's important for him to be around other kids on a regular basis. Has anyone else had a child like this who eventually adjusted and was fine? Is there anything that made it better, or do we just need to give it time? worried mom

If it's any consolation, I think what you're describing sounds still within the realm of normal and age-appropriate. Our daughter cried a lot throughout her 1st year of preschool (2-3 years old), especially at drop-off and especially after breaks (even a 3-day weekend, let alone winter break). I think kids this age are just really sensitive to changes in routine. We found things were much better this year (3-4 years old), same school and everything, and we were glad we stuck with it for the sake of increasing her socialization. It Gets Better

Hmmm, if he were just crying at drop-off I'd say stick with it as that's very normal. Lots of 2 year olds I know still cry when being dropped off but quickly recover and have fun once they get over the initial separation. However, it sounds like you're saying he continues to be tearful throughout the morning. I'd have a conversation with his teachers and find out if he's generally sad at school or if he cries as bit but is then able to play and have fun. I don't know what your preschools policy is but my son's preschool encourages parents to stay around until their child is comfortable (if the parent has time to do so). You may have tried this already but my son's school recommends the following. Have your mom stay with him for most of the morning, she should bring a book or a laptop and be present but boring and unavailable. Recite, ''Grandma's right here but I'm doing my work, let's see what you can build with those blocks''. Have the teachers redirect him and assure him that she will not leave. Have the teachers remind your child know she'll never leave without saying goodbye so he doesn't have to worry that if he goes off to play she'll disappear. He may need her to stay for several days, or more. Once he's more comfortable she can begin to leave for a short amount of time, maybe toward the end of the program. The idea is that the child begins to feel that school is a fun place where I can play and make friends not a scary place where my parents leave me all alone. If she has the time, this gentle separation process almost always works. In general I think kids don't really NEED preschool, they can get lots of social interaction through playgroups, library, city run activities ,etc. But since you say your mom needs a break I think it's worth it to keep trying. Also consider what kind of preschool you selected. For a shy introverted 2 1/2 year old a smaller program with a little bit of structure and predictable daily routines may be what he needs. My son attends The Gay Austin School in Berkeley and they've successfully handled many separation difficulties with so much compassion and respect for the child. I was amazed when one day my son finally stopped clinging to my leg and screaming for me not to go. Now we wave at the window

Preschool after Separation Anxiety withdrawl

Nov 2013

I had enrolled my 2-and-a-half year old in a two's program for the 2013-2014 year, but had to withdraw him from the program due to separation anxiety issues that surfaced about 4 weeks into the program. There was not an option for me to accompany him to school to get him over the hump, so we just had to leave. I'm now a bit nervous for next Fall. Ideally I'd like to find a preschool that either has the staffing to allow a child who needs more support to receive it, or one that would allow me to attend for a while if things are rough. I'd love to hear from parents who went through this - where did you child ultimately find success? If you tried at 2.5 and that was too hard for your kid, was it magically easier at 3.5, or still pretty tough? What should a parent do when this happens? I'm in Berkeley, but willing to travel to Albany or Oakland for a good program. Mom of a clingy kid

Unless your child had real mental health issues, he will be fine. Children are extremely resilient and will adjust. Help him learn to build relationships outside if your family and come back everyday and love him. Read him the book Llama Llama goes to school. Mi

My son started preschool earlier this year at age 2 years 10 months, and they were really adamant that one of the parents be available for as long as needed to transition my son --- so I am surprised to hear of schools that don't want you there! It was handled very well. I spent the first week with him in the mornings, gradually leaving for progressively longer periods of time (at first out-of-sight in the workroom, then leaving to run an errand, then going home for nap etc.) They had a transition group with a dedicated teacher who could spend time with the new little ones in a smaller group, and the other staff took the time to give my son individual attention when needed (i.e. playing with him inside when he found the outside time too overwhelming with so many kids), and were cool with my constantly calling to get reports on him while I was at work. The first two weeks or so were hard, but after a month or two he was totally fine. By then he had made some friends and become very attached to the teachers, and a few months later some of his daycare friends enrolled. He's been there about 6 months now and doesn't want to leave when I pick him up! The school is Keystone Montessori in El Cerrito if you want to check it out. Another mama to a clingy one

I'm not sure that the approach of staying with the child at school actually works. In fact, I've seen it spectacularly fail, resulting in NO preschool experience for the child, because the mom refused to leave an anxious child. That sends a message to the child that mommy thinks you need mommy at school, when the messge should be that mommy knows you will be fine at school without her. So the key is to find a school where the teachers are willing to cuddle an anxious child all morning and where the school day is busy enough that the child doesn't have downtime to remember his/her anxiety. Busy and fun! Most schools let the child spend an hour or two at school with mommy, then the next time they come, mommy gives a hug and a bright smile and leaves. Having said all that, I think 2.5 is a little young for preschool so if you don't need the childcare then skip it this year. anon

My older son started preschool (Claremont in Kensington) soon after his 3rd birthday. At first he was so excited; there were no issues. After a few weeks, the waterworks started. And this was consistent with many of his peers at other schools, too, where the children adjusted to the novelty at first but then cried for mommy. I know my son was disruptive to the class a number of times. The teachers at Claremont were amazing. They helped him transition at drop off each morning. They coached us to ship out quickly and not linger. The best advice I got, though, was from BPN. A contributor wrote that she joked with her kids about them missing her. I gave it a go. At pick up, when my son whined about missing me all day, I cheered! ''Yay! You missed Mommy!'' He found this strange, so he said he didn't miss me. So, I cried and complained that he didn't miss me. The reverse psychology worked like a charm. In a matter of days, my son completely shifted. At drop off I'd ask if he would miss me and make a frowny face. If he said ''yes'' I would smile, if ''no,'' I would frown. Either way, he thought it was funny. After school, he loved telling me he didn't miss me to see me pretend to cry, since he thought it was so funny. Then he said he did miss me to see me cheer, and then he didn't miss me, and I would frown, etc. It was a game. Years later, and he still gets a kick out of it. I am so thankful to the BPN mom who contributed the idea! Good luck with your next go-around! anon


Worried that daughter will have difficult adjustment

June 2006


Hi, My almost 3 yr. old (only child) starts preschool this fall. She's never been in day care. She had a nanny up until 14 months old and since then, I've been home w/ her full time. She gets VERY upset when I try to leave her at the gym day care (so that's never worked out) and often asks for me to ''play with'' her at playdates. She is pretty good about playing on her own at home, though, and will stay with a babysitter.

I am very concerned that she will have a difficult time adjusting to preschool, perhaps more than other kids, because she's never been ''dropped off'' before and left for any reason! I am looking for advice on how to make the transition more smooth. Is there anything I can do this summer that might help us both work on this attachment issue (Which I recognize is my problem too) so that preschool will not be as scary? Thanks in advance for your advice Worried Mommy

My daughter started preschool last summer at 2 1/2 after 2 years with a nanny. I never even tried to drop her off at a gym daycare because I knew that wouldn't work. What I did about school was decide that I was going to be strong about it myself. We and her nanny talked about it for several months before it happened. When the time grew near, we visited for the 2 Fridays before her start date. The first one I stayed with her for a couple of hours. The second one I stayed for about half an hour, left for a couple of hours, then came back and stayed with her for lunch and then we went to see how everyone naps on little pads, just so she'd have seen all of the major activities. On her first day I stayed for 5 or 10 minutes then left her with a teacher. She cried a little the second day (often it gets a little harder once they figure out what's going on) but basically that was it.

