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Help me! 3.5-year-old still crying at nursery drop-off

(26 Posts)
Fatbritishblue Wed 08-Aug-12 10:34:14

Can someone pleeeease advise on this problem? My 3.5-year-old boy has been going to nursery four/five days a week since he was a year old, and nine days out of ten he melts into tears as I leave. Sometimes he even starts crying before we get to the gate; usually he starts snivelling just after we've got in the door; if neither of these applies, he just falls apart when it becomes obvious that I'm about to leave.

He has been in two nurseries (we moved to a new one a year ago due to cost) and has been the same in both. The new one is absolutely lovely, and his 18-month-old brother has been going there since March, so he has this familiarity all day as the nursery is mostly open-plan, with the different ages grouped on different tables but within the same room.

The nursery and I have tried everything we can think of - mainly distraction, attention and, this week, a start chart: if you don't cry at drop-off you get a star, three stars and you get a present.

I don't think the start chart is going to work, because despite the fact he desperately wants 'a present', there seems to be a fundamental psychological problem with me leaving him. This morning I asked why he was crying, and he said, "I want Mummy". It still boils down to the simple fact he doesn't like me leaving him.

We have had some more promising periods, mind you. At the last nursery there were two keyworkers that he adored, and who would swoop over on my arrival and shower him with distraction and affection, and I would rush out the door before he twigged what was going on. At the new nursery, the arrival routine is less predictable, but sometimes it's his favourite member of staff on the door, and a cuddle with her might help; another time another favoured staff member might ask my son to help lay out the breakfast things - keeping him busy and feeling important also helps. But sometimes we sort-of let ourselves in, or the member of staff isn't quite so indulgent or pro-active (on the whole they're a bit more laid back/down to earth than at the last place), and then it all goes wrong. And actually that can be most days a week. But ultimately, it seems crazy that after all this time my son still needs so much help to start his day, and its frustrating and disappointing for everyone.

Of course, after I've left he usually cheers up within a couple of minutes and has a happy, busy day and is full of smiles when I pick him up.

Nursery have suggested he's crying for attention, which I suppose is true in a way, but he seems so genuinely upset that I think it's more complicated than this. It's not like he screams; he just sobs quietly and tragically.

As you can imagine, it means I'm heartbroken before the working day has begun, and don't like to think of my son's day starting like this, either.

His brother is much happier and just gets on with it most of the time.

I am at my wits end, and need some ideas other than just waiting for him to grow out of it.

Sorry for such a long post!

Fingers crossed for some top tips!

thisisyesterday Wed 08-Aug-12 10:39:40

maybe he would be happier with a childminder? a more home-like environment, fewer children, the same one person caring for him?

ImNotCute Wed 08-Aug-12 10:40:48

My just turned 4 year old is still quite often upset at drop-off, although maybe not as much as your ds. we're confident she is settled and happy shortly after though. It is much better for us if my dh drops her off as she's particularly clingy with me. Don't suppose that's an option for you?

Spammertime Wed 08-Aug-12 10:48:06

My Ds2 is just the same age, and just like this. I am putting it down to personality - he is our real dramatic one! He wears his heart on his sleeve and I know now that he genuinely isn't upset - he's just not happy at that precise moment but it passes very very quickly (and I often get the same reaction about going home from nursery, or not giving him a biscuit, or cutting up his toast in the wrong shape).

Nursery once said to me that I needed to stay outside the door to see just quite how quickly he calmed down and I was pretty surprised. Literally as I walked away from the door he stopped and ran over to his friend to play. Of course if he was properly upset I'd think about alternative childcare provision but I'm sure I'd get just the same thing if it wasn't what he wanted to do that second.

It's worth bearing in mind that it's far better to keep practising now as I'm guessing he'll start school in just over a year?!

Fatbritishblue Wed 08-Aug-12 10:51:25

I see what you mean about the consistency of care, Thisisyesterday. And a childminder would save us some money, too. My only worry about this option is that my son does seem to enjoy the stimulation of having lots of people and activity around him, and the variety of it all. But you have raised a good point.

ImNotCute, my husband suggested this very thing this morning! He's freelance which means there are periods when he's not working (well, obviously, this isn't just because he's freelance!) so he can do this then; but when he is working he leaves the house at 6am so there are periods when the job falls to me. But we're gonna give a try, next time round.

Will be discussing childminder option with OH tonight!

Fatbritishblue Wed 08-Aug-12 10:55:20

Spammertime, you're right about practising for school of course. Wow - what great comments from everyone already. I should also mention that my son does seem to melt into tears over just about everything, particularly at the moment. What's that all about? Nursery said that the other day someone asked him if he wanted 'small, medium or large' (I think it was a meal portion) and he just burst into tears?!?!!!!!!!! He is definitely very histrionic; my 18-month-old has a touch of this (lots of lying flat on floor with head on hands and sobbing dramatically when doesn't get own way - and he's only really a baby!) but is generally much quicker to snap out of it.

Fatbritishblue Wed 08-Aug-12 11:12:22

Spammertime, are you just going to let your son grow out of it, or do you ever take some kind of action to prevent/manage the crying?

