Daycare or Preschool Refusal

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When They Suddenly Say, “I Don’t Wanna Go!

It can be confusing when what was once fine, suddenly isn’t. Yet every one of us knows how it feels to have to do something we just don’t, at that moment, feel like doing. When a child suddenly resists going to daycare, though it may be a natural waxing and waning of interest, it is still important to consider the source of the child’s unhappiness.

  • There may be a change or new issue at daycare
  • Your child may be experiencing separation anxiety (which replays again and again as his world gets bigger and bigger)
  • He may be testing out what he can and cannot control—”hmm, can I stay home with mommy and daddy when I want to?”

The keys are to ask the right questions about daycare, and, if applicable, to support your child’s ability to cope when he is missing you and/or when he is upset that life does not go his way.

Evaluating Daycare

Because a child’s sudden change of heart can be a warning sign, it is important to check in with what is happening at daycare.

  • Is there a new teacher? New dynamics? How do YOU feel about daycare?
  • Talk to teachers and pay attention to your child’s words. With your child, be matter-of-fact, and refrain from leading comments or questions – you don’t want to create concern. If a situation at daycare is troubling your child, the teachers should help with a solution. If not, you may need to look into a new room or new daycare.
  • Ask yourself if YOU are comfortable with the daycare and daycare in general. If you have concerns, or if you are missing your child, or are having feelings of guilt around daycare, your child is very likely picking up on and reacting to your feelings. If so, you will need to do the work of (1) finding a daycare you feel good about, and/or (2) coming to terms with your feelings. Remember, you are parenting in an era flush with unrealistic expectations. Other working parents and parent educators can help you maintain a realistic perspective.

Helping Children Cope When Life is Not Smooth

Turns out everything is fine at daycare, your child just doesn’t want to go right now—he doesn’t want to do something, but he has to, and he doesn’t like it. You know that feeling—we all know it—and your child is knee-deep in it. He is experiencing what life is like when we don’t get exactly what we want. What do we all do at times like this? We find a way to cope. So, this is a time:

  • for the child to practice coping skills, and
  • for the parent to help—not by meeting wishes, but by supporting the ability to cope.
  • You will know best what your child’s general coping strategies tend towards, but here are some general strategies to help a child cope with (1) separation anxiety (a common reason for rejecting daycare) and (2) not getting what he wants.

Coping When Missing Mom & Dad

  • To help him feel secure and connected, have him take an object from home of mom’s or dad’s
  • Likewise, give him a photograph, or together create a family photobook, that he can have and look at any time at daycare.
  • At daycare, make sure he is anchored to a teacher or someone he is comfortable with before you leave.
  • Let him see a strong link between you and the daycare and his caretakers. If your child experiences a good relationship and interaction between you and the adult caretakers, it will help him to feel connected to you during the time he spends there.
  • As you are getting ready to go, draw a picture in his head of what will be fun at daycare during his day. Be specific. Name names of his favorite people and describe the activities he likes the best.

Coping When “I Don’t Get My Way”

It is normal for anyone to feel disappointed when they don’t get their way. It is normal for a young child to cry and get upset at this disappointment. Allow him to feel what he feels, to express it (appropriately), and let him know that you see and understand his feelings—“you do not want to go, you are upset” (until he really believes you “get it” he is likely to continue to express his feelings). Then, start practicing coping strategies, such as:

  • Matter-of-factly remind him of the good he will miss if he remains upset: “Crying uses up a lot of energy. If we use it all up we won’t have any left to… (skip to the car/go swimming this afternoon/ etc.)
  • Remind him of something he can control: “Miss Tanya likes to see the favorite books you bring from home. Do you want to pick one?” “What flavor of yogurt do you want in your lunch today—Strawberry or Vanilla?”
  • Draw a picture in his head of what will be fun during his day at daycare. Be specific and vivid.

A sample script for what to do when no strategy is working:

Every parent has experienced one of those heels-dug-in days of mega-resistance when nothing you try seems to work but not going to work/to daycare/to the doctor’s office is simply not an option. On these days your body must do the work of supporting the child. It will take everything you’ve got to remain calm, positive and relaxed. Do your best, knowing that your child feeds off your mood. If you are tense and angry, it will likely escalate his resistance. If you are calm, he may be able to “borrow” some of that calm.

Get down at his level and matter-of-factly say: “Is this a day you can do it yourself or do you need me to help?”

If the child remains resistant, call on your strength to remain calm, and with steady strong muscles and firm follow-through, do it for him (whether this means putting his hands through his coat sleeves or picking him up and carrying him into the classroom) explaining as you go: “I will help you this morning and another day you will be able to do it yourself.”

Continue to offer empathy and name his feelings: “You are upset,” “You do not like this.” As you name his feelings, try to also match your facial expression to that feeling. Seeing his own feeling mirrored on your face tells him that “Yes, mom/dad gets it.”

