3 Year Old Son Crying at Preschool/daycare

Updated on February 27, 2011
M.W. asks from Bear, DE
12 answers

My son is in his second week of preschool/daycare. He goes 2 times a week for a full day while I work. The first day went great - he was excited to go and had fun. The second day he didn't want to go, but did ok when we got there. This week, he has been crying (screaming) when we leave him, clutching my leg, nothing consoles him. He does eventually settle, but he's crying quite a bit throughout the day. I have access to a video camera in his classroom to check in on him from work. Just now the kids were eating lunch. He didn't eat anything at all and cried through the meal in his chair, getting up several times to get a tissue. The teachers seem to be ignoring him, which is probably because they don't want to encourage his breakdown any more. I feel awful. We put him in the program to socialize and learn. Up until now I'd always brought him to work with me and hired a nanny to care for him. He still has the nanny on 1/2 days M/W/F, but with my newborn (2 months old) also in her care, I'm afraid it's easier for her to let him watch TV more than I like. That was also a reason for putting him in preschool - get him away from the tube. Now I feel awful, seeing him cry, and it's torture to get out the door on "school days". He starts crying from the moment he gets up. My question is, for parents in similar situations, how long did the crying last? Should I ever consider pulling him from the program or stick with it? Everyone says this is good for him, but I'm questioning that when I see how unhappy he is. My heart is breaking for him.

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answers from Richmond on

My mom taught preschool for 10+ years, and she had her share of cryers!

Best advise: give a big, confident hug when dropping him off, remind him you'll be back, tell him you love him and have fun, and leave.

If he sees you getting upset because HE'S upset, that's going to make it worse.

I promise, it WILL get better, and by this time next year you'll be bummed when he runs off without even waiting for that hug ;)

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answers from Sacramento on

I probably wouldn't watch the camera all that much right now, because he is going through a transition time. Transitions can be hard for kids, but it's also good. He's going to gain so much being in preschool, but you need to give it time.

Don't pull him from the program. This isn't anything unusual and you're going to see it get so much better in the coming weeks. He just needs to get to know the other kids, get used to the new routine and teachers, and he'll do great. My son started daycare part-time when he was two and put on a great crying show at the beginning and by a month or so later he was running off in the morning, often forgetting to give me a hug and kiss! He loved his school and did great once he went through the transition.

I promise it will get a whole lot better soon!

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answers from Fort Collins on

I would talk to the teacher about your concerns. As a child care provider myself I would be a little concerned as to them ignoring him. Yes, some kids need time to adjust and you need to be careful not to reward breakdowns, but transitions are hard and tears come for a reason. He needs to learn to cope, but he needs support too. I would suggest that you talk with the teachers and find out their plan for dealing with his stress and offer them advice on how you support and care for him at home. I would use their answers and level of concern as a guide to decide if this really is the right place for him. Sometimes teacher and child just do not connect and it is no one's fault it is just life.

Good Luck

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Richmond on

My mom taught preschool for 10+ years, and she had her share of cryers!

Best advise: give a big, confident hug when dropping him off, remind him you'll be back, tell him you love him and have fun, and leave.

If he sees you getting upset because HE'S upset, that's going to make it worse.

I promise, it WILL get better, and by this time next year you'll be bummed when he runs off without even waiting for that hug ;)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

OH, I do remember those days. Our daughter started preschool at age 3 and her crying spells lasted about 2.5 months, twice a week. I can only say hang in there, it's all a process, all a learning experience and quite new for him. BTW, that is really cool that you have access to the camera in the classroom!


answers from Allentown on

Hi, M.:

Running away from a problem is not the best solution.
Talk to the Nanny and see if you two can come up with a solution
to your concerns.





answers from Columbus on

You might try working with the teachers to give him a safe zone. They should acknowledge his distress, but not play into (it could be that they have already do so on this particular day, and were not playing into by paying more attention after acknowledging his feelings).

Some things that have helped others kids' (that I've heard from mom friends; our LO is too little yet for preschool):
Printing a picture of you and Daddy, or just you and putting it up on the wall in the room so he can see it and go "visit" it.
Taking a special teddy or whatever, and keeping it in his cubby; taking it out to cuddle if needed.
Taking an item of clothing of yours (like a favorite t-shirt that you've worn a couple days in a row), with your smell, and keeping it in the cubby and visiting it if needed.

Talk to the teachers and ask how this is being handled. They should have plenty of different options to try/suggest, and should be working with you & him to ease this transition.


answers from New York on

Hi M.,
I feel so bad for you & your son. :( I know it's heartbreaking. I went through something similar with my daughter when she started preschool. (She was 2.) The crying and clinginess lasted for about 2-3 weeks, and it came back (although not quite as bad) after a school break/vacation. Mondays were also more difficult, too, because she had the 2 weekend days off. I, like you, put my daughter in preschool mainly because I wanted her to be able to socialize with other kids her age. I feel so bad for your son; maybe the teachers should try to engage him instead of ignoring him. (Sorry, I'm not trying to judge...Maybe they have tried that.) My daughter was fortunate, because one of the teacher aides in her room was so very good with her; she had asked me what toys/activities my daughter especially liked, and then as soon as we arrived in the classroom she would engage her with these toys/activities. It's worth a try if the teachers haven't tried this already. My daughter's school also keeps a picture of each child's parents in the room so the kids can look at them throughout the day. If you believe he is in a good program, I would stick with it a bit longer. If it's not, then maybe you can find a better one. If he can get over this (like my daughter did) he can have fun at school with his friends. Now my daughter can't wait to go to school and be with her friends. Good luck!



