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Struggling with daycare drop off and bedtime

My daughter is almost four and has been attending daycare for almost three years, and loved it. Recently however she's really struggled with both daycare drop off and bedtime (she's usually great at bedtime too). She hides, cries, whimpers and shouts "don't go!" She seems genuinely upset and it breaks my heart to leave her but bedtime now is so difficult when I need to get my one year old to bed as well. It seems to be getting worse rather than better. What do I do?

Oh dear, that sounds like a hard time you and your daughter are having. And, you might perceive it as getting worse rather than better but it's probably that she's growing up. At around the age of four, children start to feel more independent and realise that their place in the world. She's both attached to you, which is a great sign, but also coming in to herself as a separate person and a separate being. She is probably struggling with that experience, with what it means to be both deeply and lovingly attached to her mum but also an independent agent who needs to make her own way.

Okay, that is the explanation, and, luckily, there are a few things you can do here. The first is to make sure you're giving her lots of one-on-one attention during the times you are together. Maybe someone can take the baby for a while and give you some time together with your daughter. It may be that her emotional tank needs to be filled up, or you need to put deposits into the bank, to have her be helpful at day care/kinder and at bedtime. I am sure you are doing that, but try to give her a little more time just with you.

Another thing you can do is to give her a hug and wait for her to pull away. Giving her the chance to set the hug length can help her to feel in control of the relationship and also to allow her to set the tone and the agenda.

You can also ask her loads of positive questions about her experiences at day care; asking questions will help her feel like her experience there is valuable and important and you can include it in conversations you have about your day.

If all else fails, set the limit. At four years of age, children can understand some concepts around time and also some numbers. Use a count of four or a set time, say a minute or two, and say that after that time you will have to leave for day-care. You can use your phone to set a timer for a minute or two minutes and say, when that timer goes off, you have to leave.

With bedtime, if you follow a routine, it should be easy to see when time is up and it's time for you to leave. Do you put the baby to bed first? Can your daughter help you to put the baby to bed. so she feels like she has an important role to play in the family dynamics and that might help her to be more inclined to be cooperative at bedtime.

If all that fails, again, I would set a limit. You read the story, you do the kisses and cuddles and, if it helps, use the timer again.

As with all things with limits, set them gently and be kind but fair. You can say no as nicely as you say yes. Acknowledge her feelings (acknowledge you hear that she is sad that you are leaving, or that she has to go to bed, but it's time to go/time for bed so you have to leave) and listen but try not to interject, just listen. It might be she just needs to be heard.


Dr Rebecca English

Dr Rebecca English

Lecturer, Faculty of Education (QUT)

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