Call on your various calming strategies (though, it may simply be one of those days that they just don’t work). Some examples:

  • “Now we just need your hat—it goes on your nose right?” (humor, distraction, opportunity for your child to show competence)
  • “It’s been a crabby morning, I think we need to crab walk to the door.” (game, silliness)
  • “The itsy-bitsy spider…” (song)
  • “I think today is a morning we should play your favorite cd and you can choose which song to play first.” (offer a positive future)

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  1. “Crying uses up a lot of energy. If we use it all up we won’t have any left to… (skip to the car/go swimming this afternoon/ etc.)”
    It would probably better if you acknowledge your child’s feelings: “You are sad because you’re leaving us. You’re sad because you want to stay at home and play with your toys”.

    • Justine, I’m glad you echo the emphasis I placed on acknowledging feelings before trying the potential strategies. Not only does it teach a vocabulary for feelings, it helps all of us to know that what we feel matters even when we have to do things we may not want to. Dr. Y

  2. My 4 year old grandson goes to a home daycare and has been taking things home with him. He doesn’t steal anywhere else just there. Need help to understand why.

    • This can be so awkward and hard for adults who want to raise honest children. However,preschoolers often struggle with issues of ownership and boundaries. Emotionally, a preschooler may wish he could play with “it” all the time–even at home. The challenge here is to address the behavior. In particular, “remembering” to put things away before he leaves. It will often help for children this young to be reminded that daycare things stay at the daycare, AND that when he comes back it will be time to play with the toy again. If somehow the adults miss a tucked away toy and discover it later, then it is put aside so that he cannot play with it at home, but must wait until he is back at the daycare. Remember this is a teaching and learning stage for everyone. Your attention and follow through now are key to his integration of the rules of ownership. Dr. Y

  3. My 3 year old son has been at the same home daycare for 2 years, she is great but for the last 5 months he screams and cries and throws fits at her house. He has been sick often and goes to Nana’s house when he is …now he is saying he wants to go there and doesn’t like daycare. I feel like this is a phase but my daycare lady is getting exhausted and thinks he has behavioral issues. He is very active and talkative and has a strong will. It’s just her there so he is requiring allot of 1 on 1 to calm down. He does have fit’s at home but not nearly as long as the ones at daycare.
    I need help ASAP or she will ask him to leave there and I don’t know if that will solve the true issue

    Please help

    • You have many facets to consider: environmental changes at the daycare, his ability to transition to activities directed by the daycare provider and most significantly his ability to self-calm when faced with disappointment. Your internal pressure to resolve this ASAP is also a factor. Please use the 1/2 hour phone call option–you can message me through the facebook link or use the e-mail address to schedule time to talk. Often it is helpful to think aloud as you consider your next steps to support your son and his daycare provider. Dr. Y

    • Cathy, Significant changes in child behavior require us to be attentive at multiple levels. You indicate he’s been ill often, which may mean he just doesn’t feel up to par when trying to deal with the social demands of daycare (should resolve as he feels better). It may be that he is in a physical and emotional growth spurt and has not yet learned new strategies for dealing with emotions (he will need direct teaching on what to do with sad, mad, scared, happy). It may be that in her exhaustion, the daycare provider does not have the stamina to address the challenges of raising a high energy preschool child (both may benefit from a new site). Or, he may have physical sensitivities that do not allow him to be flexible (seek a developmental assessment from a pediatric Occupational or Physical Therapist). Your decision about changing daycare, or seeking other resources needs to be based on your intuitive knowledge of your son and his needs. For more strategies to address tantrums see the section on Meltdowns in our book Tools for the Toddler Years. It is available at some libraries and on Amazon. Dr. Y

  4. I have acknowledged my son’s feeling, I created a collage picture showing him the structure of the day (Breakfast, drop off, day care, lunch, nap, snack, playground and pick up time) as well as mention all his friends and fun activities he will be doing next day. He has never liked going to day care … he has been going to this one for about a year (I moved him from the previous one thinking that the issue was the daycare), I make sure I talk to every teacher, mom, assistant in order to find out why he doesn’t like it but nobody is able to help me.
    What is the best approach for what I think is an extreme separation anxiety case? I don’t want him to suffer but at the same time I want him to learn that we need to go places even if we don’t like it.

