Why is it STILL so hard? (How to effectively manage those tearful drop-offs)

I've spoken about Little Man's tearful drop-offs when he started nursery almost two years ago. As with most children, the settling-in period was tough. Very tough. For him and for me. To see those tears every morning as I tried to smile and walk away, even as he screamed "Mummy" and hoped I would turn around. To know I was leaving my little baby – unhappy, even if just for a while – while I enjoyed some child-free time. To begin to question my decision: was he still too young? Would he become introverted and insecure? Would he begin to hate me?



Of course like most children, he was fine ten minutes after the drama, making friends and taking in everything around him. He would then tell me about his exciting day, his new friends, the new toys. I knew he loved it. I was at peace.

Then he had to make the move to pre-school, and even though the nursery staff managed the move, there was that initial bout of apprehension. And a few tears. But it was easier. He understood more. He had been there and done that, and knew what to expect.

All was well. He was happy.

Then over the summer we moved house. Which meant a big change for Little Man and of course, a new pre-school and friends and rules. I wasn't sure what to expect: would it be back to tears and protests, or would it be smooth sailing now that he was much older and understood so much more? The two times we visited the school, and spent time there, he absolutely loved it. And immediately felt at home. I was relieved. And happy.

The summer went by and finally it was time to start his new pre-school. And all hell broke loose! The tears and protests and 'Why can't you stay with me mummy?' pleads began. All over again. To be honest, it took me by surprise. I really expected it to be smoother, considering he is two years older than when he first went to nursery, and he's so much more mature now. And he's been there. He knows what it's about. So why were we back to square one?!

Yes it's a new school.

Yes he didn't know the teachers or his classmates.

Yes the past few months have seen a lot of changes for him.

Yes he's had a long four-month break since we moved and he started his new school.


He's NOT a baby anymore.

He's been to nursery AND pre-school before.

Most of his friends are ok, and they've gone on to reception (Little Man is September born so he starts school only next year).

I was confused. And a little irritated. Yet, I was softer on him this time around (experience maybe?). I took each drop-off one day at a time. And learnt how to effectively manage those tearful drop-offs.



These are the lessons I learned. I hope it can help you when faced with settling your child into nursery/ school.

1. Deal with the situation from the heart. Not from the mind. It makes it easier for parent and child.

2. Empathise with them. Look at the situation from their perspective. Imagine being with your mum for the first few years of your life, and then suddenly being thrown into a room full of new faces, and knowing you won't see your mum till the end of the day… it is a pretty huge deal for a two-year-old.

3. As stressful and (after a point) irritating it might seem, don't shout at or threaten your child (though I confess I succumbed to doing both at first). They are already scared. They need to feel love and security. Give it to them in abundance.

3. While threats are a no-no, rewards and reward-charts sometimes work wonders. Give them an incentive to go to school. Tell them they will get a star or a toy or a treat if they go in with a smile.

4. Talk to them about nursery/ school so they know what to expect. Enact a happy drop-off. Play pretend 'at nursery' games, talking about all the fun things they can do there. Read books about starting nursery.

5. It's tempting to make up stories and tell them white lies, but the sooner they realise that school is something they will have to deal with for years to come, the more accepting they will become of it. Tell them the real thing: grown-ups go to work and children go to school. But make it sound exciting and enticing – they have to go so that they can make new friends and learn to read by themselves and learn interesting things about the world.

6. This is something I invented myself. This time around Little Man was more vocal and told me: "I like my new school and I like my teachers. But I just miss you mummy." So I invented the phrase 'Happy missing' – it's when you don't have time to miss someone because you are having so much fun! I tell him that with so many toys and friends there, he will have no time to miss mummy. So although I am not around, he shouldn't be sad…

7. Try and arrange play-dates or meet-ups in the park with a couple of your child's classmates. Let them get familiar with one another in a more informal setting. Once your child has made some good friends, he will be happier to go to nursery/ school.

8. This one's very important, and even the teachers will tell you this. Make drop-offs as quick as possible. It is tempting to linger on and hold your baby and wait till the tears stop, but the truth is that while you are around, the tears won't stop. By being around, you are just prolonging the process, making it harder for you and your child. A quick kiss, smile and a wave with a "I'll be back in the afternoon/ evening/" and then leave.

9. Give them a time frame of when you will be back, so that it helps them understand. If it's a short session, tell your child you will be back after he has his lunch. Or after snack time.

10. Above all, just be patient with them and give them all the love and attention they seek. Make your time at home with them extra-special so they still feel secure.