answers from Philadelphia on

Hi there,
I just felt compelled to add my 2 cents. I think it's possible your son is not ready for a program away from home. My 3 1/2 year old is at home with me and I also have an infant (now 8 months). I will try sending him to preschool next year as a 4 year old. I didn't feel he was ready yet at the beginning of this school year. Now he may be ready, but I certainly don't think it's hurting him to be at home with constant adult interaction. Yes, the older one watches more TV now than before my younger son was born, but not what I consider to be too much. And that's with nursing my younger son which obviously your nanny doesn't have to do. My opinion is that if you're paying someone to watch your children in your home, she should/will be able to handle taking care of both children without neglecting one. I don't think a little educational TV will harm your son. On the other hand, pushing him into a situation he isn't ready for seems unnecessary. When I was 4, my mother went through the same thing with me. She tried to put me in nursery school and I was miserable. She pulled me out and the teachers were all sure this would be terrible for my future education, etc., etc. The reality was, I went to kindergarten the next year, loved it, and ended up loving school and being first in my class as a senior. I then became a teacher. I only say this to show that being pulled out of preschool does not mean a kid will do poorly in school or lack social skills. I was/am much more outgoing then my older brother who attended and loved preschool. If I had access to cameras and could see my son crying for me and no one was able or willing to attend to him, I would have him out of there so fast their heads would spin. Just thought I'd share a different perspective. I don't think you'd be quitting or giving in by taking him out. I think you'd be responding to his needs.

Hope this helps in some way. Good luck with whatever you decide. I'm sure it will work out fine either way in the long run.


answers from Williamsport on

If you're going to keep your job, and you know the school is good, you have to let him get through this. It's very new to him and he's not used to the change yet. He'll get better. Just keep reassuring him that you know it's a hard change, but now he's big, and school is for big boys, and he'll be fine.

My daughter went through this a bit in her first daycare year. It was a great school, I put her in part time for socializing, so I knew-she needed to get comfortable with it. The best thing for me to do was give her a nice confident good bye and walk away Despite the tears (so hard), and the teachers there also ignored crying kids to an extent after acknowledging them. Otherwise, the child keeps feeling sad longer, whereas if the world doesn't stop for them, they do eventually join the world. He's still trying to get you to let him stop going. Stand firm by what you decide. It's also OK to pull him and wait for pre K, but fighting the battle now will prevent it later.

If he is just sad and crying at home, and it's only about this, being patient is good, but if you feel he's doing any angry tantrums, and he's gotten his way for any tantrums in the past for other things, you should discipline those, and enforce good behavior. That will also speed up the process in case it's at all deliberate on his part and not just fear and sadness based. I hope he feels happier soon!



answers from Oklahoma City on

It will maybe last another week buts that's the longest for kids who go every day. Kids who go every day adjust quicker and it will last a day or two up to a week. He will get used to it and eventually make friends and want to go.



answers from Philadelphia on

If you think he would be happier watching tv than at school, take him out of the preschool. TV is great! Make sure he has stuff to play with in front of the tv, so he doesn't get bored. Plus, your 2-month old will not be that young for long, and soon it will be easier to do more fun things with both kids. Plus, spring is coming--that makes playing outside even easier. Make sure nanny has a stroller and a baby-carrier (like a soft-structured carrier) for the little one so that she can care for both kids easily. I really think it's the right choice. Crying all day is definitely much worse than happily watching tv!

edit: Anyone who says this is good for him--don't listen to those people so much.


answers from Kansas City on

I have a little girl now that just switched from 2 nights per week to 5. Before she was only in care for a couple hours before bed. Now she's here earlier in the day and has longer to play. She has spent a lot of time being bounced between mom, grandma, dad, and me. Grandma has allowed her to watch a LOT of television. For months she's come into my house and pretty much demanded the tv. If I let her watch it, she's all smiles. If I have it on when she arrives, she's all smiles. If I don't have it on when she arrives she cries. If I tell her no to the tv and lets find something to do, she cries.

I have taken this child out to indoor playlands and she has a wonderful time. She smiles and laughs and plays the whole time. The minute we get back to my house, she starts to think about her mother and wants only to watch tv comfort herself.

I think your son and her are going through the same thing. She is also, nearly 3. They want things to be just like they have been in their favorite scenario. It's bothering them that they have to learn a new routine in a new place. Because I am a home caregiver, I can do the tv sometimes when her whining and spreading her tears and leaky nose all over her face gets to me. She wouldn't have the leaky nose if she would stop feeling sorry for herself. She doesn't want to "play" with me or anyone else unless it's some BIG, loud, crowded, playground. But her mother doesn't want her watching tv all day anymore than I do.

The fact that he is only there a couple days per week makes it harder. This is only the 3rd day this girl has been with me a full day. It's also the first time she's ever been here 3 days in a row.

I've been through this dozens of times. So long as he feels there is another scenerio that is possible, he will be unhappy. Try and talk with him about what you are seeing if he understands being videotaped. That's kind of cool if you think about it. You can tell him that you saw he was unhappy during lunch and ask what he was thinking about. If he realizes that this is his only option for that time of day and that you want him to make the best of it, he'll get used to it. But 2 days per week will make it much harder and longer.

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