29 answers

3 Year Old Cries All Day at Preschool

My 3 year old daughter cries all day in preschool saying that she misses her Mommy. It has been 4 weeks now -(she goes twice a week for 2 1/2 hrs a day), and it's not getting any better. Does anyone have any suggestions? She does not play at recess, just sits by herself with her head down (saying that she misses me and her younger sister) and won't eat the snack or have any juice citing the same reason. The teacher recommended trying to set up a playdate with another little girl in the class but it is so hectic at drop off and pick up with my daughter screaming that I am not able to talk to alot of the other parents. I have spoken to a few but it's so difficult with different schedules, alot have other children they need to pick up or drop off, or work part-time etc. I bought a book called the Kissing Hand about separation from your mother and have read it a few times but it's not really making a difference. I would appreciate any suggestions on making this easier on her including any books or dvds about being away from mom. I don't want to take her out of school because I am afraid that she will think she 'won' and can get out of school next year too if she cries long enough. When I ask her she says that she likes school and her teacher, but she wants me to be there with her. One of our neighbors (a boy) is in the class too, so she does know one child there. Please help, I feel so bad for her! I am home with her and her younger (1 1/2 yr old) sister and have never left them. They have been babysat by close family a few times but never anyone else so this is a totally new experience for her.

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

My daughter is doing much better in school! I'm really glad we did not take her out. She still cries a little just when I drop her off, but she stops before I even leave the building. She is really enjoying it, but still struggles when there is any change to the routine, like raining days when they don't go out to play, holiday parties etc. She even plays at recess now too. I was able to coordinate one playdate with another Mom (who asked ME - I think the teacher may have put her up to it :)) I have also started packing lunches on nice days and we stay after school to play on the playground and a few other moms have followed suit.. My daughter actually asked the other day if she could go to school now- about 1/2 early! Thanks for all of the suggestions- I think she just needed time to get used to it and realize that Mommy also comes back to get her!

Featured Answers

Hi T.,

I agree with many of the posters here that she may simply not be ready. If she can have another year at home, she may be ready and then love school (not necessarily---some are not even ready at 5 or 6). If she must continue going now, even though she's miserable, she may never enjoy going to school. Because of the early negativity association with school, she may always see it as this horrible thing she must do. So, I'd say if not something you must do for work, then give it some more time. You're not giving in; just being considerate of her feelings. We all need that from time to time.


2 moms found this helpful

She's not ready. It's not about "winning." Maybe stop, then let her try again in a few months. Or, why don't you stay with her till she's ready for you to leave--maybe it will take weeks, maybe you can just leave for a few minutes at a time at first, until she feels more confident.

Lots of great inisight here already, but one other suggestion . . . Ask the teacher for a quick run-down of what they did that day and what they will do the next day (can be on paper if neither the teacher or you have the oppotunity to chat each day). That way you can talk or role-play specific activities to get her excited about what she'll be doing . . .

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Hi T.,

I agree with many of the posters here that she may simply not be ready. If she can have another year at home, she may be ready and then love school (not necessarily---some are not even ready at 5 or 6). If she must continue going now, even though she's miserable, she may never enjoy going to school. Because of the early negativity association with school, she may always see it as this horrible thing she must do. So, I'd say if not something you must do for work, then give it some more time. You're not giving in; just being considerate of her feelings. We all need that from time to time.


2 moms found this helpful

I understand completely! My then 2 year old had a horrible time at her first preschool, and although she stopped crying, she was withdrawn and never did "come around" to the experience. I took her out after a few months when I realized the teachers were absolutely not helping matters and in fact, were contributing to the problem and I was afraid they were going to make her hate school forever. I think taking her out was the absolute best thing I ever did. Instead of formal school, I started actively seeking playdates, we did music class and little gym class together every week and zoo classes and library programs occasionally. These helped, although honestly I just think she wasn't ready. I would encourage you to trust your instinct. In my case, I don't think the teachers were helpful, I think they actually caused more harm because they didn't understand why my daughter didn't "come around." If your teachers are supportive and warm and nurturing, then I would suggest trying the playdate thing, doing lots of things with other kids and coaching her on how to make friends. I would also try the cute ideas mentioned, like the necklace idea. One thing that worked well with my child when she went back to school as a 3 year old (and incidentally, she did well once she was ready, just a few times when she got sad and said she missed me) was getting a cheap little photo album and putting pictures in it of her and her family. I also chose a different school that I knew was top notch and extremely understanding and nurturing. Good luck--I honestly think the problem might simply be that your daughter is not ready and THAT IS OKAY! I think parents today expect a lot of their very young children and we have to remember they are just 2, 3, or 4 years old! They are supposed to want their mommies!!

