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I Don't Wanna Go! What To Do About Difficult Drop-Offs

Tricky drop-offs are a common problem in many childcare situations. Mornings are hard generally speaking and mornings with children usually even harder. Since I've been on both ends of the tricky drop-off, I'd like to share some solutions. Here's a true story.

I'd been teaching for many years already when I watched a young employee help a 16 mo.-old during a difficult drop-off. I learned a lot that day.

Amy, the young teacher, said to the crying child, "Look at this Priya, Isn't it little and cute? She held up her keys and showed Priya a tiny Bacardi bottle and some other trinkets on the chain . Oh no, I thought to myself, a booze bottle?

But Priya was intrigued and almost immediately stopped crying and inspected the trinkets one by one. Amy had shown her something so interesting, it took her attention away from her sadness.

The reason this worked for Priya was that she was connecting with Amy on a visual level.

Barry, however, was different. I had already discovered by accident that if I sang twinkle twinkle in his ear as I held him and especially if I walked over to the piano and played it with one hand, he immediately became calm.

Overall, I think when parents and providers are committed to open communication, even when things are getting sticky, it can be really awesome. But it's not always easy.

There are many different reasons a child might resist being dropped off at care. It could just be a phase, even if they're happy in the situation.

Speaking of being happy, children will not only be happier to go to child care but also actually learn a lot more if the environment is focused on PLAY!  

It's true and I'm including this link to The Harvard Center On The Developing Child that brings you to a short and really exciting video about exactly how play works to make children both happier and smarter.

There are no cookie-cutter solutions for the drop-off issue. When the parent and the provider know and trust each other, the problem will be resolved with the best possible outcome for all.


There are 2 ways that timing might affect this situation. The first is the age of the child. Children around the age of 9 months might experience separation anxiety and children around the age of 2 might experience temporary oppositional behavior due to growing up and needing to learn appropriate ways and times to assert themselves.

Knowing this may or may not make it any easier!

The time of day that the child gets dropped off can be a huge issue in childcare settings.

  • Is it a different time of day?

  • Has the schedule changed in any way?

  • Could the child be tired or hungry?

  • Did they come in late because the child resisted?

  • Did they have a difficult morning?

  • Is a parent or other special person absent right now from the child's life for any re ason?

  • Is the family experiencing any type of transition at home.

If the child gets dropped off at a time when they're tired or hungry, it might cause a chaotic drop-off. In fact, any change in the schedule at all might cause havoc.

What can I do?

Stay calm and work together. Keep the best interests of the child in mind always.

Some possible solutions:

The Good-Bye Window

In this one, the parent says goodbye once inside the classroom and then again through the window as they leave. The idea is that it's easier if it happens in stages rather than all at once.

The book called The Goodbye Window  was written about the Red Caboose Center in Madison WI by a parent in the center and chronicles the year they became unionized.

The book includes a story about the "good-bye window" that's really just a window with a small tear in the screen just big enough for a child to touch their parents' finger one last time before they part.

The No-Contact Drop-Off  

This is the way it's done in many larger centers now. The child is dropped off in a neutral space with a greeter who then brings the child into their classroom. I've never worked in a situation like this.

I suppose this is better for the class schedule but also worse for communication.

Social Stories

This is one of my favorites because it can be adjusted for any child or any situation. And it works!


In it, the teacher and parent work together to create a book about the morning. They describe the morning routine using simple words and figures.

 That way it's set in writing and the child can see the progression of how it will go.

I'm attaching a copy of one I made as an example. Just click the photo and you'll be able to see the whole book. Stick figures work just fine. Kids have imaginations after all.

The Linear Schedule

This is a good way to show the child what will be happening during the day in a visual way.

I've used this often and it seems to be quite reassuring. You can use a clothesline approach like the one below, adding the segments of your own schedule. If there is a change like a field trip or a visitor, it's easy to add without creating a whole new schedule.

If the child attends school on some days and stays home on others, this could be useful at home. example: Monday-Stay Home, Tuesday-Go To Nanci's etc.

Sing, Show, or Move!

In this one, I adjust the method to the child on an individual basis.

If it's a child who is very physical, we might blow kisses (the child chooses how many), do high fives, or even have the child gently push the parent out the door. I heard one idea in which the child would walk around the room and show the parent 3 of their favorite toys.

I've had children who enjoyed being "thrown" into the arms of the provider. Some would run to my lap when they decided it was time.

With a child who is auditory, I might activate a singing toy, or sing quietly in their ear as I hold them. Some like to recite a poem like this one or choose one book to read with their parents.

 A child who likes visual things might look at the birdies out the window, or check out anything new and interesting in the room today.

Each of these methods may or may not work. Keep trying and keep playing, you'll come up with something!

I think the best idea is to come up with a good routine and stick to it consistently. That way the child will know what to expect and learn to cope with it.

Remember to validate their feelings without allowing them to be out of control.

All Feelings are OK but all actions (and words) are not!!

A note to parents

No matter how tempting it is to sneak out when your child is distracted, don't do it. It encourages a little bit of mistrust. You're better off when your child believes your words. In order for that to happen you have to tell the truth. Find a way to say goodbye that works for you. You'll all be happier for it!

Thanks for reading!

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY!  (click on the word) She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.

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