I think the most important thing is to adopt an attitude of ''this is what is going to happen and I feel completely comfortable and positive about it.'' Also, even after nearly a year I find it easier to drop my daughter off when everyone is outside playing-seems less intimidating to her than when there's a more organized activity. Good luck-it will be great! Preschool Mom

I had a similar situation, although my son was only 18 months. He would stay with one babysitter but I could never leave him in the childcare at the gym or church. When we started preschool, it was just twice a week and for the first two weeks I went with him. I would sit in a chair off to the side of the room and whenever he came over to me for help or something, I redirected him to the teachers. I would sit with him in circle time. The first coulple of days that I left him was hard--he cried for a while and they said that he was sad and looking for me for much of the time. The third time I left him, he cried for maybe 2 minutes after I left and then was fine for the rest of the day. By the third week of preschool he barely said goodbye to me because he was so eager to start playing. It all had to do with him bonding with the teachers like he had his babysitter. That's why it never worked at the gym--there was never enough time with the same person to bond. Anyway, it's been great ever since. If you have the flexibility to be there with your daughter at first, try that. But redirect her to the teachers whenever she comes to you. It may be hard at first but she'll adjust and you'll be so happy you stuck with it! Kim

The best way to help your child feel comfortable in her new daycare is to show her that you yourself are friendly with the staff, comfortable with the surroundings, and excited about the situation. She will pick up on your emotions and take her cues from you.

If possible, take her to visit for a week of days prior to her first full day alone without you. Distance yourself from her gradually over the course of the week. (Hopefully the daycare provider will approve of this..some, sadly, do not) On the big day, be very upbeat and positive! When it is time to say goodbye (the teacher should be at your side) do so and go! No turning back, no last hugs and kisses, no promises of being ''back soon'' (children have no idea how soon soon is), simply state when you will return ''after your nap'', ''after your lunch'' or whatever occurs in her schedule. Don't be caught sneaking a peek either, that only makes it worse. Expect crying, and clinging..just keep walking to the car. Call the school as often as you need to to find out how she is doing. They will let you know if she needs to be picked up, a good daycare, however, will work with your child to comfort and settle her without involving you. She needs to get used to it and she won't with you constantly popping in and ''rescuing'' her. It will be hard, worse for you than her probably. I've done childcare for 20+ years and I speak from experience, children do calm in time. Some take weeks, others days, some a month or more. If you trust the provider, like the daycare and need to have your daughter well cared for, stick with it! Children do stop crying!

My first son had similar attachment issues when he went to preshool for 3 mornings at age 3. This was compounded with the fact that we moved to a new house, across the country, and I was 7 months pregnant. His teachers were very loving and comforting with him. We had a routine way to say good bye and I alwyas reminded him that I would be there to pick him up after his lunch. He cried for the first 2-3 weeks, but his teachers always redirected him to a fun activity or would hold him to comfort him. They also reassured me that his crying only lasted a minute or so after I had left. A good book to read this summer may be The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. It is about a baby racoon who is afraid of going to school and how his Mom comforts him. Courtney

I worked as a nanny for many years, in a preschool for a bit, have watched many of my friend's children and now have a son who has been in 2 different preschools. I stayed with my son until he was 18 months old, then put him in full-time preschool. I have never known a child who did not put on a dramatic show when their parents dropped them off the first week or so. Those same children almost always settle down much faster then you would think once you are gone. Every child I have ever known gets used to the routine after a couple weeks and has an absolute blast playing with all the other kids. My own son used to put on the tears when I would pick him up, even though he was having a wonderful time right before I walked in. That only lasted the first few weeks.

On a side note, putting him in preschool made his naptime habits heavenly! I was never good at being a scheduled person, but now that he takes the same nap at the same time every day, we just follow the same schedule on the weekends and it's wonderful!!

Don't worry, the best thing you can do is act cheerful, introduce a lot of preschool concepts before your child starts and once you drop them off, don't linger! Just a quick hug, a kiss and leave Very Happy Mom


2.4yr old still cries when dropped off at preschool

April 2006


My 2.4 yr.old daughter has been going to a home-based preschool for the last 5 weeks. She goes 3 days a week (all day 8am-6pm). This is the first time that she has been away from home with someone besides me caring for her because I recently went back to work. I'm not sure if this is the reason, but even after all this time has passed she still cries bitterly when I drop her off. The caregiver says she is ok during the day, does not cry much, eats well etc. I was wondering if others have had similar experiences when they initially started their children at daycare/preschool. Since I work full-time I have to leave her for the full day. Also, there are only 2 other children who go to that preschool since its pretty new (single caregiver, licensed for 8 children). Would it help my daughter if she went to a bigger preschool,with more children so that she gets more involved and would actually like going there or is it simply too early to tell. Thanks in advance for any advice. anon

I feel for you. My 2 1/2 year old cried for weeks when he first started pre-school. It must have been 6-8 weeks. The teacher always said he was fine during the day, so I tried not to worry. He finally stopped crying when I dropped him off...and what a relief. Is there a way you can have someone else drop him/her off, and you can pick up? The pick ups are always more pleasant, and it helps to get a break from the tearful goodbyes, even if they are still tearful for someone else... anon

It think that the problem is the length of days. That is a lot for a ten-year-old to deal with, much less a two-year-old! For preschool, I would reccomend 4 days at 2 yrs, 5 days at 4 yrs, three to five hours, max. She is making it clear to you that it is too long for her to be away. Listen to her. Anon

My son was about six months older when he started preschool, but he cried at drop off time for at least the first six week, and then off an on until he turned five. For some kids, that first good-bye to mom or dad in the morning can be really, really hard, but then they arae okay as the day goes on. I know how heart wrenching it is to hear your child cry. So here are some things we found that helped: 1) When dad did the drop off, there were fewer tears; saying goodbye to mommy is harder for lots of kids; 2)a regular routine for saying goodbye can help with the transition--read one book, paint one picture together, say one rhyme together, then kiss her and say you'll be back, then say goodbye 3)include something in the goodbye routine that gives your child power--she pushes you out the door, she has the last word in the script, whatever works; 4) as much consistency as you can manage. Things will get better. And before you know it, you'll be missing the tearful goodbyes. ciao mama


3-y-o having a very difficult transition to preschool

Jan 2005


My almost 3 year old son (his birthday is Feb) just is having a very difficult time transitioning into pre-school which he just started in the New Year.

From what I have read, this is totally normal development, however, as a mother, this has got to be the most difficult things I have had to go through. Basically my son is pretty sad throughout the day and cries on and off saying he ''wants his mommie''....He is attending a Montessori school which appears to have the best resources and materials around. I could not be happier with the support and nurturing we are receiving as a family, (not only my son) has received from the teachers of this particular classroom. Although his teacher tells me he has ''good moments'' she is really helping us out with the transition in a very nurturing fashion. Therefore, I feel like he is in a ''good place' but I cannot help but feeling sad for my son's sadness that he misses home so much. He had been home with an adoring nanny 3 days a week (near 10 hours) and now he in rather large class also for most of an extended day until 4pm. We have taken this slowly as he has only been attending half days and we just started naps there. My son is a very ''attached'' to me in particular and my husband which his teacher says is very healthy. Although we do not want to change this attachment, in some ways, I feel that this ''attachment'' style may have a lot do with his emotional readiness to start school or perhaps this type of program? Intellectually we feel that he can cope and is ready for this challenge. He can be independent, he is very articulate for just turning 3 and usually appears very confident.

My husband and I really like the Montessori method and feel that our son is capable of this type of setting, however, emotionally (at this stage) I am wondering if it is ''too much'' for him or if I really need to just go with the flow here. As I said, I have no reservations that he is getting the nurturing and attention he needs during this delicate time, however, when do I start trusting my instinct to really wonder if this is appropriate for him? There is really no turning back for us as we felt that 3 1/2 years was too late to start in September and we are expecting a baby this summer so we wanted our son to get used to school. I do not think there is going to be any long lasting affect on him from this early experience; however, I am concerned that he is not really adjusting so well yet after one month. I know there are a lot of people out there who agree that ''attachment'' is the way to go and again, I am not being critical about my parenting style but I do wonder if my son's personality would be better suited in a smaller setting, more group style, etc....what can we do to help him make school more positive? Concerned Mom Got the pre-school blues

I can't offer any advice on how to make this transition easier for your son, but I can assure you that your attachment parenting style is NOT causing his difficulty! I am a firm believer in the ''AP'' philosophy and my own son started full time preschool at 2.5 years old happily, without a backward glance. And it's a relatively large, chaotic preschool (not Montessori)! On the contrary, toddlers who have healthy attachment to their parents actually tend to be more independent and social as they get older (in my experience and observation), because they're starting from a secure base. However, when it comes to this kind of transition, mostly it's just personality. Some kids are more outgoing, others quieter. Some kids have a hard time with any change in their routines, others have a hard time sticking to any routine! Perhaps your son would be happier in a different school, or with a different schedule, or maybe he just needs more time to warm up to the one he's in. Trust your gut feelings on that, but don't start second guessing your entire parenting style and philosophy! Holly

