17 answers

How to Make 3 Year Old Stop Crying at Daycare

When we drop off our 3 year old at daycare/school, she cries hysterically and the teacher needs to pull her away from us so we can leave. She has been at the same daycare/school for the past 1.5 years. In her beginners, she cried in the morning for 3-4 months, and when she moved to the new intermediate class with new teacher, she has been crying since June. She typically will stop crying about 15-20 minutes.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to ease or stop her crying every morning?

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When my son went to preschool, putting a "kiss in his pocket" worked (he kept his hand in his pocket as he walked away from me), but when my daughter went 3 years later, it didn't work (she's much more attached to me and would cry whenever I left her anywhere). We went shopping together and bought a special (inexpensive!) pendant that I would 'fill with kisses' every morning. When she would get sad (her reason for crying), she would take it out and rub it on her face to remind her that I loved her and would come back to get her. You might do something similar so she has a "piece of you" at school.

Have you considered a different daycare/preschool? Maybe there is just a vibe there that is uncomfortable. Try visiting other options and see if she feels the same. A friend of mine has her kid at a school and when on their way he would scream when the car got closer. She moved her child to a different school and he was totally fine! My son started crying when I left after seeing the attention another child got when doing it. All the undivided attention. But because I knew how happy he was in the first few months I observed for a day and realized there was nothing going on that was different to make him not want to be there...he stopped and all was well. Hang in there! :-)W.

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As a former preschool teacher, I have to agree that thos is VERY normal. My suggestion is to do as Catherine C has said and be sure to stick with it for at least 2 weeks or more. One mother from my class had a family picture on a plasctic bag. She would give her daughter a kiss & hug, tell her to have a good day & hand her the picture in the bag. What words you use will depend on your daughter, but it worked for this particular mother. As the teacher, I was always sure to whisk a crying child away and immerse them in fun activities/ music/ dancing whatever it took. Sometime something small from home can be a security item to transition between Mom & teacher.
Like Catherine said, it becomes a power struggle once you react and give her attention for it. I wouldn't hesitate to drop by early or even shortly after you leave to invisibly check things out. I wish you luck and send hugs as this is not an east thing to deal with. Like other stages, this too shall pass. Best of luck.

My daughter, who is 3 1/2 as well, also has fits of crying every now and then. She was great in the beginning then somewhere around Christmas (because of the inconsistency) began crying again. Same thing, the teacher having to take her out of my arms. If I didn't think she was going to be okay, I almost want to just run back in and take her back. =) A few things that I realized and have tried are: I was spending too much time on the actual drop off (teacher and I talking while I was holding my daughter) so, we started off with doing a game, such as who can race to the door and do the fastest good bye kind of thing. That worked for a while but then it wore off. Now I give her a sticker in the morning and say it's for daycare/preschool then if she does a really good drop off and no crying that she'll get a surprise in the car when I pick her up. I usually pick the surprises because she picked once and picked donuts (well, I only did that once). =) Now it's stickers or small things that eventually I hope to wean her off of. The one other thing (if the teacher is willing) is when you drop your daughter off to have the teacher ask if your daughter wants to help her with something. My daughter is always wanting to pitch in with "cleaning" or setting up for the day and it distracts her from me leaving.
I wish you the best and I know how tough it is!
By the way, you might want to just briefly ask her at night time if there is something happening at preschool that upsets her. Don't give big reactions but just more listen. My daughter was having issues with one of the kids and how they were treating the teacher and always screaming. I just told her that I understood and she could always tell the teacher if something is bothering her. The little girl that was misbehaving and screaming actually apologized to my daughter and things are good.

I'm looking for answers to this question too. My 3 years old is a really good boy, but leaving him at day care, is like I'm abandoning him to alligators!