2 moms found this helpful

I'm a SAHM have a 4 year old son and made the decision not to put him in preschool at 3 years old. He reacted the same way whenever he was separated from me and I decided it wasn't worth it. He is in preschool now that he is 4 and he is doing great. I don't think keeping him home one more year has hurt him in any way. He just wasn't ready.

Is there a Mommy & Me program available in your area? You could participate with her and she might feel more comfortable.

Good luck :)

2 moms found this helpful

Hi T.,

I don't know your situation but if you can be home with her maybe she is just not ready for that type of experience right now. If you continue working with her at home on going to school and then maybe enjoying some fun time together when she gets home she might start warming up to the idea. Then maybe next year or even by winter time, if your school will allow you to enter half year, she might just be more comfortable with the whole idea. I hope that helps a litle bit.


1 mom found this helpful

Pre-school is highly over-rated. If she's really not enjoying it...keep her home with you. There are plenty of battles you must win, but pre-school isn't one of them. If she needs/wants the security of mom at 3, so what?

1 mom found this helpful

What concerns me is that from what you are saying she never "comes around" during the class. My son cried EVERY DAY at dropoff the whole year for his 3 year old program. But as soon as I left and class started he was totally fine and really enjoyed it. From what I understand this is how it usually happens. For your daughter to stay by herself, not play or do snack I think that is a problem. I would probably try the playdate setup and see if making a few friends helps. Also, make sure that you are not playing into her emotions by "talking" her into it. The more matter of fact you can be the better.

Truthfully though....I think you should probably take her out. Sounds like she may just not be ready. My son cried for half the year in the 4 year old program too. So much that they suggested delaying Kindergarten. Well-all of the sudden he stopped. Just stopped! From that day on he seperated from me with no problem whatsoever. He is now in Kindergarten and there has never been a single issue. He happily leaves every day. All kids develop at their own pace and I think we need to be sensitive to this. I worry that you may be harming her in the long run by keeping her in the program.

One more thing: Maybe it is the wrong preschool for her. I would talk to other parents and find out the experience they are having there. They are not all the same.

1 mom found this helpful

She's only 3. In the big picture of things preschool at 3 is not important. Maybe she's just not ready yet. That is not bad, just is. If it were me, I'd pull her out and try next year. Use the year to get her prepped - join a mom's group or find ways for her to interact with kids her own age more.

1 mom found this helpful

I'm sorry! I know this is very hard. I've seen 2 things that have helped kids in this situation. One little girl has a necklace her Mom made for her. She has not taken it off since she got it (when she was 3, she's 5 now). Whenever she missed her Mom, she'd just hold onto the necklace. It helped her a lot. They actually sell Mother / Daughter necklaces and bracelets at some places. Then you could both be wearing them when you are separated. Do a google search on it and you'll find lots of things, I'm sure.

The other one was just recently. A little boy in my son's class was having a terrible time at preschool. He missed his Mom so much. Their neighbor is a child psychologist and he suggested giving him one of those keychains with digital pictures on it. They bought one and loaded it with pictures of family. He's been fine ever since. He just takes it out and looks at it when he misses his Mom. The teacher also told him he could have a hug ANY time he wanted one, and that helped him some too. She let him know that she is a mother also, and that she loves to give hugs.

Good luck!! It is so hard to leave your child when you know they are crying. I've been there many times, and I often cried too when I walked away. I hope you figure out something soon that helps your daughter.

1 mom found this helpful

Take her out. She may not be emotionally ready for it yet. It's ok for a few weeks if they are attached and clingy and cry a bit. But really after that if she is acting that way she may not be ready for it yet. Is there anything else that bothers her when she's there? Or you could try sitting in with her one day to see what's going on in the classroom.
Some kids just don't do well in a nursery school setting. But a lot of times they just aren't mature enough to handle it

1 mom found this helpful

It sounds like she's just not ready - don't push her. Kids will be in school for a LONG time. Spend the time with her now when she obviously needs you.

My son didn't cry in 3 year old preschool like you're describing, but I did pull him out for other reasons that were indicating that he just wasn't ready. This year in the 4 year old class he's doing great and loves it. I'm so glad I went by his needs rather than my wants.

As far as getting her used to being away from you, maybe you could start small by having a family friend (someone other than whom she's used to) babysitting her for a short period of time (an hour or so) then work your way up to a few hours.

Another option is volunteering in the preschool classroom - is that possible? Good luck to you!

