Help for Preschool Drop-Off for Toddlers

Separation anxiety is natural—but if your preschooler is turning on the waterworks at drop-off, could that mean their school isn’t a good fit? Read member experiences and advice below.

Not yet a member of Park Slope Parents? Join us to find solidarity from your new support group!

A member wrote to their baby group about their toddler going to preschool drop-off....

“Are a lot of you having trouble at preschool drop off in the mornings these days?

I feel it’s so tough to gauge if our kid is maybe a little more emotional these days, developmentally? Or if he’s truly unhappy at his school. With the 3K application opening up, I’m hesitant to put our current school on the list if he’s crying all morning on the way there…

I try to make sure to connect with him and give him attention and reassurance in the mornings but it’s usually quite a battle.

Hoping for solidarity or is this a red flag?”


Fellow parents shared solidarity and advice…


Assess their emotions at pick-up.

“Solidarity all the way. My kid cries every morning (it's an exhausting battle getting dressed and out of the house too) but I'm assured she's happy a few mins after drop off, and she's always happy at pick up - which is a good sign, I think!”


Consider other data points too.

“This is a great conundrum.  We have the same issue (although inconsistently).  However, I am pretty confident that our kiddos is happy at his school - here is what I do to try to assess if its the school or a phase:

 - Do they send you pictures during the day?  Does he look happy and engaged?

 - What is his mood when you pick him up?  My kiddo is always happy to see me but happy about his day and excited to share.

 - Do you know any of the other kids/parents - what is their experience?  I see other parents have similar issues at drop off and we compare notes and it makes it feel like a stage....

 - Does he exhibit this behavior going to other places or leaving the house?  My kid NEVER wants to leave the house - but he is always happy when we get where we are going.”


Check in with the teachers.

“Solidarity. It's so hard to know.  My daughter cried every day at drop off and sometimes still does (she is in kindergarten). My two year old almost never cries--though there were a few weeks last fall where he really threw down. Overall, I think my daughter was happier than my son is in school. Except for the wailing cries at drop off,  she really loved her daycare and pre-school and never asked to stay home with me. My son doesn't cry, but asks to stay home with me regularly  (pang of guilt there--is he a different personality or should I have put him in the same school his sister was in even though it would have been a logistical nightmare). 

It's always worth talking to the teachers. They can help shed light on a situation, reassure and also be more attentive if your little one is struggling.”


Reach out to a school behavioral therapist if there is one.

“Solidarity to all. This is a very reassuring thread!

We are also still having a lot of trouble at drop off in our 2s program, and our seemingly very well-adjusted, outgoing, super extroverted kid is still much more shy and introverted at school than she is at home, and out in the world. 

There's a behavioral therapist at her school we recently had a meeting with who assured us (along with her teachers) that she is happy and engaged at school, and that sometimes, for whatever reason, it just takes some kids longer to adjust than others, sometimes the entire school year. Sometimes you can pinpoint the ‘problem,’ but most of the time, it just is what it is. For the most part, the pics and videos from her teachers show her happy and engaged, and she is always happy at pick-up. 

I wish I had had a meeting with the behavioral therapist months ago, to be honest, because it definitely felt reassuring, so if there is someone at the school you can talk to, I would encourage you to reach out.”


Your child might naturally be deeply in tune with their feelings.

“Hi there! Just wanted to chime in, in solidarity. My daughter has been going to daycare since Sept of last year (she is about to turn 3) and we have had maybe two weeks combined of no tears at drop-off. Like others, we're assured that she is happy while there and photos seem to confirm this to be the case. Doesn't make it any easier! We were also told that some kids have a harder time adjusting because they are actually more in-tune/aware of their feelings and the sadness of being apart. Not sure if they're just telling me this to make me feel better.

The Daniel Tiger song ‘Grown Ups Come Back’ has helped!” (Currently on Youtube here) .


All transitions can be hard.

“This has been a new thing for us as well at morning drop off. Our 2 yr old went to daycare from a year old and never cried at drop off, so this is surprising for us. She only just started doing this and has been at the school for about 3 months now. I'm seeing this as developmental and not about the fit because she's always happy shortly after drop off and has tons of fun (as seen in pictures), and chats about her friends, showing off new concepts/skills she's learned, and saying nice things about her teachers. Transitions have been a challenge across the board lately, also potty training was a big shift for she's been through a lot lately! I'm holding that in mind as much as I can in these moments.”


See if your school will allow you to hang back at drop-off.

“Our preschool allows parents to stick around for 5-10 minutes in the classroom to allow for a softer transition. I've found that this makes the drop-offs so much smoother for her and on days when I have to drop and go there tend to be tears. This typically looks like reading a book and by the end she is feeling a bit more settled in place. I don't know if other preschools provide this option but if so I recommend it! 

The Daniel Tiger song has also helped and has become more of a mantra for us ("parents come back").”


Rituals can help kids going through a phase of separation anxiety.

“We're also deep in this too, so- Solidarity! [Our child has] always been slow to warm with strangers (thanks Covid and faraway family), and has had to transition between a few different daycares last year.

She's been crying at drop offs since day one, and…we've maybe had 2 weeks of non-crying drop offs. 

Separation anxiety is at a high at this age/developmental level, as are all the changes that we're asking of them (potty learning, bed transitions, language acquisition, sleep progressions, etc). 

Like everyone says, she's happy in the pics that are sent, happily plays ‘school’ at home, talks positively about her experience there, and recently doesn't want to leave immediately when I'm there to pick her up. Maple Street also allows for the slow transition drop off, allowing 5-15 minutes of time for parents to say goodbye. While I know that's helped some compared to our last ‘hand her through the door and hope for the best’ situation, she still cries and asks me not to leave. 

Alllll this to say... I think it's healthy, I think it's MOSTLY a stage, and I think that some kids ARE just more sensitive to transitions/separation/emotions. 

Our daycare recommended some rituals (read the same book, stamp on the hand, bring a lovey, special handshake, etc) and we've also picked up ‘The Kissing Hand’ from the library. Really sweet book about our love remaining even when we're not physically present. 

Hugs to all!”


Related reading from Park Slope Parents

12 Tips to Help With Separation Anxiety

The PSP Guide to Finding and Securing a Preschool

Reviews of Preschools and 3-K Programs