This is really very normal from the years of preschool drop-offs that I've been through. When my younger daughter started preschool she cried hysterically every morning also. The best way to deal with it is to tell her ahead of time, "I will not be able to stay a long time when I drop you off today. So I'm going to walk you over to Miss Nancy, I'll give you a hug and a kiss, and then I have to go." And then do it. Don't stay for the long, drawn-out drama. If they need to peel her off your leg so you can walk out, let them do it. As we all know, kids this age love nothing better than a power struggle! If you refuse to participate, the problem may end right there.

If you're already doing that and the behavior continues, then make it a practice to drop in unannounced during different times of the day (if possible, unobserved by your daughter), just to see what's going on. In our case, we discovered that my little one was being left outdoors (steps away from the parking lot) unattended as a form of punishment. Needless to say, after that discovery I could see why she cried every day! It's hard to imagine that this would be the case in too many instances, but I'm just throwing it out there to say that if your child is acting out of character, there might be a good reason for it. Trust your instincts.

Good luck!! The preschool years are such a challenge!

Hello H.: I have done Day Care for many years and have seen this time and time again. Please let me share some of the things that I have seen work for us and for my own children.
1. the child needed to understand that the parent is coming back - because that is the fear for a child that they will miss out on something or someone won't be there for them later.
2. since you have to have the child in care- maybe you need to rethink the place that she is at. If its not a good match then a change is best.
3. besure that you are not rushing to get her to care and then rushing off. My daughter in law has to plan her morning so that everthing is relaxed when she drops off her little one at her day care or that child is a mess all day.
4. Be sure that this has not become a habit or control issue. I have one little one that was good as gold once her folks left but when they were coming or going it was awful!! I finally had them come in from a different entrance where their child didn't see them & they observed how the child reacted to others coming and going then went around to the door they generally come in & saw the world fall apart. I have to say that I have had to had parents agree not to come inside because of the other children's reactions to the tears & yelling..
5. please do not be on the cell phone when you drop off your child. Everytime a parent does that I spend time with a crying child all because they honestly think mom or dads phone call is more important than they are. As a care provider I am amazed that some parents forget that children come before work .
So I guess what I am saying is that after talking to your care person and checking to see if there is a better placement for your little one. Feel freee to contact me if you have any questions . Good Luck Nana G

Before you leave the house, start talking about what is going to happen. She might protest. Explain that you go to work, and she goes to school.

Kids hate unpredictability. Reinforce through conversation everything she can expect.
"mommy is going to get into the shower becuase I'm going to work today. & you are going to school to see Miss Amy" Keep giving her an explanations about what to expect.

don't sneak away. kids hate to be surprised by a suddenly missing parent. Say goodbye kiss and hug then leave. remind her about all the fun things she's going to do. Paint, draw, play, etc.

I've been through this twice; I have a 6 yr old and a 2yr old.

When my son went to preschool, putting a "kiss in his pocket" worked (he kept his hand in his pocket as he walked away from me), but when my daughter went 3 years later, it didn't work (she's much more attached to me and would cry whenever I left her anywhere). We went shopping together and bought a special (inexpensive!) pendant that I would 'fill with kisses' every morning. When she would get sad (her reason for crying), she would take it out and rub it on her face to remind her that I loved her and would come back to get her. You might do something similar so she has a "piece of you" at school.

My first son went through the same thing. He was an extremely anxious baby, toddler, and young child. It was his nature to be frightened of the unknown and fear of people he didn't know. We read a lot about anxious children including a great book called "the anxious child". It gave us lots of helpful tips, including asking what he was scared of (never thought to do that!) It turned out he was scared that we wouldn't come back. So, we gave him our passports to hide (expired of course) and explained that we could not leave without them. We also told him exactly what we did when we left him and showed him where we would be (he could see his dad's work from his school). We also had very ritualistic morning routines including saying the same goodby every time (love you and see you at lunch time). Sometimes, however, it is the school! My friends daughter was at Carmelo because it was so highly recommended. Well, there were so many kids and no one there to comfort her daughter. My friends child now goes to our kids school where there are only 10 kids and 3 adults! Everyone feels special and heard. We learned from our first born that children will feel comfortable and safe in different environments and it is up to us as parents to find them. We have 2 other children now and use all the same techniques on them.
Good luck!