    • I have two avenues to offer for your consideration. One thought is that preschoolers who have begun to learn the language of emotions may find that they receive significant attention for reporting unhappiness to their loving moms. If the teachers, moms and assistants at daycare seem surprised by your concerns particularly since his behavior indicates he is happy and relaxed in their care, then this is likely the case. The other avenue is that if your mom instinct (gut) is shouting that his issues are based in anxiety beyond the norm, then it is time to seek outside professional assistance. These services may be expensive but often, small changes at home can help to ground a young child for a happier future. Dr. Y

  5. My Oldest, just turned 5, but has been in pre-k this past year and loved it. His brother will be turning 4 in two months and has always wanted to go to school with this brother. This summer I have put them put in summer camp at the same school my eldest attended. First day was great but after that it all went downhill. It has been 2 months and my little one scream cries when he gets dropped off. He now says he does not want to go to school. Keeping in mind he has spent he’s whole life at home with grandma. We would really like him to be in a school environment to get him prepared for next year but the mornings have been getting worst at drop off time. As a result of the little one’s crying, my oldest has reverted back to his “first time” in school with the crying as well. I am starting to feel completely defeated and concerned that, 1 my oldest will now have a harder time when starting Elementary school in the fall and 2 that maybe I’m completely messing up my youngest by starting him to early. Any suggestions greatly appreciated.

    • Dear worried mom,
      Tears alone are not a good measure of the nature or severity of a problem. Having said that, tears continuing regularly after a two-month transition period would indeed suggest a need to better understand how the child is interpreting his time at school/camp with teachers and friends. I am assuming you have had discussions with his teachers about how he manages his day when you or grandmother are not with him. If they report that within 5-10 minutes of your leaving he can change his focus, join his peers, take leadership from the adults and shift from individual to group activity without difficulty then the tears may simply be a pattern that can be interrupted by a variety of strategies. You may want to borrow a copy of my book Tools for the Toddler Years from your library for the section on supporting transitions.
      If, however, he is not able to relax and enter the school experience then it may be that at 3 ½ he does not have the physical and emotional stamina to manage a full day of activity. This in no way means that either he or you are failing. Development can be supported it cannot be pushed, or forced. At a break time, remove him from this environment but do continue group enrichment activities like library story times, church or community classes or other short but regular opportunities to practice independence, separating and the skills of being in groups with peers. And, do keep the mental door open for both of you—reassuring him that he’ll learn how to go to school, too.
      His big brother may be crying because he has noticed how much extra attention his younger brother gets. You may want to try offering comments such as:
      • (with gentle humor, not sarcasm) “Did you forget you know how to go to school? Your little brother hasn’t figured that out yet, but he will pretty soon.”
      • “You already know about new friends and teachers. You don’t have to worry.”
      • “Were you thinking that if you cried I would find an extra hug for you? You know what? I have a giant hug right here. You can save those tears for a time when you’re hurt and need to call extra help.”
      It is difficult to be patient and loving with ourselves when we see our children struggle. We can begin to question our judgement rather than look at their behaviors as information about where they are developmentally and what new skills they may need to gain confidence in themselves. You’ve done the right thing in asking for more information. Now as you find out more from his teachers you’ll be able to trust yourself to provide the next context for his continued learning and growing. My best to you! Dr. Y

  6. My almost three year old daughter has been going to the same daycare for just under two years now. She is transitioning to a new room but to a teacher she already knows and in very close proximity to a teacher she loves. For a while now she says she wants ‘to go to bed’ or ‘stay in my house’. I know the transition might be upsetting her but she isn’t upset or throwing fits, she’s sad and crying (the sad cry). I talked to the teachers awhile back and they said she is usually fine the moment I leave but this sad face concerns me. My daughter is a very headstrong person who doesnt relent easy. What should I do?

    • Dear Compassionate Mom,
      Have you ever been with a friend and said “I wish you didn’t have to leave?” This is a very common human reaction. At age 3, a concrete statement of “stay in my house” reflects the desire to stay with you. Her teacher report that she is fine when you leave indicates your daughter is handling this very well. Often children find it helpful when we can name the feeling under their words and reassure them. It could sound something like this. “You’re wishing it was a home day. We do like to be together. Remember, this is a day with teacher and friends. I’ll save a special hug for you when I pick you up.” Then smile and trust yourself and your daughter to manage all the mini separations of life. Dr. Y

  7. I have a son who is 3 years old. I am currently home with our youngest (almost 1). The 3 year old has remained in daycare 2 days a week to 1) retain his spot 2) so I have time to do programs with the youngest that the older one was able to do 3) we thought it would help his transition into kindie when he turns 4 (kindie is in the same building). He is by nature a very shy, sensitive boy. He takes a long time to warm up to new people, situations and experiences and needs a lot of reassurance. He has done well at this daycare and we like the teachers etc. Lately he has begun to dread school days. He asks every morning if it’s a school day and cries all morning if it is. He cries in the car the whole way there and has to be peeled off of me when we arrive. I am rethinking our decision to keep him in and wonder if we should pull him out. I ask him questions about his day (what did you eat for lunch, did you play in the sandbox, etc) and he usually refuses to answer or just answers no to everything. His teachers say he is fine once I leave, but he is quiet (he always has been). He will speak to the other children and one favorite teacher, but no other adults. He has been at this daycare since he was 18 months (he used to go full-time when I was working). I thought we were making the right choices for him and now I am questioning it.