This adjustment is hard on both of you, isn't it? I sure remember our difficult adjustment to preschool. It took my son about six weeks to adjust to preschool--and not just adjust, but to start to love it. A strong attachment to his parents IS a good thing, remember that, and remember that going to preschool isn't about breaking that attachment, but using it as an example and source of strength as your son develops relationships with others. In our case, the thing that helped the most was making playdates with other children in my son's class. As he developed friendships with these children, going to school every day became a treat, an opportunity to play with his friends. There have been occassional periods of time where going to school is more difficult, where there have been big tears and difficulties in saying goodbye, but with love and consistency these have resolved in a few days and my son goes back to loving school. It sounds like you and your son are at the beginning of this process, but I bet you'll be fine in time. Carolyn

I really feel for you -- we went through the exact same thing with our daughter, only she was about a year younger than your son when starting at Montessori school. My daughter had always made easy transitions, so I was surprised when she had such a difficult time with preschool and wondered whether she was just not ready, whether a smaller setting would be better, whether we should just go back to the nanny... The first month was the hardest. What worked for us was having our nanny take her to preschool, since my daughter separated from her much easier than from me. The nanny stayed all day with her at first, then left for increasing periods of time. After about 6 weeks, she made friends and got comfortable with the setting and loves it now. The making friends part was key. We arranged playdates with a couple of the other kids in her class, which really helped, and these kids are her best buddies now. Good luck! Been There

Oh boy, is this familiar. I was the one who asked a very similar question in the fall.

My son took almost two months to become completely adjusted to preschool. The first couple of weeks he cried every day when I left him, and for several weeks he wrote me sad ''notes'' (with the teachers' help). However, by November, he loved preschool (still does). In fact, the morning after Thanksgiving vacation, I found him sitting patiently on the steps, waiting for me to get ready so we could go. Two really excellent pieces of advice that I received, that helped enormously. First, you really need to believe that YOU ARE DOING THE BEST THING FOR YOUR CHILD. He will pick up how you feel about this. In my case, I knew I had carefully picked out the preschool that best fit his needs. However, it was a much larger place than he had been before, and there was lots of stuff going on. It took a lot of adjusting.

Changing preschools now is just going to require yet more adjusting. Second, make every effort to help him feel more comfortable. Set up playdates with one kid at a time, to help him find people he knows. For my son, the turning point was finding a best friend to hang out with.

One last thing was for me, it turned out to be best to leave IMMEDIATELY upon dropping him off. Staying longer than 30 seconds generally resulted in him crying; if I dropped him at the door, gave him a big kiss, and left, he transitioned better. Figure out what kind of transition works best for your son. I wish you all the best. I know how much this hurts as a mom. Karen

Hi, I do not have specific advise, but here is my story.

I started my son in the pre-school/daycare arrangement last October (he will be 3 next month). He's also a very attached boy (sometimes even his dad is not good enough when I need to go somewhere during the weekend, not even overnight), he has an acute separation anxiety (crying when guests are leaving after the party), still co-sleep to this day, very hi-maintenance infant and toddler (too long to tell).

Anyway, I started with 3 days/weeks, 6 hrs each. He cried basically like someone has died during drop-off and on-off for 6 hrs, hysterically before nap time until he fell asleep. That was going on for almost 3 MONTHS. The director told me that maybe he's not ready and told me that it would be ok for me to pull him out without worrying about the 'contract' (that's bad, isn't it?). My husband was also ready to pull him out since he was bringing the problem at home, namely, crying in the middle of midnite without actually waking up, throwing tantrum(s) every day for minor things, and in general he was in miserable state.

Anyway, I decided to stick to my plan (as I also need a break from him, and plan to have a second one). I decided to cut his hours to 3 hrs (9-12). So every morning I told him that I will pick him up after lunch. 2 weeks later, he is still crying hysterically during drop-off, but not so much afterwards, every time he's crying, the teachers reminded him that mommy will pick him up soon.

Then, we had to make a trip to Europe for a week (the trip was planned before I know that he would have not been adjusted to preschool after 3 months). Naturally, I was afraid that the trip will worsen his adjustment. Well, in Europe he has an older cousin (2 yrs older) who goes to school everyday. So during that trip, every morning I told my son that his cousin is going to school and not crying. When she came back from school, she will come to our place and then I asked her how her school was (in front of my son) and stressed to him that she is happy and not crying.

We came back to the state, and the day before and in the morning before the preschool, I reminded my son that Sara went to school and she is not crying. Abracadabra, he did not cry that day and day after that, and since then! Sometimes, he is about to cry (according to the teacher), then she will remind him that Sara is also going to school and mommy will pick him up after lunch (I still only send him for 3 hrs).

I do not know if because of his cousin goes to school and he wants to be like her (he's looking up to her), or it was just the break from school for a week that enabled him to see the whole situation in perspective.

On the other note regarding Montessori system. Firstable, when I visited their schools, I have never felt comfortable with their philosophy. They really stressed independency and I'm not sure that my son is ready for that. He's attachment to me and his verbal skill (behind maybe because he's bilingual) make me wonder on the push to independence. So you might want to see from that perspective. I know that they are very supportive, but that does not mean that they do not follow their way of teaching. I have a friend whose son is in a Montessori system since he was 18 months. He's very independent and easy going (as much so that I envy my friend). However, 1.5 yrs later, he's still not bonding with the teachers or his classmates. Mostly, he's playing by himself and observing other people. Here lies the issue, he's potty-trained, he even can pull his pants down and sit in the potty; BUT he can not wipe his own rear-end after that. My friend was so tick off last week that he came home with dirty behind. The teacher kind of said that he was never asked for help (maybe he's not comfortable enough since he's not bonding with her) but he was handed a wipe! The funny thing is that the class is not required to be potty trained (it's 2-3 yr old class and some classmates are still in diaper). So my friend's son kind of falls in the crack, too old for diaper (meaning time to time attention from the teacher) but not old enough to wipe his own (common, he's not even 3). Nonetheless, my friend will keep him there because in general he looks happy during drop-off and pick-up; and that school is one of the hottest in the area (Walnut Creek). All this story is according to my friend, so it might not be the complete scenario what had happened. I did tell my friend, since he's son is so easy going and maybe introvert, if he has problem at school maybe he's good enough to hide it even to his mom. Anyway, this is just a story you might want to know. been there and still worry for the regression

Sounds to me like he's not ready. We went through this with my oldest daughter at age 3, and finally (much later than we should have) stopped forcing her to go to preschool. A year later, she was ready and went eagerly. Actually, when you think about it, a three year old really is still very much a baby! She's now a star student in her first grade class. mom to 3

As I was reading your post, it reminded me of something a psychologist friend told me when my daughter was having trouble adjusting from a four hour program to a six hour program. She reminded me that young children are VERY intuitive and pick up on our thoughts and feelings, more than our words. She told me to be sure that I was totally okay with leaving my daughter at school. I realized that in talking to my child and trying to be ''sympathetic'' I was also conveying my own sense that this was going to be hard. When I made a conscious effort to remind myself that she really was okay, she started to do better. I'm not saying that your son's anxiety is entirely coming from you, just that sometimes, particularly for ''attached'' parents like you and me, it is easy to get into a kind of emotional echo chamber. You want to try to convey, with your words, your body, your tone, your expression, that you know he can handle school, that his teachers will be loving and keep him safe, and that, while you realize this is challenging, you are confident that he will be okay and have fun and get to do cool stuff. (Okay, I know that's a lot to convey-- but I am confident you can do it!)

Re the Montessori part of your question, I have experience with both Montessori and non-Montessori, and for my kids, the Montessori environment was less emotionally challenging. Of course, every classroom is different, but you sound like you have felt support and nuturing from your son's teacher, so I assume she is pretty attuned. In my experience the Montessori classroom is philosophically similar to the attachment style, attending to a child's cues etc.

