Drop-Off Drama

Jane Hawes

It starts with the whining, progresses to tears, clinging and finally a refusal to let go. And that's just the parents.

"Drop-off drama" is a rite of passage for any family, whether it occurs at a childcare center, a school or a babysitter's. It's hard for children to separate from their parents but it's also hard for parents to entrust the care of their children to someone else.

"Most times, it's the parent who has the anxiety, who is not at ease," said Gwen Moman, who heads professional-development programs for Action for Children, a nonprofit childcare resource and referral agency.

Knowing how hard the process can be is why excellent childcare providers develop strategies to build the relationships that make it possible for families to leave the drama behind.

Getting to Know You

Before a child begins attending a center or school, the family should meet with the new care providers, one-on-one.

"We always offer a home visit, but we find more parents prefer to come here," said Sandy Bailey, co-director of the Meadow Park Children's Center in northwest Columbus.

"Once we have a relationship with the family, we can focus on what's best for the child," said Cindy Berndt, a teacher at Meadow Park.

Betsy Bowe and her husband Tony Ehler have had their sons, Max, 4, and Jack, 3, at Meadow Park for more than two years.

"You look for different things when you're pregnant - the newest building, the most pristine toys," Bowe recalled of her initial search for a provider. "But after you have the baby, you realize it's the people."

Don't Rush

Childcare professionals urge parents to develop a consistent daily routine and, most importantly, not to rush either at home or the caregiver's facility.

"There are triggers like if they were up in the middle of the night or if there was rushing in the morning," said Dana Wright, who coordinates parent-services program at Action for Children. "(Without rushing), the drop-off is a lot smoother and calmer."

Grown-Up Talk

Drop-off time is also a good time for parents and staff to communicate, however briefly. Parents should let teachers know about any issues that could be affecting a child, whether it's a parent who's out of town or even, said Julie Stroup, director of the Indian Run Preschool, something seemingly small like "mom made them wear the Velcro shoes and they didn't want to wear them."

At the same time, said Moman, if a parent needs to talk to a teacher about something stressful or negative, "This should not happen in front of the child." Ask to speak privately with a teacher.

Another no-no - staying on your cell phone throughout the drop-off, said Wright: "We see parents walk in and out on cell phones and they have no conversation with the provider."

Time to Leave

While most parents may have gotten advice (often from their own parents) to "walk away and not look back," childcare professionals rarely advocate this practice.

"Let the parent linger and stay in the classroom," said Moman. "Let them see what the child goes through during the day."

Parents should say they're leaving to "do the boring things that mommies have to do," said Stroup. She also advises against using a reward system.

"Bribery usually backfires," Stroup said, "because then every day they expect something. Just tell them 'mommies always come back.'"

Teachers should engage the children, as they arrive, in activities that help them transition from parent-care to teacher-care. Berndt recommends developing a non-verbal signal that parents can use to let the teacher know they will try to scoot out while the child is distracted.

Or some parents will create their own special rituals. While heading back to her car outside, Bowe often will take a smartphone photo of her sons waving at her from inside their classrooms.

The goal for parents and teachers is to create a confident, happy child.

"It's great to see them when they're that (child) who can just walk in on their own and know where they're going," Stroup said. "They're so proud of themselves."