    • Dear worried mom,
      As parents we may find ourselves second guessing our decisions when our positive intent creates a different problem. Your intent to maintain his place and to support his later transition are positive as is the intent to create individual opportunity for you and his sibling. The challenge is that your preschooler is a concrete thinker seeing that you are doing special with his brother and leaving him out (the worst interpretation is that mom is picking little brother over me). Since the preschool teachers report that he is fine when you leave he is most likely doing well with the arrangement. I would encourage you to think about your language when reporting that it is a school day. “You are so lucky to be big and go to school to see your friends (name one or two) and your teacher (name the favorite). When little brother is big he can go too.” Also consider using words that signal turn taking, little brother is taking a turn to learn about (your activity) you had a turn when you were little too. Or, you may not even mention the things you are doing with the little sibling since he will be very unlikely to ever remember a time when you and he did those things together. Children this age equate love with direct attention and time spent with you it will remain a challenge for him to part. Trust yourself, his teachers and him as he continues to take these giant steps toward independence. Best wishes, Dr. Y

  8. Good Morning,

    My son has been in daycare since he was 6 weeks old, and he is 3.5 now.

    However, he just transitioned into a new room end of last week. This week, he has been telling me he doesn’t want to go into his new room, that he wants to stay in his old room, with what he is familiar with.

    This morning, when we pulled into daycare, before even getting out of the car, he started crying. He has never done this before. I bring him inside and into his old classroom (the new one isn’t open until 8 a.m. when the teacher gets there) and he tells me he doesn’t want to go to his old classroom with his old teacher (Ms. Kathy). His sister is in there too, until the bus picks her up for school.

    As I was leaving, he was pulling on my shirt and crying, not wanting me to go. I had to leave for work and he stayed on the floor with his blanket and stuffed animal crying, didn’t even want his sister to comfort him.

    I am hoping this is just a separation anxiety issue and nothing going on the classroom(s) that I don’t know about. I am at a loss. Please help me.

    • Wise Mom, Sudden changes in behavior demand that we look further. It may be as you hope that this is a form of separation anxiety, and yet for your peace of mind it is important to know more. It is always appropriate to talk to the teacher or program director about the day and how he manages when you are not there.(These conversations are best done at times other than pick up and drop off when classroom leaders need to give their attention to the children.) If they report he calms promptly and soon enjoys the activities and other children, then it is very unlikely that you have anything to worry about. You may find that the tears are about uncertainty in a new room and with classmates who do not yet feel like friends. A skilled teacher can reassure him and help him find his way into new friends and anchors so that he can again be joyful and you can take a breath as you shift focus to work demands. My best to you and your family. Dr. Y

  9. My 3 yr old daughter has been going to the same daycare for the last 2 years and has been in the same room for the last year. For the last two months (after returning from a 1 week vacation) she has been having instances of screaming crying at daycare at different times during the day. Her teachers and we (parents) have been trying to figure out what the trigger is, but can’t seem to understand what has changed. Teachers said she will also have times of not wanting to play with friends and just stand off to the side during activities. She tells us that she doesn’t want to go to school and “I will cry” at school. We keep trying to emphasize all of the fun things at school and give her things from home to keep in her cubby, but she still has problems most days. She is an only child and is always happy and playing at home. It’s breaking our hearts as we want her to have good days and have friends. We just don’t know what is going on.

    • Dear confused mom (and teachers),
      Sometimes our children are almost too smart for their own good! She is developmentally right on target to explore her power to manage her environment. When she reports to you “I will cry” this is a statement of her conscious decision to explore whether crying is a useful tool with teachers and parents. (Some children try other power tools like whining or trigger words like profanity.) My guess is that she gets a great deal of positive attention when she screams/cries at school–after all what compassionate preschool parent or teacher would not want to offer her comfort? When you as a parent and they as teachers recognize that she is not in physical or emotional need, then ignoring this behavior by focusing on the other children will soon help her realize that crying as a tool for attention isn’t particularly useful. The adult response can sound something like this said to the others without eye contact for the crier, “It’s a minute when she wants to cry. You don’t have to worry, let’s do our (activity), she will join us pretty soon.” When she finishes she is invited right into the activity. At home, when she offers you her threat “I will cry” acknowledge that she can choose that, but that you think most of her friends at school like to talk, sing and play with their voices and let it go. These little people are smart! Sometimes we have to look beyond the immediate to see a larger picture. My best to you and her classroom leaders. Dr. Y