My general advice is to trust your instincts--I'm sure other posters will say this, too. But reading your post it is not at all clear that your instincts are clear. Are you feeling guilty/ mixed emotions about the decision to start school? Does the pregnancy complicate this? Thinking about these things might help you gain some clarity. If, thinking it through, your instincts are telling you that this is not a fit for your son, by all means make a change. But you may also find that your feelings are rooted in generic concern for a little guy in transition. Adding a second transition will just prolong the process. I wish you well.

One last thought. Have you gotten to know any of the parents of your son's class? They might be a great support , both in sharing their own experiences and in providing emotional support for you and your son.. been there


3-year-old son has a meltdown when I leave

Oct 2004


Maybe it's par for the course, but after a month, our 3 year old son is still reluctant to go to preschool. He's typically an extremely outgoing guy with zero separation anxiety, and yet when we get to the preschool door he hides his face against my legs and is reluctant to go in. Sometimes the clamor of the children catches his attention, and he goes in and plays for a little while, but never for long. Unfortunately, parent-participation doesn't fit in at this school (it's in the teacher's tiny home), so I sit on the porch and my son uses me as a touchstone. I feel like I'm distracting him from immersing himself in play, but he melts down if I leave. The teacher has developed a truly lovely program, but it is a formula. She tends to carry on with her usual program, then pronounce my little guy ''unready'' when he doesn't fall into place with the other children, who incidentally were all there last year and know what to expect. What can I do and what can I ask the teacher to do to help him?

Hello, You did not mention how long your child has been trying to go to this new preschool or what his daycare/stay-at-home situation was before, but I will share my experience with you in case any of it relates. My son attended an in-home daycare he LOVED from the time he was 4 months old until he was almost 3, at which point, his daycare provider had to relocate very suddenly. Our son stayed home with various family members, us taking time off, etc. for about 2 months. At that time, we enrolled him in a wonderful pre- school we thought he'd adore!

The first day he went I stayed for a while because he couldn't leave my side. I finally left and got a phone call 10 minutes later that he was gagging, crying so hard. I returned. The next few months always started out the same. He cried hysterically when we dropped him off and seemed a little down when we picked him up. I researched a little into it and everything I read agreed, fairly quick drop off, big hug and reassurance, and then go. No lingering, no final waves goodbye. Eventually, about a month or two into it, he started to seem a little more cheery when I picked him up, although the drop offs were still always the same. I started to worry he was in the wrong place, and then I thought about it and wondered if I tried to take him any other place FILLED with strangers how he'd react. Probably the same. I began to try and understand his fears and to reassure him and have dialogue with him about how he felt about school and why. To which I got a lot of, ''cause I don't like it.'' Well, its been four months now and the last couple weeks have been fairly easy drop offs, no tears at all :-) He has started to consider the other kids at school his friends and he feels more comfortable with the teachers. It takes a while for them to bond sometimes because the teachers are sharing their affections and attentions with other children. But it does happen. He now seems to be very cheerful when I pick him up, talks about what he learned, talks about the kids and teachers, and seems excited. He does not however, jump out of the car, cheering every morning to go to school. Who wouldn't rather stay home and play on a school day? I guess this is just preparing us for the ''do I have to go to school?'' of later years. In fact, he woke up the other morning and coughed (fake? I'm not sure) and said to me, ''Mom, I have a cough, I can't go to school today'' (is he ferris bueller?!). We also make plans in the morning on how we are going to say good-bye. Make a plan for walking in, giving mommy and big hug and kiss, and say goodbye, then mommy will be back to pick you up and after school we will go to...

One last thing that I believe may have been helpful was that we attended two birthday parties for children in the school. I think these outside-of-school events helped him to see the other children as friends and not just school mates. Try and be patient. Most importantly though, trust your instincts. If you don't feel good about your child going there, then neither will your child. If you think it is the place, and not your child's completely understandable hesitance to spend so much time with strangers, then make a change. Best of luck to you. Karen

My son attends a small preschool (Sheffield Preschool) in a teacher's home also, but parent participation is welcomed at every level! I asked how the school handled transitions to preschool, and was told ''come as often as you want, stay as long as you want.'' So it isn't the size of the school. In what way does the teacher pronouce him ''unready?'' (I hope not in front of him.) Have you met with her privately to ask about easing the transition to preschool? Is it getting better or staying the same? After you leave, does he cry for just a couple minutes, and then start to participate? If so, I think it's just a question of getting used to the school, and the process of being dropped off, but picked up later. Or does he mope and ask for you? If so, maybe this school isn't a good fit. PreschoolParent

My little guy was like that last year, and I know how very painul it can be. A few questions; how long do you stay on the porch? When you do leave, how does the teacher describe your son's behavior? Does he calm down in ten, twenty, fourty minutes? What does SHE do to draw him into the circle of children, and what would she do differently if you were not on the porch? It took my son about six weeks to stop crying every day, but then he started to look forward to going. Some of the things that helped us were play dates with other kids in the program after school so that he could develop friendships; talking to the teachers and having them to talk to us--my son and me--about the transition, that it is hard and that he will make it; and leaving at a regular time always with the promise to return. I hope that some of this will help you and your child. Carolyn

You know everything you read and every teacher will tell you ''leave fast, say goodbye and go. They will stop crying once you are gone'' but I'm not sure....I teach art and once I had a little boy who was slow to warm up.The first few lessons his mom stayed. The next one or two she sat in a chair just outside the door. Finally she left briefly and eventually she would say goodbye and go. Her son never cried and felt very did I. It seems like we're expecting a lot of these tiny people; to feel comfortable in a new,unfamiliar environment with strangers and to bond to their new caregivers without the reassurance of someone they trust that it is safe. With my children I've tried to make the transitions to new schools as gentle as possible. I didn't have the luxury of doing what that mom did and had some tearful days... anon


3-year-old doesn't want to go to preschool

August 2004


Sorry in advance for the length of this, but I very much need help. My 3 year 3 month old son and I are having an absolutely nightmarish time starting preschool. Each day has been progressively worse. Two nights ago, an hour after he went to bed, I found him there sobbing ''I don't want to go to preschool.'' The next day, after staying with him for an hour, I had to leave him screaming with one of the teachers. Last night he was awake for three solid hours (whenever he\x92s stressed, he doesn\x92t sleep well). This morning he cried from the time we put his shoes on until I left him in preschool. He is starting to react badly to any mention of the words school or teach in any context. The word preschool evokes instant tears.

The rest of his behavior is beginning to change, too. He gets very stubborn and negative about routines like getting dressed, throws huge fits about any sort of transition (very uncharacteristic), and has started to tell his daddy that he hates him. He's been in a lovely daycare -- the best place I could imagine -- since he was 15 months old, so he's used to Mommy going to work. But that daycare only takes kids until they are three, so he needs to go to preschool. All of his friends from the daycare are going to different preschools, so I couldn\x92t keep him with more than one of them, and for a variety of reasons didn\x92t choose the preschools chosen by the parents of his closest friends.

He's normally a very easy-going child -- never cries for babysitters (even people he's never met), goes around actively exploring a new environment, doesn't even cry when he's given shots. I have honestly never seen a reaction remotely like this to ANYTHING that has happened to him, EVER. Even after having surgery, he cried for the 20 minutes it took the anesthetic to wear off, talked the experience out for the next few days, and was fine with it.

He's pretty bright, also very verbal and able to say how he feels. And for the last three days he has talked constantly about how he doesn't like preschool and doesn't want to go any more. When I ask him why, he says it's because he doesn't know the teachers or the kids, and ''because it is hard to wait. ''

All of this is so out of character for him that I doubt I can even convey it. I am as sure as I can be that nothing bad is happening at the preschool and the teachers are deeply concerned and trying very hard to work with him, but of course they don\x92t know what he is usually like, so I don\x92t think they understand why I am so upset about it. He did get stung by a yellowjacket the first day he was there, but the mention of the word yellowjacket does not upset him the way the word preschool does; and he has been stung before.