PS: Little Man is now settled and happy in his new school, and has even made some good friends. All is well again. Until reception next year…


Related Post: 10 Things Every Nursery-Going Mum Should Know


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  1. Jacqui

    These tips are great. Those drop offs can be heart wrenching. X

    1. Nicole

      Thank you Jacqui. Yes, one of the most heart-wrenching experiences of motherhood.

  2. LaToya

    Great tips! I have a hard time leaving my son anywhere! I’m just a mess when it comes to this. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Nicole

      Hope these tips help you. Thanks for popping over…

  3. Evelyn

    Thank you for writing about such a relatable topic! Your tips are a god send. I think that having them go off into the world is the palpable taste of change – the evolution of your life – and your babies(!). Tender, sweet, unforgettable, and very divine, yet human experiences <3 Blessings to you and your Loves. Bug hugs, Evelyn http://www.PathofPresence.com/practice

    1. Nicole

      Thank you for your kind words Evelyn. Yes, it is a major step for our babies and an important part of motherhood – exciting yet difficult.

  4. Jaime

    My daughter is already in school and loves it, thankfully. I hope my son does as well as she has, but if not, I’ll keep your tips in mind!

    1. Nicole

      All the best. I guess the second child settles in easier because he or she is used to the school run and the routine and sees the older sibling go to school. And probably wants to emulate that.

  5. Jacki fors

    Great tips. Im scared to start pre k woth our daughter but kmow she will be ok.

    1. Nicole

      Yes, in the end they're always ok… it just takes time and a whole lot of patience. Good luck

  6. Britney Kaufman

    I'll need to save these! My first did fine at drop offs, but my second is a stage 5 clinger!

    1. Nicole

      Ah bless. Hope it goes well for you'll.

  7. The Squirmy Popple

    Thanks for sharing – my daughter has been going to nursery for over a year and a half and the drop-offs have NEVER gotten easier. I just give her a quick hug and leave as quickly as possible – apparently, she settles down 5-10 minutes after I leave. It doesn't make leaving my screaming child any easier, though. #blogcrush

    1. Nicole

      Oh honey, I'm so sorry to hear that. I can only imagine how tough that must be on you. There were phases where my son also didn't want to go or went in with tears, even at his old, familiar nursery, and those days were tough (on me, more than him!!!). But I'm glad she settles once you leave. Hope it gets better for you'll…

  8. Lucy At Home

    These are great tips! My youngest is starting nursery after Christmas so I'm really dreading this. I was so lucky with my older girl because she pretty much just skipped in the first day and never looked back! I think I'm due a cry-er this time round! Eeek. I love your idea of "happy missing" – it lets them know that it's okay to miss someone who isn't around but you don't need to be sad about it. #blogcrush

    1. Nicole

      Ah Lucy, I'm sure she will be fine. Usually the younger ones settle in easier, because they've been doing the school run with the older sibling, and know the drill. Besides, she just might want to be at school knowing that's where her sister goes too:) All the best anyways…

  9. Sarah

    Such good tips, it can be so hard for them to settle can't it. I have been lucky as Amelie usually settles well but after long school holidays she is sometimes a bit tearful. Bookmarking this for next year when she actually starts school eeek! #thursdayteam

    1. Nicole

      Yes my little fellow will start reception next year too… fingers crossed as that's a whole new ball game!

  10. Noleen Miller

    Great tips – first year at school can be hard for morning drop offs. Have faith as this too shall be something of the past as they grow older.#BlogCrush

    1. Nicole

      Thank you Noleen:) And thanks for popping over!

  11. Cheshire SEN Tutor

    Love the idea of 'happy missing' that's lovely!! What a great idea. Pleased he's settled now #blogcrush

    1. Nicole

      Thank you, appreciate the comment:)

  12. Mackenzie Glanville

    I am so glad it has all turned out now. I agree it is easy to end up feeling helpless and frustrated, but dealing with it from their perspective helps us realise how hard it is for them. Being patient can be a struggle, but we have to be. All of my three struggled with separating from me, but they all got there and I survived too! Great post, #blogcrush

    1. Nicole

      Thanks so much. Yes it is tough but being patient and supportive actually helps them get through this, as difficult as it might seem for us at that point in time.

  13. Lisa Pomerantz

    These are great tips, that I will share with my Mrs. She does the drop-offs and has a terrible time of late with Little. This is a new behavior, albeit learned from Big in earlier years. I hope they work! For all our sakes. TY lovely! #blogcrush xoxo

    1. Nicole

      Oh dear, hope this phase passes soon and all is well again. Do let me know if the tips help!