  10. HI Dr. Y,

    I have a preschooler 4 1/4 years old (will be 5 in January 2018) a toddler 17 month old. They’ve been at the same daycare since they were 6 months old. We absolutely love this daycare and all the teachers, my preschooler has been with 3 different classes, with different teachers (some have been teaching in this same class/daycare for 25 years!) and we know they LOVE the kids and just amazing!
    Anyways, we had the kids stay home this past Summer with my husband because my husband has a summer off and then we all went for a vacation for a whole month overseas. We got back about 10 days ago, and both kids started daycare this past week, both moved up to different classes so different teachers than before Summer. Anyways, naturally my toddler has been crying at drop off, but has been getting better and even now just whimpering at drop off and already stopped crying by the time I am walking 1/2 way out their hall way.
    My preschooler has been okay until this morning. This whole week, he has been great, a little shy at drop off because of the new teacher (he LOVESSSS his previous teacher in younger room) but he has many same friends and they all have one giant party! This morning though, he cried HARD at drop off and told me he wanted to stay home. I had to peel him off me so I could go to work, his teacher talked to him and he was still crying when I drove away (they were outside playing). I don’t know what this could be? He hasn’t done this for gosh – 3 years?! He doesn’t have a temp, and was perfectly fine. Only thing I can think of is that I had to turn off Curious George (that was playing at home) when we had to leave the house. Anyways, maybe I am overthinking this? Should I be worried?

    • Dear Thinking Mom,
      When children have been well established in a school or daycare that you trust rarely do you need to be overly concerned with one difficult morning. Often if you contact the center a little later you will find that the child had indeed calmed and begun to focus on the activities and friends engaged in the day. There are many reasons why 4 ½ year old children may have a difficult morning. You’re experienced enough to have looked for fever to indicate illness, but sometimes just being more tired because of a growth spurt can throw them off. At other times, they may have felt hurried, or just wanted to spend more time with Mom. I would encourage you trust your gut as well as your mind. You know him best. You will not be failing him if you see him work a little to readjust to the schedule and the new people in his life. If the work seems to be spilling over into the rest of the day then there is cause for more attention and exploration.

  11. Dear Dr. Y
    I Need help. my 4 year old grandson is having a very difficult time adjusting to being in school all day. Last semester he was okay going to daycare for half a day. His parents decided he would go to school all day and stay in extended care until mommy would pick him up at 5:00 pm. He is not handling this well at all. The major problem with him going all day is that he has to nap and he has never been one to nap, he has to sit in the dark at school while all the other kids sleep so he has started to cry long before nap time.
    His parents and I are not seeing eye to eye on this, although I support and respect all their decisions and how they are raising him he has begun to have behavior issues.I know it is in his best interest to be in school, I am just wondering if there is a better way to address this problem.

    • Dear Concerned Grandmother, Nothing is harder than to be caught between people we love.To honor your concern for your grandson and the respect you have for his parents we often begin with questions rather than statements. One question, I might have is whether the school setting has another option for children who are not nappers. Although we assume every young body needs a period of rest, not every young body needs sleep. Rest may can be interpreted as time to listen to music, draw or do some other quiet activity that honors his classmate’s need for sleep. Most well staffed schools for young children will have an alternative that matches the unique biology of the children in their care. It may be helpful for his parents to share their concerns with the staff so that they can become a collaborative team in creating a positive experience for your grandson. Dr.Y

  12. Hello Dr Y. We live in France, where school starts at three years old (five days a week). I am a stay at home mum, and have had my son with me at home until he started school in September. He now goes five mornings a week (3 hours each morning). I stay at home with my eight month old. The problem is that he does not want to go. He cries a bit when he leaves with my husband, who tells me that as soon as he is in the car he is fine and chatty. When I pick him up he is in a good mood and his teacher reports that there are no problems at all. He tells me that he does not like school because I’m not there. Next year he will need to go to school full time (there is no half day option) we are concerned that if we stop school he will find next year even more difficult. I don’t want to take him out of school, would it be better to stop him going? Thank you for your advice in advance.

    • Dear Amma, Remember children this age live in the moment. In this case that means that “in the moment of leaving” he is focused on his love for you and the wonderful time you have togehter. For him, it is hard to remember that in the car “I will have fun talking to Daddy and continue to have hours of enjoyment with my teacher and friends.” Your husband has reassured you that this is a bit of transition work that your son is quickly able to resolve. Your teacher is again reassuring you that he is not showing signs of continuing distress and his behavior at pick up also indicates that he is doing very well. From your description, it sounds as though you can celebrate his attachment to you, his relationship with his father and his entry into school. On the whole, it looks as though you can trust that he is doing his developmental work well. Enjoy your mornings with your baby, and your family time with your children in the afternoon. Dr. Y

  13. Hello Dr Y,

    I am a mum to a 2.8 year old toddler. We live in India and pre-school starts here at the age of 2.2. I am a working mum and my toddler started pre-school at 2.4. For the last one month, he has been refusing to go to school. When I tried to ask why he doesn’t like school he complained that his teacher was stern on him and asked him to finish up his food. He is a fussy eater. He had been going hungry all through the morning until noon for a couple of days and the teacher insisted he finish his food.I don’t see a problem with this. But I may be wrong.
    He loves his teacher. For the last one month he has been fussy about going to school. His pre-school van picks him up, he cries for 2 minutes and is fine. Today was a massive meltdown day.He has never had such meltdowns ever and I am surprised and exhausted. He is a very happy and active child at home.