I am at a total loss as to what to do. I can\x92t just quit my job; I would be miserable without it. I can\x92t take him back to his former daycare. I suppose I could see if one of the three preschools where his three closest friends are going has an opening, but I don\x92t know if that would be any better. I am terrified that this is going to be permanently damaging for him; I also don\x92t know what to say to him after the hundredth time he wails ''I don\x92t want to go to preschool! '' I\x92ve told him I understand that he doesn\x92t like preschool, that it makes him sad, that he\x92s scared. I\x92ve told him that I\x92m sometimes scared in places where I don\x92t know anyone; I\x92ve empathized to the best of my ability. I\x92ve tried to point out all the positive features of the preschool: I chose it because there are so many things there that are his most favorite things in all the world - an enormous outside area (he loves to be outside and we don\x92t have a usable yard), a huge sand pit with lots and lots of trucks, even a little bird that he can talk to (he loves birds). I\x92ve tried to offer advice; I\x92ve tried to brainstorm with him about what he could do to feel better. After awhile I just want to sit down and cry with him.

Maybe this will all be over with in a month, but I don\x92t know if I can last that long. Any advice, any ideas, any perspective on this would be most appreciated.


I can certainly sympathize with you. I have a 5 year old starting kindergarten who tells me he ''hates'' it. This is so out of character - he enjoyed preschool, never complained a day about going. He knows kids in his class, and his older sister has been going to this school for 3 years, so he is familiar with it. The teacher says he is ''surly'' all day in class. Let's face it - transitions suck. I don't know if this will help, but in times like this, I think of my former co-worker who is in her late 50's now, and was a single working mom back when that was a rarity. Her son had the worst separation anxiety ever recorded (and she had plenty of babysitters and friends that attested to this). Would cry all day missing her, but she had to work. Finally, in 2nd grade, it stopped, and he is a normal, well adjusted man now. This too shall pass. If he is being well cared for, and you like the preschool, I think you should grin and bear it for awhile. I hate to suggest ''tough love'' for a 3 year old, but it certainly seems you have done everything you can to ease the transition. Good luck! Sherry

My 3 1/2 year old daughter had a similar experience with preschool, and it turned out that the SCHOOL was the problem, although it took us a while to face that fact. I could not tell from your post whether the daycare that your son was in was structured or more play-based, but if the new preschool follows a different format, and if the teachers are not very nurturing, it could make a big difference for a 3 year old. Based on my (extensive) readings of developmental psychology, 3 year olds are working at their independence and a sense of self, and need to interact with each other to accomplish this well. Our daughter started out at an excellent, play-based preschool in Berkeley, which had a very nurturing staff and gave children lots of latitude in their day-to-day activities. She had difficulty transitioning for a week or two! , but quickly grew to love it. I then made the huge mistake of taking her out of that school (because she could only go half-days) and putting her in a full-day preschool program that was part of the private year- round school that my 8 year old son then attended in Oakland. We paid a huge (3 month) deposit and enrolled her in January 2004, and while she dutifully went to school each day, she grew more tense about going, sadder, less confident, until she got sick in the winter and began STRONGLY refusing to go to school thereafter. She would cry and cry all the way to school. As in your case,I grew tired of hearing her tell me ''I don't want to go to preschool'' and figured it was just a slow transition thing. I was looking for part-time work, and the last thing I needed was a failed preschool situation. But I was wrong. Listen to your gut. I finally did, and what I discovered was that the program at that school was damaging to my daughter. We misunderstood the school's claim that it was ''developmental'' as being synonymous with ''play-based.'' It turned out that the 3 year old class had the equivalent of no leass than SEVEN circle times each day, during which the little kids were expected to stop talking and sit still and listen to the teacher. That teacher would put the kids on time-outs when they did not obey her. There was only about 30 minutes of playtime each day. When I began to sit outside of that class in the mornings with my daughter until ''circle time'' was over, I would have to sit as long as 40 minutes sometimes. I could also hear the teacher yell at the kids to be quiet. Needless to say, my daughter is no longer at this school, but the point I'm making is that my daughter's objections were based on something that was really wrong--not just transition problems. It was I who wasn't paying attention closely enough, maybe because I was hoping that with such a huge investment, things would be OK. In other words, since your son really liked his first daycare, you have a basis of comparison. Take his claims seriously and consider the possibility that the school is harmful to him. Rosie's Mom

Dear Karen,

I am mainly writing to express my sympathy. What you describe of your son's sadness about preschool sounds very heartwrenching. I had a small taste of this when my son's preschool closed for the summer and we switched to a small home daycare for a couple of months. While he had been fine at his preschool, he was very sad about the new place. He would start crying and protesting as soon as we got up in the morning. What really broke my heart was when he tried to be brave, but his little lip quivered as we walked up the stairs to the new place. Like you, I was as sure as I could be that nothing bad was happening at the day care. But I started feeling guilty and in doubt, which I am sure he picked up on.

A few things seemed to help. First, I worked harder to help the teacher learn about my son--his likes and dislikes, favorite activities, need for alone time, etc. Secondly, like you, I brainstormed with my son what would help feel better at school. He started bringing some of his own favorite toys--whole baskets of them--with him. Thirdly, I changed both our schedules so that he could go to the daycare five half days instead of three full days a week. He REALLY did not like napping at the day care. After these efforts and about three weeks time, he did settle in. From what you write, it sounds like you have already been really loving, creative and thoughtful about how to help your son. Here are a few thoughts that your story prompted in my mind:

1. Your son was at his earlier day care for two years! That's a long time, even for a grownup. Did he get to say goodbye thoroughly enough? Does he understand that whoever took care of him is still there and still cares about him? Would he want to make a goodbye card? Or send some advice to the new kids starting there? Is he worried about getting attached to a new place only to lose it again? Can he get some kind of souvenir of the old place, so that he could carry a part of it with him at the new school?

2. He says it is ''hard to wait.'' What does that really mean, I wonder? Are the hours different at this school than at the daycare? Are there a lot more kids? Or fewer? Why wasn't it ''hard to wait'' at the old place? Is there anything that would make it easier ''to wait'' at the new place?

3. You are probably right--this too will pass in two, three, maybe four weeks. In the meantime, my heart goes out to you. You sound like a wonderful parent. Best of luck. kira

My gosh, your situation sounds utterly agonizing. First of all, I BEG you not to worry about this experience causing permanent damage on top of everything else (though it's awfully hard for us moms to stop worrying, since that's part of our job). Children are amazingly resilient -- especially when they they grow up with loving parents like you who encourage them to talk about their feelings.

It sounds like you & the preschool teachers care deeply about your son & are doing all the right things to help him adjust. Alas, sometimes things just don't click for whatever reason. On the one hand, your son's difficult transition could be totally normal & he may eventually wind up doing well & loving the place. After all, big changes -- like new schools, new jobs, moving, etc. -- can be tough for ANYone regardless of age or temperament. Also, three-year olds tend to be extremely particular about their environment, routines, etc. & even the most easy-going children go through rough times now & then.

On the other hand, some children (just like some adults), are highly sensitive & do better in certain environments. You may want to consider how your son's current preschool differs from his former daycare, in terms of the physical size & attributes of the facility (what feels dark or claustrophobic to an adult may feel safe & cozy to a child; conversely, a spacious & brightly-lit facility can make some kids feel utterly lost); the number of children enrolled & how groups are divided (some kids need a higher degree of intimacy than others); educational philosophy (some kids need more freedom, while others need more structure), etc.

Your son's temperament sounds very similar to my daughter's. She is friendly & easy-going, loves to explore & generally relishes new people, places & situations. But on the rare occasions when she dislikes something, she is absolutely ADAMANT about it. For example, she loves travelling with me by car, bicycle, train, airplane or boat. But it'll be a LONG time before I ever try to get her on a bus again!

Can you take your son around to different preschools that have openings so you can see if he responds positively to any of them? Alas, I know how hard it is to get time off from work to do stuff like that. I guess it all really boils down to what you feel deep in your gut. You love your son & know him better than anyone else & should trust your intuition. If you feel your boy is going through a stage & would have a hard time adjusting to ANY preschool with unfamiliar teachers & kids, then you'll probably need to help the poor little guy tough it out. If you feel that the preschool is totally wrong for him, then your son needs to change preschools (& perhaps enroll in one that offers a similar environment to his former daycare) as soon as possible for both of your sakes. Good luck! I know you'll do the right thing. -- another mom

Hi, My little one is still just a few months old, so this advice is based on my sister's experience with her second child. She also had a very difficult transition to preschool at age 3, despite being a very social kid who usually adapted easily. After 2 horrible weeks, and numerous conversations with the clearly caring, excellent teachers, my sister observed for a morning through a 1 way viewing window. Her daughter spent most of the time huddled in a corner, crying pitifully, despite repeated efforts by the teachers.

