Easing the Stress of Day Care Pick Ups

day care pick upsBalancing work with family life is a challenge many families deal with at some stage or another. We have been juggling this reality in our house for just over a year now and it hasn’t been easy.

Returning to work was not something I was comfortable with after the birth of my children but unfortunately we have been unable to make the budget stretch for me to be a full time, Stay-At-Home Mum. So we made the decision for me to resume working as a teacher on a part time, casual basis and to enroll our children into day care for three days a week.

We did our background checks on some local day care providers and finally settled on a centre we felt would look after the needs of our children whilst my husband and I worked. We knew there would be a few changes in our daily lives but what we hadn’t banked on was how hard this transition would be for our children and how much it would cost us in emotional turmoil.

The early days of day care drop offs were uneventful and the children seemed accepting of this change in their lives. It was always a puzzle to me, however, when my children would break down in full sobbing tears the moment they set eyes on me at pick up at the end of the day.

Initially I thought it was because they didn’t want to leave but then I wondered if they were unhappy at their day care. I was always reassured by their teachers that they had had a lovely day and whenever I arrived I would take a moment to observe them in play before announcing my presence. They always seemed settled and engaged.

As the months went on, these post care tears diminished and in their place came post care tantrums and extremely testing behaviours. It got to the point where just leaving the day care centre was a huge ordeal. I used to dread the drop offs but now the pick ups were ten times worse! As I gathered up the girls and their belongings I was met with opposition and defiance all the way to the car. Running through doors and shutting them behind themselves to block me from getting through and then screaming when I finally made it through. Climbing onto the rocking horse in the foyer and refusing to get off and then the other wanting to do the same. Screaming because I walked down the steps and not the ramp and then another tantrum after I back-tracked to the ramp but wouldn’t do it a second time over. Climbing into the car and diving over into the boot before I could strap them in and flatly refusing to move back into the seat area. These were just a few of the hurdles I faced every single time I picked them up.

Making matters worse was the fact that I too was tired after working all day and the pressure was on to get the children home, bathed and fed so they could be put to bed at a reasonable hour before full blown over tiredness caused them to stay up well past the time their little bodies needed to close down for the evening. The girls sensed my anxiety and ensured that my patience was completely tested by digging their heels in at every opportunity.

I started using snacks and offers of treats as a form of coercion just to get them into their seats. This worked but was clearly not getting to the root of the problem because as soon as we arrived home, more testing behaviour ensued and by this stage it had kicked into a higher gear. Furthermore, it got to the point where they would demand a treat before getting in. I didn’t want it to be this way, I didn’t want to have to bribe my children into the car.

So, as I usually try to do when I am met with a challenge in my parenting journey, I spent some time trying to determine the underlying cause of the problem rather than trying to smooth it over with a band aid treatment.

I did some self-analysis and personal reflection. What I knew was that I had two children charged full of emotion, tired, hungry and vying for my attention. Cooperation was off the agenda and defiance and limit testing on. From all accounts, I was fairly confident that my children’s time at care was enjoyable, emotionally supportive and had met all their basic needs.

The only thing they did not have during the day was me (or Dad). We are our children’s safe place. We are their rock. We have been since the day they were born. We have seen the best of them and the worst of them and our love for them has never wavered. They know this and are therefore comfortable in letting us in on the strong emotions that bubble up inside them.

When they are in the care of others, however, they have learnt to suppress their emotions and save them up. They never tantrum for their carers. They don’t show them the raw anger and frustrations that we have the privilege of witnessing on a regular basis. Our children trust us and so, when they are back in the safety of our arms at the end of their day in care, they slowly let it all out.

All those genuine feelings they have so valiantly suppressed throughout the day need to be heard, validated and understood. It is a sign that we are doing something right as parents for them to trust us so implicitly that they let us experience the worst of them, confident in our love for them.

So, to help make day care pick ups less stressful for all of us my approach has changed in three ways.

1. Better preparation

To make the afternoons at home less rushed and chaotic, I have begun cooking the week’s meals on a Sunday. This way I am not under so much pressure to get home and get things moving, giving me the time to slow right down and connect properly with the children at the point of pick up.

I usually make two large batches of something and have these on alternating nights for four nights. Friday nights is usually a whatever goes night or takeaway. The girls aren’t in care on a Friday so my husband looks after them during the day and is there when I get home from work, giving me time to prepare dinner if needed.