  14. Wendy

    This post is full of really useful tips and as someone who had a screaming child at pre school last year I can totally back up all your advice. I was a lingerer as I couldn’t cope leaving my boy crying but I soon learnt he would stop crying quicker if I just left him with the teachers.xx #BlogCrush

    1. Nicole

      Yeah it's a tough call to make – whether to leave your child sobbing or to stick around and comfort them. As mums we tend/want to do the second, but walking away often solves the problem!

  15. Sarah

    Love these tips! I always have tearful drop offs but somehow Daddy escapes unscathed…

    1. Nicole

      Ah, shame, but I've heard that being quite a common phenomenon. Dads do get it easier, don't they?!;) Hope things get better for you. x

  16. Alana - Burnished Chaos

    Great tips. My son cried at every drop off until he was 6! My daughter was great with nursery and loved it, but it was only one morning a week. Now she’s in preschool two and a half days and she cries her heart out every single time. I used to draw a star on her wrist (I have a tattoo of a star on mine) and she would hold it to her chest whenever she was missing me and know that I was thinking of her. It worked for a while and then she stopped needing it. The last few weeks have been horrendous again so I’m going to try that one again, fingers crossed.

    1. Nicole

      Oh dear, sounds like you've been through the worst of it Alana; I'm sorry to hear. But I absolutely LOVE the star on the wrist idea – it's so so lovely. I hope it works its magic again…

  17. Mummy and the Mexicans

    This is so tough. We're currently going through this with my 3-year-old who started preschool this year, but her dad is the one who has to take her every morning. Being off sick quite frequently hasn't helped her to adapt either. These are useful tips in your post! #TheListLinky

    1. Nicole

      Yes it is a tough period for the child and the parent involved, but it does become easier in time. I hope these tips help and all is smooth sailing at your end soon:) Thanks for stopping by…

  18. BlogCrush Week 38 - 3rd Nov 2017 — Lucy At Home

    […] Blogcrush post is Why Is It Still So Hard? Managing Tearful Drop-Offs by Tales from […]

  19. Helen Copson

    Nicole, this makes me feel all emotional! We've only been going to pre-school since September and luckily I've only had to deal with a few tears (and thankfully not full-on screaming) twice but it almost broke me. I cried all the way home. These are great tips. I'm dreading him starting school next year, even though he's already telling me "I don't want to go to pre-school anymore, I want to go to big school'. Although he doesn't like the idea of it being every day! #ItsOK.

    1. Nicole

      Thanks Helen. Yes, it is one of the most heart-breaking moments of motherhood, isn't it, watching your child helpless and crying, trying to reach out to you, but you know the best thing to do is to walk away – so that they learn and settle:( I've had it rough three Septembers in a row now!

  20. Kate - The Mum Conundrum

    Nicole, these tips are spot on! My 5 year old had a tough time when he started pre-school and drop-offs were heart-wrenching and exhausting! I will deffo need to revisit this post when my youngest starts next year! #ItsOK xxx

    1. Nicole

      Heart-wrenching and exhausting – exact words to describe early tearful drop-offs. Mentally exhausting more than anything.Hope things go smoother with your youngest.

  21. Caroline Freathy

    Some great tips here. My youngest has just started pre-school and by explaining to her what is happening, when she will see me next and how much fun she is going to have, she has settled in pretty well. I think it helps that she is the youngest, so she has seen us drop her brothers off at school each weekday.

    With my first it was a nightmare, he cried for two terms – to a year each morning when starting pre-school and the same when starting school, it was heartbreaking, but knowing that for his social development and his educational development this was best for him and that by lingering or showing how worried I was, that I would make it worse, actually helped me to stay strong and calm, explaining that it was all going to be ok. He now loves school, so I truly believe there is always light at the end of the tunnel, some children just take longer to adjust. Great post, #itsok xxx

    1. Nicole

      Thanks for that lovely response Caroline. So glad your youngest is adjusting well – guess as you said she's seen her older siblings being dropped off and picked up so she knows the drill. Also I guess the younger ones want to emulate their older siblings, so that must make it easier too.

      Seems like you've been through the heart-wrenching pain of tearful drop-offs, but your attitude was perfect. Yes, some children just take longer to adjust but we've got to be immensely strong to help them get there. x

  22. Tracey Carr

    This is one of those things that I keep putting out of my mind because I don't want to have to think about it. My two year old will be starting next year and I already know it is going to be difficult because she is so clingy. But your tips are great and reassuring for when I do have to eventually deal with it! #itsok

  23. One Messy Mama (@onemessymama4)

    My youngest starts school in Jan, and I am dreading his reaction. I will definitely be reading this again! I need as many tips as I can get! #itsoklinky

  24. Crummy Mummy

    I'm lucky & so far all of mind have loved nursery & school – I really hope it stays that way! #itsok

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