Coping with tantrums or tears at the child care drop-off

May 25, 2020


Tears are a part of life, whether you’re a toddler heading off to child care or an older child going to after school care. Children tend to let their emotions out (and that’s a good thing!) and this can come in the form of tears, tantrums, or just bad moods.

Mother of two young boys (aged 2 and 4) Susan has shared her tips for coping with the inevitable ‘wobbly moments’ that children experience.


Brief the centre on what to do to help you out 

Susan found that briefing the educator on how to handle her sons when they are upset helped her youngest son transition to child care. 

‘When we started at the child care centre, they had us fill out a form to help them understand the boys,’ she shares. 

‘For instance we would write down that Tommy calls his bottle his bot-bot, so then they would know what he meant when he said that. 

The form asked what the best thing to do if the child is upset at drop off, and for me and because he was only small (8 months old at the time) I just said to distract him. 

If they showed him a book or an activity he could take part in, that would usually distract him enough to feel less upset about me leaving,’ she explained.

Educators know exactly how to settle a distressed child in childcare, so you can be sure that they won't feel overwhelmed or worried that your child is upset.


Develop a relationship with a key carer

There’s nothing worse than having a teary toddler and handing them over to someone that you don’t know very well. Children quickly pick up on the fact that the parent and educator aren’t connected. ‘Really try to develop a relationship with the educator,’ advises Susan. 

‘When your child see that you get on well with the carers it makes them feel more secure in the child care centre.’

Often centres will have a key carer for your child, who becomes your child’s go-to person when they first arrive and throughout the day.

But that person isn’t always there when you arrive, so it’s important that you get to know several of your child’s educators and carers, even if it’s just their name (nametags help!).  

‘As a mother, your natural instinct is not to leave your child when they are upset,’ shares Susan. 

‘I found it was really important that he got to know a couple of the carers really well, so that I could say ‘OK Jenny is going to take care of you today’ for instance, rather than just handing him over to someone whose name I didn't even know.’

Susan suggests that encouraging your child to bond with a particular carer can have huge benefits. ‘I really noticed that my 8 month old had bonded with one of the young carers,’ she shares. 

‘She would cuddle him and tickle him, and he would reach his arms out to her when we arrived. She was so warm and kind. That made me feel so good knowing that he felt safe and secure with her. She acted almost like a relative would.

If you can put in the time with the educators, they’ll be a lot more in tune with you and your child. They’ll understand what types of things you are anxious about as a parent.’


Arrive early

There’s nothing like arriving to a loud, packed centre to trigger tears in even the most confident of children.

‘We always went early so that he was the first one there,’ Susan says. ‘He used to cruise around and look at the different activities that were set up for the day. He needed to warm up a bit, touch everything, and then he would sit down and have some breakfast. 

The days we went in late were a totally different experience. It was too stimulating and intense for him to walk in at 9am when it’s in full swing. 

It’s loud, there are people everywhere, he can’t always find his favourite educator to sit with. And that’s when he would get upset and not want me to leave. He needed to walk in when it was calm and quiet.’

Even if you can’t arrive before everyone else, try to give yourself plenty of time so that you're not in a hurry to go. Children can pick up on the ‘I’ve really got to go’ vibe and this can make them feel upset.


See if you can find some flexibility with the hours

If you feel as though your children are not coping with the long days (or consecutive days) of care, investigate whether there are some other ways to make the child care work for your family. 

This might mean adjusting your work hours so that you start earlier and pick them up earlier, if that’s an option for you. Or it might mean finding other people (your partner, friend, grandparent, neighbour) to help with the drop offs and pick ups.

‘When I was first back working, I was dropping the children off at 7am when I myself was tired and emotional,’ shared Susan.  ‘I knew I wouldn't be there to collect them until 6pm and that was really hard for me. 

It goes against your natural instinct to leave your child when they are calling for you. 

That’s why I ended up negotiating more with my boss so that I could work more from home, and work flexible hours so that my husband could pick them up earlier sometimes, so that they weren’t in care for 11 hours which is a lot when you’re two.’


Arrange to check in later

You can’t always stay until your child has stopped crying. In this instance it’s great if you can call, or receive a call, to let you know that your child has settled for the day.

‘It feels so good when the child care centre rings you to check in after there have been tears at the drop of,’ says Susan. 

‘They would say he was fine after five minutes, or that once his little friend arrived he went off playing happily. That made me feel better, knowing that he was OK and that they cared enough to call and let me know.’


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