    Please help me understand how I can help my child and make this transition easy for him.


    • Dear Tired and Confused Mom,
      More than anything loving mums want to help and make life easy for our little ones. However, sometimes “growing” is not an easy place to be either as a child or a parent. In regard to food, you and your child’s teacher need to have a conversation about what you both hope to accomplish in guiding your child’s relationship to food. In normally developing children they will usually self-regulate their eating–some children being more inclined to eat larger portions later in the day and others being more satisfied with large meals at the beginning or middle of the day. His tantrums as you describe them are normal (not easy), but normal for children who may be exploring how to express their limits. Often quiet and calm persistance on the part of their loving adults helps children. I might suggest that you re-read the article to help clarify the nature of his resistance to give you more guidance. In my book Tools for the Toddler Years there are graphic descriptions of strategies for handling meltdowns and helping with transitions that many of my readers have found helpful. Best wishes to all of you, and please try to remember he will not be 2 forever, with your help he will learn to manage transitions. Dr. Y

  14. Hello Dr Y,
    My preschooler has recently started going to day care in USA, he goes 2days/week. We have already enrolled him in preschool this year. We have recently moved to USA and he used to go to school in our home country. It took him around 2 months to really enjoy going to school. He cried at drop off for 2-3 days at the start. Now when in new day care in USA, he is having a language Problem and adjustment problem. He says that he will go to preschool instead of day care. As far as I know my son’s separation anxiety is not a major concern for him in not wanting to go to day care but the change of environment and English language is his main issue. He is a very enthusiastic learner, and he wants to engage himself in educational activities and learn new things but I think he is not getting opportunity to be creative in his day care and instead wants to go to the preschool where he is enrolled. During his first day he wasn’t that bad but after 2nd day he started crying at drop off and multiple times at day care. Now he tries to convince me that he doesn’t want to go to day care because momma won’t be there and he feels scared. When I try to explain why is it good to go, he cries non stop until I distract him with something else. I am not quite sure where things are going wrong? I am not sure whether that day care is right for him, Or whether I should let him get used to it and ask help from teachers. I want to help my son get through this transition as smoothly as possible. Please help

    • Dear Pranjali,
      First welcome to the USA. As you’ve learned, this nation is often challenging for those who are new to the language no matter what our age. Even for those whose native tongue is English the pace, inflection and general rhythms of USA English are often different than that spoken in other nations. In addition, your son’s peers are still developing the use of language for fun and problem solving. So, yes, the day may feel frightening. To help him manage, use children’s songs that are clear and engaging. (To spare expense as you explore, you might want to talk to a children’s librarian.) By all means speak with his teachers about how they are helping him find a friend in the day care. You can also help the teachers help him by sharing particular things he enjoys doing and asking for their suggestions of things you can do at home. This age is often excited by “heros” who are brave. You can remind him that he is “brave” and will find good friends and adult helpers. Since it took him 2 months in his native country to feel comfortable, please give him and yourself time. He has shown you he is able to do this huge work even when it’s hard.
      My best to you and your family,
      Dr. Y

  15. Hello DR.Y I have a 4.5 years old daughter who started preschool 4 months ago …everything was fine untill last week when suddenly she said (I will not go to preschool any more)…She said that one of the other kids is bothering her. I told her we ‘ll talk to teachers and make sure this will not happen again but she still resists going…at other times it has been hard to persuade her. Even when I tell her that we will buy her a new toy or take her to her favourate places she always says. I dont want to go to school any more…please help …regards

    • Dear Amal, The preschool years are challenging for all of us. It is often the first time in our development when the world imposes in ways that force us to deal with “I don’t want to…” AND “I must do…” Before now, children can often be accommodated at home, after all if she doesn’t want to eat a vegetable, there is usually something else that is available. Assertions of “I like” or “I want” may be an irritant to a parent, however, they are not particularly demanding beyond the moment. Usually, preschool/daycare is not for a child to choose, but a structure parents have chosen. Our task then is to support our children, but never to imply that it is their choice, or that it is such a difficult thing that it requires a bribe or reward. As we consider shifting our leadership language we can include humor and distraction, but ultimately, it is her job to go to school, to learn to negotiate the social demands of peers and experience enough routine within the preschool/daycare that she can practice some flexibility when life offers age appropriate demands. Here are a couple of suggestions: Humor “Did we forget to tell you that school is your job? What a funny thing for teacher/mom/dad to forget to tell you!!!” Transition object support “What treasure from home will you carry in your school bag?” Emotional support “Which friend will you play with today?” I know this cannot feel comfortable for you but with the support of your daughter’s teachers she should soon find a pattern at school that allows her to relax and enjoy being there. My best to all of you, Dr. Y

  16. Hello Dr Y,
    My daughter just started daycare 5 weeks ago. She is 3.5 yrs old. Her and her older sister are attending daycare 2 days a week but are in different rooms. My older daughter loves daycare and is having fun. My 3.5 yr old daughter is crying and screaming the night before and morning of school. She wont get dressed in the morning. She just keeps saying she wants to stay with mommy or go to work with mommy. The school said she settles in fine after we leave but sometimes gets upset after naptime. At pickup she is excited to see me and tell me about her day. I am at a lost of what to do in the mornings. I have tried many tactics with the same results. She just cries and screams. She also will talk about school during the week and say she doesn’t like it and doesn’t want to go. Any suggestions for an easier morning? I am completely stressed about my little girl.