One teacher suggested moving her from the three year olds class to a group of ''almost threes.'' My sister was hesitant, but since she needed her in preschool, she agreed to try. Within a few days of the switch, her daughter loved school and came home happy every day. Fast forward a couple of years, and after a lot of thought, my sister decided to keep her in preschool an extra year, so she started kindergarten at almost 6. She is now a very well adjusted, happy 2nd grader who still loves school. My sister would not have guessed that her daughter's issue was immaturity, given her social nature and intelligence. However, moving her from being ''average'' age in the class to among the oldest seemed to give her a real boost. I don't know if this is at all similar to what's happening with your son, but if there is a younger age class available, it might be worth looking into. Stephanie

You didn't mention whether the preschool was a full day. This turned out to be a problem (I think) for my child. I think the full day (3 days a week) in a large group was just too much for her. We are just beginning a part-time preschool situation in combo with a babysitter so that the longest day is only 5 hours and the other 4 days are 3 hours in a school setting, and with babysitter is about 28 hours total per week. This is quite a juggle, but I think on the otherhand that more than 4 hours a day solo with a sitter as a preschooler is not that stimulating, so we are trying a little bit of each. I can't report back yet, as we just are starting this arrangement. Anon

I wanted to write a followup to my request for advice about my son\x92s difficult transition to preschool, first to say thank you to all of the people who offered advice and sympathy. The support I got from this network was exceptionally helpful to me. Second, a friend told me that those with preschool in their future might be interested in the outcome. So here it is:

I wrote the post at the beginning of week 2, in a panic. By the end of that week, there was noticeable improvement - my son was crying a bit when I dropped him off, but no longer screaming; and during the day was playing and seemed content. As of this week (week 4) things are much better. He still is sad when I drop him off, and he still says he doesn't want to go, but can also talk about it calmly. Several mornings at dropoff he has not cried. He has bonded with one of the teachers - calls her his buddy. Also, he has a friend who plays in the sand with him. He is slee! ping through the night, and his behavior at home is better. When I pick him up at the he seems happy, and sometimes doesn't want to go home right away. The preschool has been very helpful. The teachers cuddle the sad kids, they are encouraged to write notes to their parents, and helped to find friends and activities to help them through the transition. There has also been lots of help for the parents of upset children. In retrospect, I think I had some very unrealistic expectations of my son.

I thought that he was used to being away from me, so he would have no trouble. For whatever foolish reason, it didn't occur to me how much he would miss his buddies and his old care provider. Nor did it occur to me that this preschool is pretty huge (size and activity wise) compared to his earlier situation. He's also nearing three-and-a-half, and shows many of the associated difficulties described in the book Your Three Year Old (I don't buy everything this author says, but she seems spot-on with this one). So some of this is probably bad timing. My old care provider actually gave me some of the best advice. She told me that it is usually kids like mine (the no-trouble-at-all kids) who melt down completely during a transition like this, much to everyone's surprise. She knows us, knows about the preschool, and told me that I had to be absolutely certain I was doing the right thing and convey this to my son.

Here are the things that have been most helpful:

I let my son talk about preschool. I tell him that I understand it is big, new, and scary (his words), but that every day it will get a little better, and someday he will like it. He seems to accept this much better than talk about all the fun things at preschool.

I leave as quickly as possible at dropoff. I don't like doing this, but the longer I stay, the worse it gets when I have to leave. If I kiss him and bolt out the door, he goes right in to play and doesn't cry. He has seen his old buddies several times. Although the experiences tend to be difficult, he makes big strides the next day (e.g. the day after a goodbye picnic with everyone there was the first day he didn't cry at dropoff).

We've had a few playdates with the younger kids. Some of them haven't seemed hugely successful, but my son does seem to be feeling more comfortable knowing some kids.

Hope this is helpful Karen


Daughter's tearful preschool drop-offs

August 2003


My daughter is 2.9 months and is beginning preschool for five days per week, half days (8-12:30) in Sept. During the month of August we enrolled her in the school's summer program to help her adjust to the school. The first week was great, she loved her teacher, and still talks a lot about her very positively. But the second and third weeks have been progressivly harder -- teary, clingy drop offs and now claims at home in the morning of ''I don't want to go to my new school today.'' The teachers have been very warm and embracing and have called me regularly to give me updates that she is doing great during the day, having fun, and playing lots. But I wonder, how long do you as a parent let you child go through the tough drop offs, and what signs should I be looking for that indicate it may be more than just a hard adjustment? Any advice on how to help my daughter adjust or how long to wait it out would be helpful. anon

I had the same experience with my twins. One of them was okay the first week, when everything was novel and new, but after that it was torture to get him dressed and in the car and he screamed when I dropped him off. It killed me. Then one day we broke the cycle. Instead of crying all the way to school in the car we were able to have fun. I made up the game ''I see a ______________ does anybody else''- spotting anything along the way to keep him distracted enough to not cry and I was being extra silly so they were laughing and having fun. That day drop off for us was very pleasant. We played the game each day after and tried to have fun on the way and that was that- no more tears. Anytime my kids start whining or complaining about school on the way now I use a little silly reverse psychology and say'' Oh good- no smiling- today is a crying and whining day. I hope I don't see any smiling or laughing.'' They almost always fall for it and break into huge smiles which, of course, I have to react to in a overly dramatic upset way ''Hey, NO smiling'' Hasn't failed me yet. Good luck CB

My son had a similar situation and we discovered that he likes new situations, but also has a hard time transitioning over the long run. He eventually settled into the routine at school and did very well. If your child is truly unhappy, you will be able to tell--we also had that situation and it never got better. He was able to tell us that he was unhappy and didn't like the school. He always told us he liked the second school. Just trust that your child will be able to let you know what's happening. Sara


Preparing child for transition to preschool

July 2003


My son will start preschool next fall, and I am wondering how other parents have prepared their kids for this kind of big change in their lives. Of most concern for me now is how he can most smoothly change his daily routine, and his companions. He is excited about starting school, and likes the place he will go. But he has spent three or four mornings a week with the same care giver and same other children since he was a year old. He loves the care giver very much, and recently has shown even greater attachment to her, often crying when she goes home. She will continue to look after him one day a week after school starts, but still, the change will be dramatic for him. What can I do to help make the transition easier for him? Carolyn

I think that children are so much more resilient and easy with change than we are--usually. I fretted about my child changing pre-schools. He was happy enough at his first pre-school, and I dreaded telling him that he wasn't moving on to the next classroom at his current school with his friends. I then took him to visit the new school--equally as sweet as his old school but with much more room and varied activities (gardening and the like) because the 2nd school was so much more expansive than the 1st. I told him that he could visit his old school anytime, and he seemed completely unperturbed. (he loves the new, the novel) Upon visiting his new school, he said that he could not finish out the year at his old school, that he wanted to start his new school, ''Right now, this, this, this exact moment.''

I guess what I am saying if that the pre-school is a benign, loving place, and Mom is at ease with the choice, your child will do great. And, as an aside, a few teary separations does not mean that you have made a wrong choice for your chi Fretting Less and less


Child taking a long time to adjust to preschool

July 2003


Hi, My Son is 2 yrs and 8 months old.After a lot of research and school visits we found a preschool in fremont which we thought would be suitable for him.(This is the first time he is away from mom..He has never been to a daycare or had any playdates)

When we visited we met his teacher and liked her very much...She was very kind and my kid was showing great progress in the 2nd week itself.But when i went to drop him at school the 3rd week the director told me that his teacher had quit the job and there was another teacher for his class.

The new teacher wasn't even smiling at me or my child.She was kind of different when i dropped him or picked him from school.She never cared to look at me and talk a few words about what my son did that day at school.The director is a very nice person and so i talk to her when i pick him up to know abt how he did at school.

