Coping With an Emotional Outburst at School Drop-off

We hit day 5 of Prep (school) today, the 4th consecutive day this week. I have been astounded at how calmly my nearly 5 year old, L, has been accepting this significant change in her life. I mentioned in last week’s post, my nervousness for her starting her schooling year and she blew me away by the confidence she showed me on her first school drop off.

Each day since has been much like the first, with L walking (no, skipping) me to the school gate to wave me goodbye before running off with her new friends. That is, until today. Today was different. Today was the first sign of emotion she has shown (unless you count the time her Dad packed celery with peanut butter in her lunchbox when it is a nut free school, and the offending item had to be removed – that did not go down too well but that’s another story).


It actually began before we even left home. She muttered the words as she was getting ready, “I don’t want to go to Prep today.” I acknowledged how big this week was for her and explained that there were just two more days until the weekend when she would get a rest. That seemed to satisfy her and she went on getting ready. Over the course of the morning, however, she was testing and emotional, snapping quickly when things were not going to plan in her eyes.

When I arrived at her school, she came through the gates with me but instead of excitedly looking for her good friend, M, she stuck tight to me. I sat with her and cuddled her until she initiated getting up to explore. As I had done on previous days, I told her I was leaving and asked if she would like to walk me to the gate.

She clung to me and told me she wanted to go home. She didn’t want to stay at Prep, today. The thought crossed my mind to honour her request. I knew she was tired and I did not have any major plans for the day, but I chose to leave her there.

I recognised that this regression was a culmination of tiredness as well as the reality of everyday schooling sinking in. But I trusted her. I had faith in her strength to be able to get through this day and grow from the experience. I hoped that by leaving her confidently, she would receive this message about herself.

I also thought that bringing her home might result in her believing that she is not able to cope; that she needs rescuing if she is feeling upset. I knew she needed comfort and time and I trusted her teachers, knowing that they would hold space for her to work through this.

So, at the gate, I acknowledged her upset and let her know that she was safe. I assured her that she could call me anytime she needed to hear my voice (her teacher had offered this). Her teacher stayed close to her and gently helped her move away from me so I could leave. I spoke with confidence, being careful not to convey pity. I did not want her to sense any lack of sureness from my departure. This was key to helping her feel confident in her new surrounds. She had to know that I was completely comfortable leaving her there.

It sure did tug at my heart strings seeing her reach out for me as I drove away but 40 minutes later I received a reassuring call from her teacher telling me she had connected with her friend, M and was laughing and running around without trace of her previous upset.

Whilst I was on the phone to her, the teacher informed L who she was talking to and asked if she would like to speak to me. Her friend called out: “Are you going home, L?” She replied incredulously, “Nooooo!”

I spoke to her for about 45 seconds before she left me hanging, leaving the teacher to pick up the phone and break it to me that I was talking to myself.

I knew I had made the right decision in trusting in her capabilities to cope with this hiccup. When I picked her up this afternoon, she was annoyed that I was there too early and informed me that she was not ready to leave. When we finally made our way across the yard, she had a little entourage of friends running out to say goodbye to her. She seemed content.

I have no idea what tomorrow will bring for her but I will read each day as it comes, secure in the knowledge of her strength but also willing to accept whatever strong feelings she needs to communicate to me.

Emotion drawing

Edited to add: When I dropped L at school the next day her teachers told me the story of these drawings. A while after I left, one of her teachers had seen L looking tense and cuddling her comfort toy by herself at a little table. She went to her and asked her if she wanted to talk about how she was feeling. L did not respond. Knowing she enjoyed drawing, the teacher asked if she would like to draw the colour she was feeling. 

L chose a blue oil pastel and drew this little person to represent how she was feeling. Her teacher talked to her about her choice of the colour, blue and the features of her person. She then asked her to use a colour to respresent how she wanted to feel. The orange person was L’s response. 

Her teacher explained to me that L’s mood visibly shifted after doing these drawings. It was as though she had felt heard and a weight had been lifted.

I just love how mindful L’s teachers are about accepting and understanding the need to express feelings in a safe and secure environment. I love that they don’t push this process but observe before offering further support if needed. It really gives me a lot of peace of mind.

My parenting is inspired by Magda Gerber’s RIE approach. If you are interested in learning more you can find some good information here or I highly recommend these books (affiliate links)

Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect (2nd Edition)  ~ Magda Gerber

Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities — From the Very Start
~ Magda Gerber

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting  ~ Janet Lansbury

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame ~ Janet Lansbury

2 thoughts on “Coping With an Emotional Outburst at School Drop-off

  1. Pingback: The First Day of School: A Lesson in NOT Projecting Fears - Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

  2. Nicole

    My nearly 4-year old has had rough mornings like this nearly every day for his entire life. There are times when it’s really bad (crying, refusing to let me go) and the rare day that he happily goes off to find something to do. It’s so hard for me and heartbreaking and I don’t know what to do. I try to reassure him and he needs to be physically handed off to a teacher every day. I’d love any advice. I work full-time, so staying home is not an option.


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