    • Dear Stressed Mom,
      Helping children with their emotional development is often harder than we expect. This is especially true when we compare to an older sibling. From your note, it sounds as though you have been working with your daughter’s care providers and that you have a Trusting and positive relationship with them. From their information you KNOW that your daughter is emotionally managing the transition as evidenced by her ability to relax and enjoy her day. Her emotional twinge at nap time and her distress at separating in the morning may be related to her temperament as well as her desire to be with those she loves best. To begin, we focus first on biology, arranging the family schedule so that she is well rested for the work of morning and, if at all possible, not hurried. One strategy to lessen the hustle of morning is to dress children for the day before they go to bed (they may be a little rumpled, but they are unlikely to be dirty or need to change before leaving home.) Then at other times we talk about the “jobs” of people in the family. Mom and Dad have work jobs and she and sister have “school” jobs. Everyone in “our” family takes a turn with being with other people, learning new things and helping others…When she shares about her day you celebrate with her the things and people she is learning to enjoy, the new things she’s learning and the people she helps. Talk about how “ her brain will help her remember” this the next time she goes to school so she won’t have to worry when she wakes up from nap time or when it’s time to get ready. IF you think it will help her, you’ll also add some talk time about being brave. Report any concrete evidence of things she does that are brave (climb high, talk to an adult, play with a new friend) they can be small things, but they must be real. Some children benefit from a star chart, so that she can earn a star for waking from Nap or walking into the classroom…From that you can have a simple family celebration of a very big new thing she is learning! I know this is hard work for her and for all of you, but it is a set of skills she’s learning. The more she learns and practices the new family patterns of work and school, the more she will gain confidence in herself and her ability to manage without you. My best wishes to all of you! Dr. Y

  17. Hi Dr.Y , I need help.
    My 3 and a half year old boy, doesn’t want to go to daycare anymore. In the last few weeks, he had some troubles with another child. My son defended himself many times, and got punished by the teacher. In the past he was very happy and impatient to go to day care every day, but now he cries and says he doesn’t like day care anymore. I tried to talk with the daycare director, but her
    position is not neutral. Next year he will start school, and I don´t want him to have a negative concept of going to school.
    I want to know if is recommended to take him out of the daycare, or should he stay and learn to deal with this problem (I think he is too young to learn to deal with this)?

    • There are many reasons why we might change a preschool or daycare for a young child. In this case, it seems that your son’s distress and your inability to work with the program teacher/director are both causes for concern. Often young children will attempt to defend themselves with immature strategies such as hitting back or grabbing to regain access to toys. These events should be addressed through the active support and intervention of the adult in the setting as they occur. Well trained daycare and preschool staff are there to help children manage personal boundaries and learn problem solving strategies that will serve them not only in the moment but support their learning how to be safe and collaborative in a space together. I would agree that he is too young to deal with this without the appropriate educational coach, he is not however too young to learn to be a positive member of a daycare or preschool class. I wish you and your son the very best in finding the right learning environment for him this year so that he can return to being a joyful learner. Dr. Y

  18. Hello dr. Y,

    My fairly shy and not very social 2.5 year old daughter has been going to a daycare (we live in Europe, so it’s a kindergarten/daycare/nursery type of thing, a mix of all these really) for 6 months now. She was quite slow to warm up to it and used to cry lots at drop-off and during the day, but calmed down considerably and started even enjoying it after a month or two. During the last month she hasn’t been wanting to go again and is asking to stay at home or for us to stay with her. Her caregiver says she cries a lot, especially when other kids cry or make a lot of noise. My daughter tells us she is scared of other children but likes the caregiver and as far as I understand, she doesn’t want the other children to be there. When other children cry or are loud, she sometimes even freezes up in panic. I called the daycare today and the caregiver said that my daughter only calmed down when she was given the opportunity to play alone in an adjacent room with the caregiver checking in on her from time to time. She didn’t cry while playing there and was quietly talking to herself (a sign of her being relaxed), but when she tried to come out to where everyone else was playing, she melted down again and ran away.
    The caregiver is at a loss as to what could have triggered this new fear, we are confused, too. Any suggestions for helping her feel better in her daycare?