What is even more hard for me is my child who was okay for the first 2 weeks has started crying this week at school very much.The director says that he doesn't even show interest in any project activity or communicating with friends this week.He just keeps crying and whining.

I could also see some changes in his behaviour this week.He used to be very very polite and kind.Now he doesn't even answer to anything i ask.i am so worried about this.

Also to add to all of these worries the teacher's helper came to me when i entered the classroom and started complaining that my son had been crying on and off.And she said if the other teacher had quit the job what can others do for that...and the way she talked to me i felt like crying.

I haven't talked abt this to the director.Even if i decide to withdraw my son from the school i have to give them a month's notice (or just pay for the next month and leave).So he has to be there for another a month.So i think it might be bad for my son to tell anything abt the teacher's helper and also the new teacher's way of treating me.(and ofcourse i don't think she does anything to distract my son when he cries..she just doesn't seem to care)

He is just a little kid(not even 3yrs) and i don't have an option to stay at home and take care of the kid the whole day...So does anyone of the parents out there had a situation like this..Is this normal for a kid to take this long to adjust to a preschool?Can someone please advice me what to do at this time?I feel very stressed out because of this problem.Can someone please tell me the right thing that i should do ? Sumo

We had a similar experience, with a teacher our daughter liked leaving preschool after she'd been there a few weeks, and a disengaged replacement. We stuck it out for a while thinking maybe it was just adjustment problems, but things keep getting worse, and really escalated at the end. After 3 months we switched preschools and it took my daughter about 1 or 2 days to become completely comfortable there! Some teachers just don't like some kids, and the kids can tell. I'd go with your gut on the new teacher and find a better place! karen

So sorry to hear about your dilemma. I don't think it is all that uncommon for children to have difficulty adjusting to preschool even after they've been great there for a few weeks. Sometimes it just takes them awhile to realize that this isn't a drill anymore and the novelty is gone. Both my children were the same way -- loved it the first week or so than had a tough time for the next two. One of them had a teacher change right away as well, so that didn't help either. They ended up loving their experience and making many new friends over the years, which is the great news.

That said, though, it sounds as if the preschool is not right for either you or your son and I would look at other options. Rather than complaining about your son's crying, the teacher and the aide should be looking into reasons as to why he is doing it and working with you to help figure out a solution. Or at least provide you with some insight. I don't think my expectations are out of line that a preschool teacher should have a kind and caring way about her.

At my children's preschool, the teachers ALWAYS comfort the children when they are crying, particularly the newer kids who are going through an adjustment period. Granted they can't continually hold them while watching the other children as well, but without fail they give them some sort of individual attention. Between our two kids, we've been at preschool for a bit more than 4.5 years and have seen a lot of children make the adjustment (and have seen a lot of parents leave with tears the first few weeks and smiles after that).

Even though you have a good rapport with the director, you should have a similar rapport with your son's teacher. She is the one that is with him during the majority of the day and she is in the best position to help you find ways for your son to make the adjustment. Something just sounds off here, and I would really consider looking into other preschool options.

Veteran preschool mom

This does not sound like a problem with your son, rather a problem with the school. If he did well with the last teacher, and is not doing well with this one, it should be an indication that something is going on at school that is upsetting to him.

If a child cries at preschool, the teacher or someone on staff should pick him up, sit with him, etc. to soothe him, rather than just ignore it and complain to the parents! If the staff at this place are not giving attention to a crying child, you should get him out of there ASAP! The new teacher sounds horrible, and I dont care how nice the director is. If your son felt loved and cared for at school, he wouldn't be crying. Pay the money and find another place. Make sure you get recommendations for the one you choose, and be sure to ask them how they handle kids who have adjustment issues. Be sure to tell them about your past experience. anon

Start looking for a new daycare/pre-school immediately. Talk to the director today. Write down all your concerns, past, present and future (such as your fear of how your son might be treated if you announce your decision to leave) to give to the director and to make sure you don't forget anything. Talk to other parents - some of them might have the same concerns.

Do not be afraid. Listen to your heart. It is your child's safety and happiness, and your happiness that you have to worry about. He is not doing well there. Concerned

Get a new preschool ASAP. Susan

My advice would be generic advice that I'd give to anyone who has a problem with someone or something. If one doesn't speak up about it, one can't expect others to know there is something wrong. You have every right to ensure your child's well-being. Not saying anything to the Director, with whom you seem to have good rapport, is not helping your situation. I would schedule a meeting with him/her. I would also try and speak to the teacher him/herself. It seems that even though she/he may not be outwardly social, that person must answer to your concerns of her/his care of your child. You are paying the school to take care of your child; they are not doing you a favor. You need to speak up for your rights and of your concerns. Good luck. anon


Tearful drop-offs at preschool

August 2003


My daughter is 2.9 months and is beginning preschool for five days per week, half days (8-12:30) in Sept. During the month of August we enrolled her in the school's summer program to help her adjust to the school. The first week was great, she loved her teacher, and still talks a lot about her very positively. But the second and third weeks have been progressivly harder -- teary, clingy drop offs and now claims at home in the morning of ''I don't want to go to my new school today.'' The teachers have been very warm and embracing and have called me regularly to give me updates that she is doing great during the day, having fun, and playing lots. But I wonder, how long do you as a parent let you child go through the tough drop offs, and what signs should I be looking for that indicate it may be more than just a hard adjustment? Any advice on how to help my daughter adjust or how long to wait it out would be helpful.

I had the same experience with my twins. One of them was okay the first week, when everything was novel and new, but after that it was torture to get him dressed and in the car and he screamed when I dropped him off. It killed me. Then one day we broke the cycle. Instead of crying all the way to school in the car we were able to have fun. I made up the game ''I see a ______________ does anybody else''- spotting anything along the way to keep him distracted enough to not cry and I was being extra silly so they were laughing and having fun. That day drop off for us was very pleasant. We played the game each day after and tried to have fun on the way and that was that- no more tears. Anytime my kids start whining or complaining about school on the way now I use a little silly reverse psychology and say'' Oh good- no smiling- today is a crying and whining day. I hope I don't see any smiling or laughing.'' They almost always fall for it and break into huge smiles which, of course, I have to react to in a overly dramatic upset way ''Hey, NO smiling'' Hasn't failed me yet. Good luck CB

My son had a similar situation and we discovered that he likes new situations, but also has a hard time transitioning over the long run. He eventually settled into the routine at school and did very well. If your child is truly unhappy, you will be able to tell--we also had that situation and it never got better. He was able to tell us that he was unhappy and didn't like the school. He always told us he liked the second school. Just trust that your child will be able to let you know what's happening. Sara


Personality change after starting preschool

June 2002


We placed our 3.6 yr. old, Sean in a well known Kensingtopn preschool in January. Up till then, Sean had been at home with either myself (mom) or his grandmother. His brother was born last August.

Since Sean started pre-school, his personality has done a 360. He used to be a loving, playful little guy, who listened and behaved (As well as a three year old can). Within a month of starting school, he has become very aggressive, constantly trying to bite or hit anyone around, including his 9 month old brother. He has been labeled as an aggressor at school, which we find very disturbing. I've tried to speak with the director, however she has not been much help. She questioned what we were doing at home with him, and wanted to be sure we were addressing the problem.

We've been reading a lot about 3 & 1/2 yr. olds and have learned that this behavior can be common, especially with a new sibling in the house. However, we have seen such a huge change, and so negative, that we are questioning the pre-school situation above all. We are considering pulling our son out of the school and transfering him to another one, although I want to be careful not to do further damage by placing him in yet another new situation.

I would appreciate any opinions/feedback on similar situations/advice on this. We are really confused about what to do. Thanks.