Hi T.,
I read a lot of the suggestions. I do not think that taking her out of school means that she will win. She may not be ready or my not like the idea that her sibling is home with mommy and she is not. If you do choose to take her out you might want to get her into a class perhaps art, dance, sports, so that she can get comfortable doing independent activities, while feeling safe because you are not far away. Over the year leave her for longer periods of time with a sitter. This way you are slowly building her confidence and resilience to being without you. If you chose to leave her in school, talk to her. Tell her that she needs to go to school but what would make going better. She will probably say, "You". You can write that down as a suggestion and then give one of your own, "Take a picture of mommy to school. Your turn." Go back and forth trying to find solutions. Take all of your daughters no matter how out of bounds they might be, she is 3. She may want to bring a giant unicorn or put you in her lunchbox. After you have made you list, talk together and try to find the one that will work best. Sounds like a lot, but it can be done with a 3 year old. It is also great quality time spent together and a wonderful lesson for you daughter about problem solving.

I would love to hear how it goes,

B. Davis
Child And Family Coaching
(p) ###-###-####

I work at a preschool and we don't allow children to come only 2 days a week for this very reason. Two days a week is too difficult for children, it does not become normal them, normal is still being home with mom and sister. I would add another day of the week for her to attend preschool, even if its only a half day. It may take two or three weeks of attending preschool for 3 days, but she will get better. Life is so tough when you are a toddler.

Former preschool teacher here, and now a mother-

i'm seeing people say she might just not be ready, instead of just pulling her why don't you set a date in your mind- maybe Jan 1st. give it that long and then know that if it doesn't work out then at least you gave it a good shot. That might make you relax a little bit about it, knowing It isn't a matter of her winning (which i think it would be if you stopped right now) but that you won't have to deal with this forever.
Kudos to the teacher suggeting the playdate, i feel your hesitancy on this, and as a shy person, the thought of playdates with people i don't know at all freaks me out, BUT i do think it would really help your daughter, Ask the teacher to suggest someone that she things your daughter might bond with, and send a note for the teacher to give to the other mom, with your contact info and just explain that your daughter is having a rough time adjusting and would this other child and her caregiver consider coming to your house for just an hour so your daughter could see that the other children in the class are kind and fun to be with. YOu could prented to have a tea party or something and get your daughter excited about being sortof a party instead of some kid coming to touch all her toys. I would make sure the playdate is at your house on your daughters turf, and keep it short and hour would be plenty, and most likely the other mom would want to stay, that ensures you only have to make consversation for a short time. Serve a snack and have some coloring and a few toys out and see how it goes. You might need to try a few kids to see which family you click with but this would be the single best thing to help your daughter out. don't forget the neighbor boy too, as long as he is a gentle kid. Boys and girls this age don't care at all about gender when they play.

Another helpful thing would be to role play "school" at home, let your daughter be the teacher and welcome you to school and go through the day's schedule with her or let her pick what she likes best about the day to "play " with you. She could read you a story (one she knows the plot to and can retell) you could plan out a little snack and have her pass out the napkins, you could have "circle time" and pretend to sing the days of the week, get out the playdough or puzzles that sort of thing. Ask the teacher to write out the schedule and talk to your daughter about it so she knows what comes next .

I've had kids before that missed mom all day and would just sit and not participate, but they were always watching and i think learned quite a bit even from their spot off to the side. Some times other kids inviting them to play helped, If she is wailing all day though and continues into the month of Dec then i would pull her and try again next year. It might help you if there is an observation window to watch and see how bad it really is an hour into class, two hours etc
Good luck

She's not ready. It's not about "winning." Maybe stop, then let her try again in a few months. Or, why don't you stay with her till she's ready for you to leave--maybe it will take weeks, maybe you can just leave for a few minutes at a time at first, until she feels more confident.

Dear T.,
I would not put my child in a pre-school at that age if your child is crying. My 2 yr. 9 mos. old child was enrolled in a Montessori program and never cried because they knew what they were doing and, at that time, she had already completed a reading program that I had started at 6 mos. of age, "How to Teach your Baby to Read," by Glen Doman. If you want your child to grow socially, she needs to feel secure socially. You are part of the answer...maybe tea parties can help with that. If you want your child to grow academically, you need to make your child feels that you are encouraging this activity.
My child was excited that I spent the time reading with her, speaking clearly with her (eye to eye contact), and doing everything with her.
A second child in the picture will cause insecurities and she may feel that you are pushing her out the door too soon. She wants to be part of your big picture. Being Mom's big helper has a lot to say about listening, learning to be family and identifying with an excellent role model.
My daughter never cried going off to Montessori, and to this day, she never regrets the time that I spent with her nor going to Montessori.
Clearly, there are answers to your situation. But know that she is worth every decision that you make for her well-being and success in life.
A caring mom,
P.S. Also, at 3 years of age, they can develop nightmares and this is very real to them. You may do better waiting, if this is an issue.