    • Dear Gita, As you know there is nothing wrong with being a reflective personality. She needn’t rush to make friends or join large groups. There are two paths of support for your little girl. The first begins with her biology. You may want to explore her sound sensitivity which invites her to want to flee when it is either loud or discordant. Ask your caregivers if she is more comfortable when sound is managed, for example, during the music and movement portion of the day. This will give your more information before seeking further assessment. Some children who are sound sensitive find it beneficial to have access to sound dampening options. The other path of support for her is to help her learn the skills of being in a group (how to join a group, take turns, ask for help, collaborative play–see my new book Tools for the Preschool Years for an expanded list). Talk with your caregiver about the possibility of matching her with another child who can flow with her from activity to activity. This will help her experience a positive peer relationship in the larger context. If she physically needs to leave the space to regroup, the peer can share that quieter time. As much as possible keep the away time brief so that she has as much group experience as she can manage. Dr. Y

  19. Hi Dr. Y,
    My son who is in preschool with his cousin/best friend. He has loved it up until after spring break. Recently his cousin has begun speaking more and identifying more with the girls in his class. She still plays with him, but when she is playing dolls etc, he sits with the boys. He never talks about the boys except to say certain ones are bad. He also mimics the lead teacher’s discipline. He says “no, no, no, no, no SIR! He says he doesn’t get in trouble. He gets upset every day about the idea of of going to school. Any suggestions on combating this?

    • Hi Jennifer

      There are two facets to consider. The first is that you’re describing a reflective temperament—someone who makes deep friendships but doesn’t want or need a crowd to enjoy the world with him. It may be that being with the boys in a group is challenging because he is so distracted by the “bad” (usually high active and perhaps impulsive) that he can’t focus on the one or two others who may enjoy what he enjoys. His response is one of the tools/patterns teachers use to give our Reflectives a voice/strategy to express their boundaries. In other words, a polite, non-violent way to say to a peer, “That’s enough, I don’t like it!” (Yeah, he has half the process figured out!) For the second facet, you and his teachers can be a resource to him and one another by having a conversation to determine who might be a good temperament and interest match. When you know those names you can talk with him about his friends X,Y,Z and what he and they might do together. Again, he may want to focus on only one other friend, but expanding his social network insures against those days when that friend may be unavailable. It also gives him broader practice and encourages the gift of flexibility in relationships. Congratulations on raising such a brave, self-contained and thoughtful boy who is figuring out how to manage his world. Dr. Y

  20. My almost 4 years old doesn’t want to stay at the nursery, every other morning he cries and wants to come home or be with me . I used to take him at the daycare when he was younger and the same thing was happening, now that he started at the nursery nothing changed, he just wants to be with me. I have explained to him when I will pick him up we can do things together or go to the park but this doesn’t convinced him to stay at school and he starts crying and screams, he holds me very tight to not let go of me.Please give me your advice.

    Despaired mum

    • Dear Dispaired Mum,
      It’s very difficult from your note to know where to focus your approach. As you read the original article is it on the side of dealing with Separation or is it more a need for your child to learn to cope when he is called to do something he doesn’t want to do? Developmentally we would expect that the behavior at 2 years was likely Separation work, but at 4 years we expect children to explore their personal power. One facet of this power exploration is the power in our relationships. One way to have power is to keep the most powerful person in my life (usually Mom) at my side. Other forms of power exploration may be whining, a tantrum, power threats like “I won’t be your friend anymore” or the “magic words” of please & thank you. If your intuition says this is power work and his resistance is focused only on you, then if at all possible have someone else be the drop off person. You can frame the change for him something like this: “It looks like it’s very hard when Mom has to leave you. (Dad/friend) will do drop off while you practice how to say good bye and do your group time. I’ll pick you up.” At another time talk to him about things people do to help themselves when they are sad or mad. Another strategy is to find age appropriate books about children or animals who do brave things like go to school, etc. Read them together and talk about how he is learning to be brave and do new things by himself with other friends.
      My best to you and him,
      Dr. Y

  21. My 2 1/2 year old granddaughter is a very talkative happy child. If you ask what she wants to do, eat, etc she is very verbal. She goes to a daycare center two days a week. When asked any questions about daycare…what she ate, played, friends etc. she clams up and refuses to look at us. I am very concerned about this. Should I be?

    • Yes! Your concerns should be explored for two reasons. This is a significant change in her behavior and because your gut/intuition is nudging you. Neither of these two facets should be second guessed. It does not necessarily mean anything is drastically wrong. It may be that as a young child she is being asked to reflect on her day. Meaning she is really being asked to return to the past. Developmentally this is the age of living in the moment; going to memory to report on the flow of the day is often hard even for early elementary children. One way to learn about her experience of daycare is to invite her into open play with her dolls or stuffed animals. Have her be “the teacher” while you watch and listen. If you hear or see something that worries you, do not interject, but let her play it out. If her play indicates harshness on the part of the teacher or other events or behaviors that cause distress then you will called to action as her advocate.

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