Spammertime Wed 08-Aug-12 11:41:08

While he continues to have similar crying spells for everything else I'm not going to do anything about it and let him grow out of it. In general he's getting better and as I say it's certainly not a "nursery specific" style tantrum.

Easy to say at the moment but not so much when I'm about to go to work and feeling guilty

Spammertime Wed 08-Aug-12 11:43:11

Meant to add - he's currently on holiday for a few weeks so haven't tried it yet, but my sister has suggested he's at an age where a very simple calendar on the wall with what's happening each day might help him prepare better. I'll try to update this with whether it helps when I do try it!

Zoidberg Wed 08-Aug-12 12:03:41

Something that works for us is really acknowledging the upset so if DD (also 3) is crying a bit before nursery, I say "It sounds like you don't want to go to nursery", cue more crying, I say "I know (with cuddles). The thing is, mummy goes to work so you go to nursery. And then I'll pick you up later." This never fails to make her calmer, as though what she needs is to have her upset heard and named and we move on.

We then move on to distraction - are you taking x cuddly toy or y cuddly toy, race you to the front door, story cd in the car. May be worth a try. DP was v reticent to try this as worried that he would unleash more crying by going into a discussion about her not wanting to go but actually it doesn't happen that way, for us.

JennerOSity Wed 08-Aug-12 12:10:12

I don't think it helps to dash off when he isn't looking without saying goodbye, as you say happens sometimes. I think the goodbye although it may be teary causes less feelings of abandonment and anxiety. You can remind him you will be collecting later.

Also there should always be someone to welcome him really, they don't need to 'indulge' him as such but should say hello and help him with his coat or something. I don't think that is unreasonable.

Fatbritishblue Wed 08-Aug-12 12:15:43

Yup, I think that talking to DS about 'why' he's upset and what's happening does sometimes help - it's a good distraction, anyway. Thinking about it (even) more, I think the lack of predictable routine when he arrives at nursery doesn't help, but I can't really expect the nursery to change they way they work just for my son, and I don't think this would be right, anyway. Also, the usual timetable is odd in the school holidays as they are even more lax as so many kids are on holiday, so when he arrives at nursery quite often it's quite quiet and there's nothing for him to focus on as everyone is just busy playing with toys. It's better in term-time, I think, so maybe things just seem/are especially bad right now.

Fatbritishblue Wed 08-Aug-12 12:19:27

I don't dash off these days, JennerOSity; in fact, currently he has me giving him ten (yes, ten) kisses as a sort of ritual that helps to appease him a teensy bit (it's quite embarassing to do this front of everyone, by the way).

I agree that there should be someone welcoming him every day, and to be fair there usually is unless the door is already ajar for some reason and we walk in unheard. But they tend to stand and chat rather than make oodles off fuss of DS as they used to in the old nursery, but again I feel it would be unreasonable to make them be unnaturally forthcoming. OK, in honesty I actually think they should make the effort, but I'm not sure how to say this because it's such a small nursery I don't want to create an atmosphere. Wow, I've really looked deep inside myself here!

Fatbritishblue Wed 08-Aug-12 12:22:48

I just had a crazy idea. What if I took at day off work and kept DS at home with me, and pretended to be working all day - so he could see what I do when he's at nursery (I am currently working at lot at home, though will soon be in the office more so could take him there). At home, he might realise that it would be very boring to stay with Mummy all day, and maybe not feel so sad about seeing me leave him for the day?

Or is that nuts?

tethersphotofinish Wed 08-Aug-12 12:46:35

I think you need to tell nursery to knock the star chart on the head immediately. I agree with Zoidberg- he needs to get it out, and have his feelings recognised and validated.

Nursery should be working through this with him. What eventually worked for my incredibly shy and clingy 3yo was to have a special box with a toy in it that was just for her. At the end of each day, she chose the toy for the next day. This was done along with lots of conversations with staff about why she felt sad etc.

tethersphotofinish Wed 08-Aug-12 12:47:26

Oh, and if he is anything like my DD he will LOVE a day at home working with mummy- which is great, but perhaps not the effect you'd be hoping for.

JennerOSity Wed 08-Aug-12 12:54:28

But they tend to stand and chat rather than make oodles off fuss of DS as they used to in the old nursery, but again I feel it would be unreasonable to make them be unnaturally forthcoming

I disagree with this, as you do too. They are professional child carers. They are adults, your DS is a small child. Why or whther he should be crying so much is irrelevant. The fact is that he finds the leaving distressing, he can't explain why, but he does.

Whether other children his age are the same or not is irrelevant. He has a difficult time of the parting moments, to expect or even ask them to help him with this short moment in his day is not at all unreasonable!

It is highly unlikely to last forever, but while he feels this way he should have some help with it. It is likely to resolve itself sooner if he gets that help than not.

When we feel upset, it doesn't matter that we should - we do. He feels that way - it is real to him, his feelings are valid even though we don't understand them.