Have you considered a different daycare/preschool? Maybe there is just a vibe there that is uncomfortable. Try visiting other options and see if she feels the same. A friend of mine has her kid at a school and when on their way he would scream when the car got closer. She moved her child to a different school and he was totally fine! My son started crying when I left after seeing the attention another child got when doing it. All the undivided attention. But because I knew how happy he was in the first few months I observed for a day and realized there was nothing going on that was different to make him not want to be there...he stopped and all was well. Hang in there! :-)W.

As a former teacher who dealt with this every year (there are always a couple of kids with the same problem!) my advice is to develop a drop off routine and stick to it. When you say "mommy's leaving in 5 minutes. We can read one book or do one project" stick to it. Don't extend the time because she is getting upset and clingy. Also, talk about drop off on the way to day care. Remind her that she will have 5 minutes with you before you leave and ask her what she wants to do before you go. When you do leave, give your child to the teacher, give her a kiss and say good-bye and remind her that you will be back- then leave. It will be hard because your child will be crying and you will feel terrible about doing it, but remember, you are leaving your child with professionals who deal with these issues on a regular basis. If her crying doesn't drop off in a couple of weeks you may want to meet with the Director to talk further about the issue. In my experience if you stick with the above advice, it does the trick!

Do you work full time and therefore need to put your daughter in preschool? I was fortunate enough (even though we rented and never had much money) to be able to be at home with my kids; therefore when my daughter cried inconsolably when I put her in a preschool at 3, I was able to take her out and let her wait another year, and let her stay home with me, where she wanted to be.

If you have to work, and have no option, then just have a consistent routine and people will just have to put up with her crying. If you don't - then take her out. She's just a baby and she wants her mommy.

I don't know what other issues you have with her but your description of her as a three year old as "very difficult" seems harsh. At three she's still a BABY, no matter how old she seems when compared with the 9 month old.

Do what you can to check and be sure there isn't a problem with the daycare that is causing the crying. Then do what you can to try to give her comfort and ease about the separation from you each morning. Once you've done those things, if the crying continues, you just have to let her and her teachers work it out. Some kids are just naturally more sensitive and will have to have their cry first thing in the morning. As long as she can settle in and have a good day once the cry is over, she should be just fine.

Does it not just break your heart! I hated walking away from my daughter crying...so, what I did..

I would take her to the store every morning and buy her a muffin and OJ or milk. (i tried packing it from home, but it never worked the same). thankfully a 711 was on the way to her daycare school. She would come into the store with me and hold her muffin and OJ while we were in line and paid. When we got to school, i would set her up at a table with some friends, get her muffin on a napkin, open her OJ, so she was ready to eat breakfast...so when i left she was ok with it because she was occupied with something she really enjoyed. Yes it was inconvientent, time consuming, and not too expensive, but not really economical, (especially for the single 20 year old Mom..lol) but it was the only thing that worked, and I just could not leave her while she was crying...i already felt so guilty for having to work fulltime...after a while we were able to bring something from home for breakfast, but for a long time this is what we did every morning. On fridays for a special treat I would take her to the drive thru Caffeeno and get her a "Moocha"..(aka hot chocolate)...only $1, and i didn'thave to get her out of the car..lol...she looked forward to preschool and her Moocha...

good luck..

