When awful school drop-offs can't be fixed

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If your school start has been anything like mine you’ll have grappled with a sobbing child who’s clung to you like a life raft in a stormy sea. You’ll have hugged, begged, pleaded, reassured, walked away, come back again and eventually left your child in a teacher’s grasp. You’ll have left to wails of “muuuUMMMMyy.” You’ll have done your best to keep walking as you burst into tears.

It’s always been this way for me. From the early nursery days when I left an angry bundle of limbs with the carers, drop-offs have been a nightmare. My boy is an emotional kid and wears his angst on his sleeve.

While nursery was horrible, school is a whole new bag of joys. Trying to coax a distressed child into class amidst the post-bell chaos, having to deal with emotions boiling over in front of 50 other parents. It’s stressful and upsetting and I never get used to it.

My son started year one in January and after a brilliant first day the dramas started all over again on day two. I came home in tears and my solution oriented husband declared this had to be sorted. We needed solutions! We needed to fix our boy! So we consulted the books that deal with kids who need mending. As always we found a wealth of excellent hints and tips.

The trouble is we’d tried them all. Short drop-offs with firm goodbyes. Long-drop offs with hugs and kindness. Reward charts. Lengthy explanations about drop-off procedure. Arriving early. Arriving late. Enlisting the school’s help. Getting friends to take him to school. None of it worked.

Theory is terrific until you’re in the thick of the problem. Theory assumes rational thought and the ability to follow instructions, the way you do when you fix a bike. Unfortunately theory tends to be obliterated by the desperation that occurs when you have a weeping child in your arms begging you to take him home

It seems I’m in a problem cul-de-sac. Nothing left to try. You might think home schooling is an option but the irony is once I’ve gone my boy loves school. He never leaves the classroom at the end of the day with a sullen face. He’s always full of stories about the amazing things he did. It’s not school per se that’s the issue. It’s the moment of separation, when school cleaves a space between us and he’s faced with negotiating his day as an independent person.

I guess this is the bit where I tell you the secret. Reveal the silver bullet that changes everything. Reassure you that no matter how traumatic your drop-offs there is this one thing that will make it all right. I wish I could, but I can’t. In fact I can only tell you this may be the way of things to come for some time. You may face months of rotten drop-offs. But that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with your child. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re an awesome parent and with the help of friends, family and a good cry every now and again you’ll be fine.  

I’ve decided my child doesn’t need fixing. He’s not broken. It’s just who he is and how he deals with separation. I’ll keep helping him manage those times when he’s upset, but I expect there are plenty of tough mornings to come.

In the meantime, I’ll remind myself the difficult episodes are much less frequent than they used to be. I’ll remember that at the end of last year the good drop-offs far outweighed the bad. I’ll remind myself that some days I’m rock solid and can deal with any outbursts with ease. I’ll tell myself that slowly but surely my boy is growing out of all this.

Some situations can be changed almost instantly. I will forever thank the experts who gave me the magic formula to help our newborn sleep. But some things need to work themselves out and some things are just part of a child’s DNA. Not every perceived problem needs, or will respond to quick fixes, but the tincture of time and a bit of patience can work wonders.

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