Is it really such a major ask to have someone welcome him, take him by the hand, ask how he is today, lets get your coat off, what would you like to play with etc. It takes minutes and is the caring thing to do!

They see he is fine for the rest of the day, so it isn't as if you are asking them to cossett him all day!

Don't worry about being seen as an awkward or fussy mum. If they can't see what is helpful of their own accord, just ask, in a 'this is perfectly reasonable and sensible suggestion' kind of way. Whether they approve is less important than your little dude not having daily avoidable upset. even if he still cries, if it reduces the degree of upset it is worth it IMO.

Fatbritishblue Wed 08-Aug-12 13:06:05

Now I feel awful, because the star chart wasn't their idea, it was mine! Aaaaaggh! Bad mummy! I was just feeling desperate.

I'll speak to the nursery again, and I might even remind them of the times when it has been OK and why - when he was welcomed with genuine/indulgent enthusiasm and excited by the prospects of the day's activities. I think you're right that this is their job, and it really isn't much to ask when you consider how he's completely fine for the rest of the day.

I'll report back …

Thanks for everyone's help and support so far - massively appreciated. Isn't Mumsnet great?

tethersphotofinish Wed 08-Aug-12 13:19:32

You sound pretty great yourself, OP smile

JennerOSity Wed 08-Aug-12 13:27:04

Brilliant - feel brave about it. smile

When people don't offer / aren't forthcoming it is natural to feel awkward having to ask. But imagine going to a party where no-one noticed you arrived and you just hovered near the nibbles awkwardly, maybe poured a drink until someone got chatting to you - Awkward (as an adult!)

being noticed and welcomed in is basic social graces and the least we can do for children.

Just because many little kids would scoot in and grab toys doesn't mean your little chap should!

Glad you feel empowered. You are a caring Mum! Hope it all improves. smile

Fatbritishblue Wed 08-Aug-12 14:30:24

Have spoken to his current keyworker (annoyingly about to change again in September as he moves into the big-childrens/pre-school group) and we're going to chat privately this afternoon. She seems very articulate and caring about the situation, so hopefully she and I will be able to work together on a plan that might work for my poor little man. Feeling a bit more positive.

jenduck Wed 08-Aug-12 14:56:00

Haven't read all the answers, so hope I'm not repeating anything. My DS is about the same age as yours, and he used to cry at every nursery drop-off until he moved into a new room about a year ago.

What has changed in particular is that we drop him in a little earlier than we used to, and when he goes into the room, he is immediately taken to choose his breakfast & sit at the table & eat that etc. This means that his attention is diverted at the key moment & he forgets to miss us, and now this has just become routine. Could you ask his keyworker if they can have something distracting ready for him immediately he comes in, perhaps a little job to do or similar.

Hope you get it sorted out.

Fatbritishblue Wed 08-Aug-12 15:13:41

Yes, breakfast used to help with us, too, but now it's the hols it seems to get later every day, and doesn't happen until after I've gone. He does brighten up if there's a grown-up job to do, so yes, I'll suggest that this becomes routine rather than random. I did wonder about taking time to sit and talk to him about his feelings, and how mummy would be back really soon (taking advantage of the fact that he has little sense of time passing), and see if the fact that I wasn't in any hurry would allay his panic. But then again, maybe he'll just glue himself to my lap and refuse to budge!

hubbahubster Wed 08-Aug-12 21:00:11

My DS isn't as old as yours - he's 13 months - but I left him at nursery three days a week from 9 months. He's at my mum's the other two while I work. He cried every single time I dropped him at nursery, yet stopped crying when he was left at Nana's. I became really disillusioned with nursery and this just compounded it. In the end I went with my gut, took him out and switched him to a childminder. Best thing I ever did. He settled right away and the childminder keeps me updated and reassured on the odd time (only twice in a month) that he's been a bit whiny when I've left (nothing like the heartbreaking sobs and reaching for me he did at nursery).

You sound happy with your nursery, but I guess I'm saying trust your instincts and don't assume just because your DS is sociable (mine is too) that he needs dozens of kids around him for stimulation (I did the same, that's why I initially chose a nursery over a childminder). DS gets way more interaction now he's not competing with 20 other children for attention from 3 adults.

Good luck!

louz078 Wed 10-Sep-14 02:25:14

Hello
I really need some advice on my 3 yr old. She starts nursery tomorrow and I'm REALLY worried about the good-bye bit. Shes really clingy with me and wont entertain somebody shes not familiar with. We've been to visit the nursery and it went surprisingly well- I even managed to have a cuppa while she was playing with the sand!!- but she did keep scanning the room for me. My worry is not only that she will be crying/sobbing but also worry that she'll be scared- as she doesn't seem to like lots of kids being around as she is very shy. She has a 7 yr old brother (no problem starting nursery) at the same school so shes been around the school for a couple of yrs already but still wont really join in with any other kids that r playing in the playground. I know that tomorrow she will be inconsolable when I have to leave and I'm absolutely dreading it (its gone 2am and I cant sleep because I'm so anxious)...... Any advice would be welcomed with open arms!!!

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