I recently took my daughter to the zoo for an overnight field trip. My daughter, Maggie, is 9-years-old and in third grade. As I was leaving Maggie at the zoo in the care of her teacher and other parents, it struck me how this experience is just like what parents of young children go through every day when dropping children off at child care programs. I was nervous. I was anxious. Yes, I trust Maggie’s teacher. Yes, I knew some of the parents who were spending the night on this trip and I trust them. Yes, I trust my daughter. But trust doesn’t make the drop off any easier.
Parents may go through the same anxiety when dropping off their precious children at programs on a daily basis. How many parents do you see struggling to leave the classroom? How many parents call during the day to ask how their child is doing? How many staff members get frustrated and roll their eyes because they do not understand what the parent is going through?
As a parent and an educator, I can see both sides of the spectrum on this situation. The parent side of me feels guilty that I can’t be the one providing for my daughter throughout the day, that no one can meet my daughter’s needs like I can. The educator side of me can cite research that states parents are the first teacher of their child and the parental role is not going to be replaced by the caregiver. The educator side knows that attachment is extremely important and knows that the attachment between a child and parent is stronger than the attachment between child and caregiver.
The parent and educator sides don’t always see eye to eye and work cooperatively. Often times the emotional parent side wins and I run to my daughter’s “rescue” even though she didn’t need to be saved. What can we do as educators to support the parent’s bond with their child and assure parents that their child is going to be successful while in our care?
I believe what we can do is very simple. We can listen and empathize. We can ask questions. We cannot judge. We can take a deep breath and remind ourselves that these children are not only special to us, but they are the most precious people in their parents’ lives.
Here are some very simple things to support parents as they struggle to leave their child in the care of others:
- Create a good bye routine and encourage the parents to do the same.
- Have the child’s favorite book or toy ready when the child is dropped off. Not to distract the child, but to let the child and parent know you were expecting them and you know what the child likes.
- Make sure the parents say good bye. Never let the parents sneak out. Sneaking out can be very traumatic for children.
- Communicate with the parent while the child is being dropped off. Ask questions about the child’s evening and morning. Ask about the child’s mood, not just about breakfast.
- Encourage parents to stay with their child for a while. Ask parents to read books with the children during the transition of dropping off.
- Understand that drop off time is a transition. Transitions can be very difficult for children, especially if their significant adult is having a hard time.
- Allow the child to wave goodbye through the window.
- Assure the child their parent will return. Assure the child s/he will be involved in fun activities during the day.
- Validate the child’s and parent’s emotions. Do not say, “You are ok” to the child because this does not say to the child you understand what s/he is going through. Assure the parent you will do your best to meet the child’s needs during the day.
All these things can contribute to a successful day, not only for the child and parent, but for the caregiver as well.