2. Setting stronger limits

My children are sending me fairly clear messages that they want to release some negative emotions. Setting the limits they need in the afternoon is certainly difficult for all of us and results in some pretty ferocious meltdowns but it also gives them that much needed opportunity, in my loving presence, to be comforted and understood whilst they express the emotions they have saved up.

3. Acknowledging feelings

I have found it hugely helpful to talk to my children about their emotions if I can see they are heading over the edge or even after they have already gone over. I let them know how hard it can be being away from home and us all day. I tell them it is normal to feel sad/mad/frustrated and generally emotional when we come to collect them. I let them know that I want to help them and will be strong for them when they need me to be.

Day care pick ups have become a lot less stressful over the past few weeks since I have been able to slow down and give the the time and space to express. They sense my agenda has disappeared and are digging their heels in less and less.

You may also enjoy reading:

5 Steps to a Peaceful Day Care Drop off ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)

Bonding With Our Children Through Conflict ~ Janet Lansbury (Janet Lansbury – Elevating Childcare)

How Do Children Learn to Regulate Their Emotion ~ Kenneth Barish, Ph. D (The Huffington Post)

Car Seat Tantrums  – Handled With Respect ~ Janet Lansbury  (Janet Lansbury – Elevating Childcare)


11 thoughts on “Easing the Stress of Day Care Pick Ups

  1. Liz

    Love this! My two-year old has recently been having a hard time with pick-ups. My older son did this about the same age, so I am handling it better than I did the first time around. I just give him a little extra time when I get there to pick him up. I approach him slowly – perhaps a little bit of peek-a-boo around whatever play structure or shelving is near by. And then I just squat or stand near by and wait for him to warm up to the idea that I am there. Sometimes it is like a switch flips after a minute of first running away from me and then he grins at me and comes and hugs me. Sometimes he flips out, sometimes he is fine, but I have had to resort to carrying him out kicking and screaming because he just would not come. When we get home, I sit with him just a bit and give him some undivided attention before starting on dinner – just 10 or 15 minutes or so. It makes all the difference in the world! Thankfully my older one seems to do well with it. It would be hard with two being upset!

  2. Claire H

    Wow, i have never thought this would be the reason! I have been picking my little one 15-20 minutes early because it would take me ages to “get her” come with me because she would run, show me the room she takes naps in, her bed… i completely relate to: “with opposition and defiance all the way to the car. Running through doors and shutting them behind themselves to block me from getting through and then screaming when I finally made it through” – she was of course sensing my anxiety, as i wanted everything to go smooth for the only 3 hours I have to spend with her after day care.
    The past few months have been a turning point to me as i began implemented RIE principles with 1st making contact when I speak, and letting her know what’s going to happen (like, we are leaving in a few minutes…). The biggest difference for me was realizing i was taking things too personally, concentrating on how hard it was for me, when obviously she was the one having a hard time.
    Thank you very much for this great article that made me realize what it was like for our little ones

    1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

      My pleasure, Claire! I’m so pleased to here you are having such great success implementing RIE. It can be hard changing things up when we parent but it can be so worth it. Seeing the world through babies eyes can be difficult but life changing when we get it!! Keep up the awesome work!

  3. laughingkidslearn

    I think this is a post that so many parents will be able to relate to and appreciate reading, myself included. I love that you highlight the importance of reflecting and working out the ‘why’. Such a great approach.

  4. thefairfieldlife

    Yes. Yes. Yes! You are absolutely correct on all accounts. Melt downs at pick up… noodles as soon as I try to put him in the car. Luckily, we had already been doing one of your suggestions (cooking the weeks food over the weekend). The other two are going to come with time. Our son is 15 months and does what I like to call the tantrum tango. Now, after daycare I don’t get his bag ready or do the dishes instead he sits on my lap cuddled up with his blanket, milk, and we talk about our days. Or rather I make up his day and he responds with a ” da, dis, da”. Wonderful. I do go to bed later but its worth not having the screaming fits.

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  7. Donna Couper

    Oh my god thankyou. I so needed to read this to know whats going on after the last few weeks and this week especially being full on meltdowns at daycare pick up with my nearly 3yrd old and not knowing what was wrong.

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