Dear H.,
All I know is, it's best for you not to let it become a long and drawn out thing. She may have trouble adjusting with the transition in the morning. She may have trouble adjusting to a new teacher. The main thing is that you let her know you will be back and let her know that she is strong and can have fun at "her" special place.
My daughter was ticked that I actually wanted to go to her kindergarten class on the first day of school. She was secure and ready and didn't think she needed her mom for all the hub-bub. My son was different. He cried when I had to take him to daycare but he wasn't worried about himself. He had fun and made stuff and played. He was worried about if I would be okay the whole time. So I just had to reassure him that I was fine and before bed we talked about each other's day. Of course we said we missed each other, but I listened to what he got to do and I would tell him that I had an appointment and I met a nice little boy or someone who has a dog or anything about my day that was nice and he could relate to. I had to be gone, there was no choice. People were always giving me little things to bring home for him. He knew it wasn't out of sight, out of mind.
I always made a little note on his napkin before putting it in his lunch box in the morning. He's 14 and we're re-doing his room. I found his stash. He has saved all of them. Every note I snuck into his backpack that I knew he would find on his camping trips for school or little league. Or just lunch, for heaven's sake. I cried when I found them and he hung one in the living room, right by the front door.
It's an outline of my hand and inside my hand I wrote,
"My love is always with you, no matter how far away you go."
He saved it all this time.
Write notes on her napkins. Go on a walk and find heart shaped rocks that you can both kiss in the morning and you can each keep one in your pocket until you pick her up. Make time to talk about your day and let her know you're fine and you'll always just be a heartbeat away.
It will get better. I'm obviously a sentimental sap, but it's best not to prolong the drop off no matter how much she cries. It just makes it harder on you both. It's a little more difficult with sensitive children, but she needs to know that she will be okay because she will be. And so will you.

Best wishes!

Since she has a new teacher, you may want to pop in and spend all or part of the day to watch what is going on...there may be some issue with the new teacher. It may be something harmless like a loud voice or it may be something more. Check it out. However, more likely, it is a stage that they all go through of separation anxiety. They are finally VERY aware of their surroundings and know how to "push our buttons" to try to get what they want, which is more time with you/Daddy and control over some aspects of their life. They don't understand why some days (weekends) they get to stay home with you and then other days they have to go to daycare.

You need to keep reasuuring her that you or Daddy will be there to pick her up at the end of the day. Talk to her about how you and Daddy go to work and she gets to go to school with her friends during the day. Maybe incorporate a calendar with daycare/work days one color and weekends another and mark them off. Offer her small rewards such as stickers for not crying and I big reward on the weekend like a trip to the park or out for ice cream or something if she goes a whole week. Set longer goals every couple of weeks.

When you drop her off, don't fuss over her, just give her a kiss, wish her a fun day and tell her that you or Daddy will be there later to pick her up and remind her about the rewards for not crying then leave as quickly as possible. I know it feels horrible...my daughter did this to my husband and I every day for 6-8 months around the age of 3yo. Our daycare provider was very good about getting her to sit down and eat, if she hadn't already eaten at home or involving her in what the other kids were doing or just holding her for a few minutes and telling her about all the fun things they would do that day. She usually only cried for just a few minutes after we left. It is heartbreaking, but just a phase. They don't have control over or understand their weekly schedule and it is a little bit scary. Good luck!

Maybe she would be more relaxed with a nanny at home. If you share a nanny with another family, it might cost about the same as the preschool.

wow. I hear your exhaustion and frustration. It must be very hard knowing your child is not at peace when you are apart. She, not having the ability to explain her anxiety, truly depends on your to advocate for her and that is huge for you, along with a young baby to care for.

I would visit some other programs, even a drop off by the hour program to rule out the place she is at. I would contact a developmental pediatrician to see if something else is hard for this little girl.

If there is any way to be with her more, I would do everything I can BUT I would also try to find a young helper to give you a break so you can stay grounded and warm when you are overwhelmed. As everyone says but so little of us remember to do, put your own oxgen mask on first.

Lastly, I would try reframe your view of your child, even how you describe her. I say this not in judgement but for her to change, she needs to feel a different vibe from you. Extra sensitive children are demanding and yes, difficult, and they need devoted and creative mothers. God had faith in you to give you her...She needs your empathy and your smarts to figure out what is wrong and causing her stress..It can get better.

Best

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