I tried my daughter at 3 and all she did was cry and she only went 2 days a week for 2 hours so i let her go for one month and it was not getting any better so i took her out and it was for the best she missed me. I tried when she was 4 and she did fine and they are in school for many years so keep her home this year and try next year...isn't it nice to be missed?
good luck T.

Hi T.,

Darling T.. Your child is not ready to go to school.
Save yourself and her pain.

The child is grieving over the loss of her mommy. There is no win or lose. It would be the same if you had died.

Enjoy your children while you can. Love them, play with them, hug them. They will need you for your tenderness and nurture.

Give it to them freely. Keep them close as you can for as long as you can. Good luck. D.

Good Day T.,

She might not be ready. EVERY child is different. I'm a Mom of 4 Grandma of 1.

I realize most Mom's have to work with the Economy the way it is. Your one of the lucy ones myself included.
Being you don't have to go to work why not keep her home?
It really isn't a she "won" situation at this age.

Is there a reason why she has to go to preschool now? She has siblings to play with and you mentioned a neighbor's child in her class. I'm sure they can play together.
There seems to be so much emphasis on that children need to have more time away from the parents. They need to have more socializing. My question is "why" at such a young age?

Just a few questions you should seriously be asking yourself. Really think of the question. Is this something you want or something that Family & Friends are saying you should be doing?

My oldest 2 had alot of peer pressure when they went to school. Especially my oldest her birthday is in September. She was always the youngest in class. Alot of the kids where almost a year older than her. Which made her the perfect target for peer pressure. She was and still is very outgoing (25). Her brother (20) had to go to daycare when he was 3 because I had to work. He was bullied alot starting right from pre-school age.
Our youngest 2 (6) & (5) we chose to homeschool. They both LOVE IT! I am able to work from home (like you). They both get the one on one with their academics being taught at home. There grades are great. My 6 year old is in the 1st grade. He did baseball in the Spring. He is now in football & cub scouts. He has a very active social life. My soon to be 5 year old can't wait to start gymnastics next month & to play a sport in the spring. Around here you have to be 5 to join sports. She is in the Daisy Girl Scouts which they start in Kindergarten.
If you google homeschooling or sites to work on counting & the alphabet you can pull up hundreds of free sites that you can work with your daughter at home on what she will be doing in pre-school. This way she will be learning what they are teaching in school. She won't be upset she will be interested in what you are showing her. There is NOTHING that a teacher at pre-school can teach her that her LOVING Mom can't teach her at home.

I use Agora Cyber School. www.k12.com
They use the same k12 program that the 2 area schools use so if at anytime we decide to send the kids to public school they will be doing the exact same thing they where doing at home. ( I don't see that happening we are having too much fun!!)

I hope this helps?
I. B.

Hi T.!
I'm sorry that I don't know the answer to your dilemma. I do however want to encourage you that you are doing the right thing by trying to figure out the "situation" to make it a little easier on her. I do think the best thing is to continue to take her as you have been doing and pray that she snaps out of the seperation anxiety that she is going thru.
You'll both figure is out soon enough! Your doing a good job mama!

I haven't read all the responses so maybe I am repeating others but I would say take her out and keep her home with you. She is only 3 and maybe not ready yet and if you have the luxury of keeping her with you and you aren't struggling with having two at home then why not? She is trying to tell you what she needs and there is no winning or losing here....just taking care of your daughter and letting her know that mommy will listen to her when she if at all possibly, can. Good luck with this tough decision. Follow your heart. K.

I have experienced almost the same thing with my son. When I work he is with my parents and then at home with me so he wasn't very well socialized. I have been so worried about how he reacts to his peers ( hides and is very shy) I finally enrolled him in a prek that is 3 days a week 2 1/2 hrs. but the class is small. I think that it sounds like your daughter may just not be ready yet for prek. Give her some more time. I did with Jacob ( he's 4) and after a couple tearful goodbyes he is fine. If there is no reason she has to be there yet try giving her some more time so she won't feel that school is a bad thing. Hope this helps!

