Many of us have lots of balls in the air right now.
One thing that is making things a bit more stressful than they already are for many parents is the pick ups and dropoffs.
This is the time of year parents start to panic about pickups and drop-offs a bit more.
The first week in a new situation most parents are pretty chill about. It’s new. We expect the separation anxiety.
The second week we’re like okay, this adjustment is taking a bit longer than expected.
Now that we’re four weeks into September, if your child is still having a rough time with pickups and drop offs, you may be panicking a little.
How we can help our kids adjust to this new normal?
What makes pickup and drop-offs so hard on kids?
They’re moments of transition. When it comes to young kids, they’re transitioning from an environment where they have an adult who they have a secure attachment to, to an environment where they don’t.
In other words, they’re transitioning from an environment where they feel totally safe, to one where they don’t.
We know that keeping ourselves safe is really our prime concern.
The safer we feel, the easier it is to stay regulated, the less energy we use, the better we’re able to behave.
We compensate for our children a lot. Far more than most parents realize.
Our children are just developing their executive functioning skills, we tend to take some of them over for them when we’re around.
Our kids don’t have to waste energy on organization.
Mom’s going to get put my jacket and shoes away for me. I don’t have to waste energy on self-monitoring.
Dad will keep track of my routine for me. I don’t have to waste energy on flexible thinking.
If there’s an obstacle to what I want, Mom will come up with an alternative for me!
Which means even if our kids can competently do those things.
They often won’t when we’re around because they know we’ll pick up the slack.
When they go to school or daycare or preschool…there’s nobody there to pick up that slack.
It’s all on them!
There’s generally 8 to 15 kids per adult, the adults can’t compensate for everybody!
Plus, we aren’t securely attached to them the way we are with our parents.
We may trust them on a “you’re not gonna attack me” level, but we don’t necessarily trust that they won’t let us die.
Which sounds dramatic but those are the extremes that our lizard brain thinks in.
This is where they have to use their executive functioning skills at a much higher level when they’re not with a secure attachment figure.
They’ve got to be ON because to not be on creates the perception of danger, and these skills are still in the early stages of development… They suck a lot of energy!
They’re very draining to use.
Check out the blog post on restraint collapse.
Our kids are using those skills at such a high level that by the time they come back into our are they can’t use them all anymore.
They’re exhausted and they have no more energy to use but they’re back with us, so they’re safe.
They know we aren’t going to let them die, they are safe!
How does this relate to pick ups and drop offs?
Well, going from low arousal to high arousal is tough.
It also takes a lot of energy and leaving your attachment figures when you don’t feel like you have enough energy to keep yourself safe is really scary.
The same goes for pick ups.
It’s that restraint collapse.
Down regulating gradually takes some practice.
Have you’ve ever been in a situation where you’re just so relieved to be home that you just kind of…lose it?
I remember when I was in university in Alberta and it had been a tough semester.
I wasn’t getting along with one of my profs, I’d had H1N1, and then right before I was scheduled to come home for a few weeks in the summer I got a massive sinus infection and it just took me out.
I’d forced my way through the last two weeks of school with this raging infection, then I got on a plane and I don’t know if you’ve ever flown with a sinus infection but it’s painful.
I got off the plane, and my Mom was there to pick me up, and I just lost it!
I was about 22 or 23, I wasn’t a child by a long shot but I just fell apart when I saw my Mom and she hugged me.
I’d been using all the last scraps of my energy that I could muster to finish off my semester and get all my assignments in and finish all the paperwork for my early intervention clients.
I was also working part-time as an early interventionist in the evenings and the moment I recognized that my Mom was there I didn’t have to take care of myself anymore.
I could rely on her to take care of me, I just lost it.
I was sobbing in the airport.
She took me home and I passed out cold on the couch.
She made me soup and I burst into tears because I didn’t have to make the soup!
It was just such a relief to be able to lean on my Mom and know she would take care of me.
It’s the same thing with our kids just on a slightly smaller scale but the emotions and the energy drain are just as large because they aren’t 20 year olds!
They’re 2,3,4,5 year olds who can’t take care of themselves long term!
They still need us and using all of your skills to take care of yourself for 8 hours while you’re at school is about equivalent to going to school full time and working part time with a raging sinus infection energy-output-wise.
How can we make this easier on them?
Even if we understand the why behind it, that doesn’t really make it any easier to drop off your sobbing child day after day, or to pick up your sobbing child day after day!
The short answer is: reduce the amount of energy they need to use to make the transition.
For pick-up: try and do it the same way every single day, and do it quickly.
The longer you draw it out the harder it is because the more energy they have to use evaluating the situation and mentally preparing for the loss of your compensation.
Drive the same way to school, always say the same parting words, if you are able to take them in to change their shoes and hang up their bags.
Do those things, say your parting greeting, and get out!
DO NOT LINGER!
Yes, it may still result in tears but as long as your child’s teacher says that they are recovering quickly once you’re gone it will be fine.
The tension of your departure is difficult, and a lot of kids won’t get to the point where they can do drop-off without any tears for quite a while.
If they’re recovering quickly that lets you know that they are able to up regulate and shift into their “public mode” rather quickly.
It’s difficult, but they’re rising to the challenge and having a good day, that’s fantastic.
This shows you that their nervous system is resilient and is able to adjust.
While, yes, it would be lovely to be able to leave without ay tears.
Tears aren’t the yardstick I suggest using to determine if your child is adjusting well to school.
Recovery time is.
This would be the same with going home.
If your child is upset leaving daycare it’s not an indication that they don’t like being home or that they didn’t miss you or any of that.
It’s just the tension of leaving, try to have a leaving ritual, and go through that same ritual every time.
This predictability really reduces the number of skills a child needs to use in that moment it compensates for them!
The more consistent and predictable we can make these transitions, the less energy they’ll take, the easier it will be for them to do.
Talk about pickup or drop off at home at a neutral time.
Role-play the transition on weekends or in the evening.
Give them a chance to process and play with the routine.
Play is how children learn and integrate new information.
Set up a pretend coat room and pretend that you’re driving them school and dropping them off and go through your normal routine. Same with pickup.
They know it’s fake, you know it’s fake, but it gives them a chance to process their emotions and up-regulate or down-regulate when there’s no immediate change happening.
It’s practice and practice makes perfect is a cliche for a reason!
I hope that gives you some ideas for how to make pickups and drop offs a bit easier if you’ve been struggling with them.
In my experience, most children will adjust within about 3 months, which is about 3x as long as most educators and parents think children should adjust within.
Some kids will adjust sooner, but some won’t!
It really can take about 3 months for them to settle into the new routine and get enough experience with those transitions that they go smoothly.
If you have questions or you need some help with these transitions, come and talk about it in the Parenting Posse
There are so many veteran parents in the Posse that can help you figure out where the disconnect is and how you may be able to tweak what you’re doing to make it a bit easier on both you and your kiddos.