I doubt there's a personality change, just stress. My (younger) son was kicked out of his preschool at age 2 1/2 for just this behavior, which had occurred a little bit at home and in his shared-sitter arrangement before he started school, but nothing like the behavior which was reported to us on a daily basis from preschool. We got a babysitter just for him, no share, and she adored him and took him everywhere and he was an angel. He started school again almost 10 months later (elsewhere) and has been a very well behaved child and the teachers love him. He just wasn't ready then and it was too much to have to negotiate for every single toy every single minute of the day and then come home and deal with his older brother who tried to tell him how to do everything. Who wouldn't just want to scream? Interestingly, just last week (he's now 3 1/2 and in his 4th month at his new school) one of the younger kids bit him at school. I asked him about it when it was reported to me by the teacher. He said, '' mama, it's ok. Some kids just have some more growing to do.'' Been there. If you have the option, I would take him out of school and get him one-on-one care for awhile. Start back in January, maybe, after he's had time to adjust to his new sibling and ''do some growing.'' Raissa

We dealt with very similar concerns recently. Our son had been in part-time daycare since he was about six months old, and his caregivers always reported that he was happy and social. But last fall, at 2 1/2, his ''class'' moved to a new site with several significant differences: new teachers, twice as many children, a preschool-type curriculum.

We noticed the behavioral changes almost right away, though for our son they were in the opposite direction from yours: withdrawal, extreme shyness, near silence while at school, and uncharacteristically strong separation anxiety. We figured some of this was normal while he adjusted to the changes, so we waited it out for awhile and kept in touch with his teachers about his daily activiites. Things just kept getting worse.

Over a couple of months, we think we identified all of the things in the environment that were upsetting our child. The change from ''daycare'' to ''preschool'' meant that the kids were expected to make adaptations to the group, and there were far fewer adaptations of the group to the needs of any individual child. Naptimes, for example, were utterly inflexible. This regimented routine was very hard on our son, as I'd expect it to be for yours, since he has not previously been in group care.

The size of the group (about 16 two to three year olds) was also a problem. It seemed hard for the children and teachers to bond. Our son never became particularly attached to any of his new caregivers -- in fact, sometimes he didn't even seem comfortable. The large class was, in itself, probably overwhelming for him. When we'd drop in to check on him, we often found this otherwise friendly, social boy playing alone! If your child is having difficulty making any emotional connections -- either with teachers or other children -- it seems to me the aggressive behavior you've noticed would be a perfectly predictable reaction for a three year old.

On the other hand, you might investigate whether your son is picking up this new behavior from any of the other kids. If your son is being bullied, his aggression may be self-defense, or just an outlet for his anger and fear. In our experience, the teachers tried to control one very aggressive child, but didn't seem to recognize how deeply affected our son was. They could not, or would not, keep our son and this other child separated during the day. In the end, this was the worst problem for us, and ultimately tipped the scales on our decision to remove our child from school.

We realized that, at 2 1/2 it wasn't yet necessary for our son to ''learn how to adapt'' to the demands of the world. I'm very comfortable making the world adapt to him in a few small, meaningful ways, like taking his cues about when to be active, and when to play quietly. Kindergarten is still a long way off! We were more concerned about establishing negative early memories of ''school.'' I opted to join a playgroup (where I can monitor the quality of his social interactions firsthand), enroll him in a couple of tot classes, and make a concerted effort to go out each day to places where he can encounter other kids.

If your situation doesn't require that your son be in full-time care, I'd suggest making some changes. After five months, I think you would be seeing improvement if your child is simply ''getting adjusted.'' There's probably more going on. Try reducing the number of hours he attends, and drop in frequently to watch your child. You'll probably be able to figure out exactly what's going on with him, and if your school won't make accomodations for his needs, then look around at other schools! And if you have to, give him some time off, and try preschool again in a few months.

Our son was back to his old self within a couple of weeks. No more separation anxiety, friendly and social, and we even noticed more rapid improvements in his language. In our case, it was obvious (what a relief!) that we had made the right choice. We plan to try preschool (in a different setting) again in the fall. We hope the extra time at home has enabled him to grow at his own pace, and that he'll be ready to deal with the challenges of school. Anon

My daughter attened preschool 2 mornings a week this past year and I felt there that her teacher really knew her well and had time to get to know both she and I and would notice if she started to behave differently. I guess what concerns me is the lack of help you seem to be getting from the preschool. Did your son's teacher notice the change? Did she see him as a sweet, calm boy when he first began school? I'd consider changing schools if these people don't see your child more the way you do. another mom

Ask him. If you don't get an answer the first time, rephrase the question, but I bet he knows and can tell you enough to give you a clue. Barbara


Preschooler doesn't want to go home

December 2002


I should be happy my daughter has so much fun at preschool she doesn't want to leave when I pick her up. However it often becomes such an unpleasant scene to get her out the gate that I almost wish she didn't like being there so much. Here's what usually happens: She spots me, she tells me she is not ready to go, I tell her she has ''5'' minutes and then it'll be time to go. ''5'' minutes pass (usually more), I tell her it is time to go, she says she's not ready and runs off. I catch up to her, say it's time to go, she runs off. This continues a few times till I have to forcefully get her out the gate against her will sometimes kicking and screaming. This is not easy, mind you, as I always have my 2 y.o. son with me who doesn't like to leave either. Against my better judgement, I have resorted to ''Mommy's leaving'' and walking out the gate without her which usually brings her running, crying, but I don't like that technique at all. Bribing with a treat in the car has worked as well but I am looking for other ideas. Anybody? Kathryn

Wow! I almost forgot that I too posted a similar message about 6 months ago. I just gave birth to my son and my daughter did not want to leave daycare. I can tell you that every situation is different and just getting ideas from others was a huge relief (especially the posts that stated that they too had similar challenges!) What changed for my situation was a combination of things: I did the bribing, I did the timed warnings, I did the threats and pleading. I also adjusted when I picked her up (usually at the same time every day). We talked about her daily schedule; Daddy takes you to school, you spend time at school, Mommy picks you up, we go home so that you can spend time with baby brother and Mommy, eat dinner, take a bath etc etc. This was a good thing because she would tell me what she'd be doing that day herself. Also, I asked for some suggestions from her caregivers. In time, and with trying out different solutions, things changed dramatically. It may not feel like it now, but I am sure it will pass! In the meantime, get creative with different solutions and best of luck! Eileen

Oh boy, I just went through something similar with my daughter at 3 1/2. You might want to try what I call the ''no second chances approach.'' Just tell her you are leaving in 5 minutes, give her some kind of count down or two minute warning, and then when time is up, leave. Pick her up if you have to, even if she is kicking and screaming (walking away is probably not a good idea, because she might decide not to follow). I think she needs to learn that (1) it is inevitable that she will have to leave and (2) when you say you are leaving in 5 minutes, you will leave in 5 minutes. It is VERY HARD to stick to this kind of approach and not give in and give one warning after another. But I think that for me I had given my daughter so many second chances to, for example, go to bed, that she didn't know when time was truly up. For a lot of things, I still do give extra chances. But for the really important, day after day things like leaving school, being consistent is important. I think you'll find that she might react even more strongly for a few days, but then she will accept that she needs to leave when you say. Good luck! Stephanie

I'm guessing that starting with ''5 minutes'' is a sure invitation for a power-struggle (rules are made to be broken, after all). How about this approach: When your daughter spots you and says she's not ready, you could ask her: ''Are you having a great time and you want to keep playing?'' Acknowledging her feelings could be a path to connecting with her about where she's at, and working out with her what might work for both of you. While this may not be the end of the conversation, it could be a wonderful start to helping her feel more trusting that you understand her feelings and are ''with her.'' How the conversation continues depends a lot on how she responds to your question - she might want some more understanding of her, or she might be open to hearing your feelings and needs.

Three more related ideas: 1) have a talk with her at another time, when you are both relaxed and connected, and see if you can fully understand what goes on for her instead of trying to get her to change her behavior. This might give you a clue as to what both of you might do differently. 2) Consider what she is going home TO - is there something for her to look forward to? I don't mean a bribe in the car, but the opportunity for play and connection with family members? If not, consider making such a time when you come in - even a concentrated 15 minutes of focusing on play with the children could make her more excited about home. 3) I wonder how she'd feel about you joining into her play for the 5-10 minutes you're at the preschool, as a way to transition her attention from what she's doing there to being with you in a warm, loving way.

I hope this helps.

I suggest you come to school prepared to relax and enjoy a story or playtime with your child. It's normal for children to have a rough time during transitions, any change from what they're doing is a transition. So walk in quietly, see what your child is doing, join in, relax, and go home a little later when everyone is in a better mood!
Experienced Mom, preschool teacher, postpartum doula.