Hi. I feel your pain...kind of.
As a mother of a 4 year old who I never left(not even to go to dinner with my hubby alone), I understand how you feel.
I just put my daughter in Pre K for a break. She was NOT excited, but has grown to love it. This is the 3rd week. Every morning for the past 3 weeks, she has told me she does not want to go. Every time she would tell me this, I would just sigh....I would then say, "well what should I tell your friends who want to see you". She wants to see her friends, but not leave me.
This is about control. She has the control right now. You need to take it back. It does take a while for children to get used to new things...I mean the house, school, being away from you and her sissy....
She knows you are home with her sister, and prob feels left out. Reassure her she is learning, having fun, and making new friends. Maybe have a reward system. Let her cry. It is okay to cry. Give her some more time, she will be fine.

Hi T.,

As a mother, and a teacher, I understand what you are going through. There is no easy answer, but one suggestion is setting up a regular schedule, every day, so it makes the transition easier for your daughter. For example, if she knows that every morning, she gets up and goes to school, it will be easier for her to get used to.

Another suggestion is not making a big deal about good byes. The longer the good bye, the worse it is - make good byes a matter of fact thing - to show that it is no big deal and you will see each other soon.

I would also let her know what you are doing when she is at school and tell her that you need 'mommy' time. I also think the play date is an excellent idea. Maybe the teacher can help you by communicating your interest to the other mothers. If you haven't already, I would ask her teacher for suggestions as well.

Good luck,

Awwww....that must be heartbreaking for you. My son was kind of like that when he started Nursery school at 3 (2 mornings per week). If it's any comfort to you, it DID get better and the day came when he didn't look back & just ran into class.
One thing for you to keep in mind is to be VERY upbeat when you take her, DO NOT let her see you upset. Even if you're crying inside...smile, smile, smile. Tell her you'll see her at X:00 and try to keep it light.
I think the play date is an excellent idea! Can you ask the teacher for a class list with email and/or phone numbers? I think that would really help her out at school and making a new buddy is always a good thing. Hang in there, Mom! It will get better!

Maybe try to give her something to keep at school of "mommies’" like an earring, necklace or a picture of you to let her know you are still with her while she is at school. Maybe spend a day with her at school and play with her and get her use to the new environment. Good Luck.


It does seem like you have already received a lot of good suggestions here. I just wanted to add that a few more. Since you bought the kissing hand book, perhaps buy some heart stickers too. That way when you drop her off at school she gets a heart sticker just like in the book. A visual reminder of what the two of you share. Also I agree with previous posters, give her something that is yours to hold onto until you come back. My cousin went through a similar situation when her daughter was young. The daughter ended up wearing mommy's sweater to school every day and that made it easier for her to cope. Let her have a photo of you two to keep at school. I know that you said you have a younger child, but is there a possibility that you could go to school with your daughter and stay in the classroom for a few days. Not for you to interact with her or the class, but if you stay she can begin to get comfortable knowing that you are there. Having been a preschool teacher in the past, I have found that in the beginning if kids are having a rough start, having mom near by or at least in eye shot gives the confidence a boost. The reward system is another good idea, I have always found success with that too. It does not have to be a toy, rewards can be a candy kiss, a sticker, helping make dinner, doing a special activity with just mom alone etc. As many have already said it is possible that she is just not ready and there is nothing wrong with that either. Just give it time and Stay positive.
Good Luck

Dear T.,
When my daughter cried in school, I gave her a locket with my picture on one side and hers on the other. That way I was always with her and when she missed me, all she had to do was open the locket!
Good Luck!!

Lots of great inisight here already, but one other suggestion . . . Ask the teacher for a quick run-down of what they did that day and what they will do the next day (can be on paper if neither the teacher or you have the oppotunity to chat each day). That way you can talk or role-play specific activities to get her excited about what she'll be doing . . .

Maybe your daughter just isn't ready. I don't think she will necessarily do the same thing next year. A year is a long time to a child that age. I doubt she's trying to win an argument; she's probably just missing you and scared! I would consider taking her out and trying again in a year. I myself went through the exact same thing when I was four. My mother says she felt terrible taking me out of nursery school because the teachers said it would ruin me academically, and I wouldn't do as well in school if she didn't stick with it and keep me there. But I was crying and miserable and my mom couldn't take it. I stayed home the rest of the year. The next year, I went straight to kindergarten and loved it! I did have a few episodes in the morning where I would get upset, but my mom would just take me in to school and tell the teacher that I "wink, wink" missed the bus. This didn't last long. A year was enough time for me to mature and be ready. I continued to love school and ended up becoming a teacher. And being pulled out of nursery school didn't ruin me acadmecially. In fact, I went on to be first in my high school graduating class and now have a master's degree. Plus, I am much more socially outgoing than my brother, who went to and loved nursery school. So every siutation is different, and I think you should listen to your heart. Hope this helps!

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