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When Your Toddler Refuses Preschool

Marlowe Martino lays on the multicolored couch, with buns in her hair

The whole family was excited for Marlowe to start preschool– Kyle and I had looked at six or seven preschools in the area– considered and compared them painstakingly– before finally choosing “The One”.  We were pumped, Marlowe was intrigued, and we were ready to go.  I was convinced that my super social, outgoing, verbal, and totally potty trained child was ready for preschool.  In fact, I started looking up the paperwork to enroll Major for the Two’s program at the school the following year.  Marlowe did a week of the school’s Camp program in July, and by the time my kid was all gussied up for the first day just over a month ago, I sent her off without hesitation.  Everything was going to be great.

Until she came home that night and declared that she was never, ever, ever going to go back to school again.  I thought she was giving us the setup to an uncharacteristically advanced sarcasm joke.  When I had picked her up that day she was smiling, laughing, happy.  But now she was singing a different tune. “I don’t like that school Mom.  I don’t like the teachers, I don’t like the kids, I don’t like anything.  I don’t want to go back there.”  I didn’t panic.  Yet. “Look, Lowie, it was a lot to do the first day at a brand new school.  I know a lot of people there already have friends and you don’t yet but that’s going to change.  First days are never the best.  Let’s talk about it again tomorrow.”  We left it at that.  The next morning she was a little ball of sunshine all through breakfast until I uttered the words: “Let’s get you dressed for school!” I was met with the shriek of the century and immediate hysterics.  “NO MOM! I TOLD YOU! I don’t like it! I don’t want to go back! Nooooooo!!!!” This was now a thing.  And what in the world was going on?!

Marlowe Martino lays pensively on the couch of her Connecticut home

Marlowe Martino wears a maroon dress with buns in her hair and smiles laying on the couch of her Connecticut home

My child is normally the one who I have to be extra vigilant about in public spaces because she is usually so NOT attached to me.  She will (and has) grabbed the hand of whoever seems nice in the immediate vicinity and just rolls with it (terrifying).  She’s normally so down to try new things, meet new people, and explore new places.  We had transitioned her in and out of two other daycare facilities, and there was never a reaction even close to this.  It just seemed so out of character.  Normally when Marlowe exhibits out of character behavior I chalk it up to her coming down with something and feeling a bit off.  I felt her head and she wasn’t warm.  No sniffles, no congestion.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  I ended up convincing her to get dressed and we headed to school.  She held it together until we got near the front door, and then immediately started up.  Whole body rigid, pulling on my hand away from the entrance to the school.  Crying and whining, eyes wide with fear.  The look of fear was my first red flag– I don’t know about your kid, but mine has two modes: Faux upset, and ACTUALLY upset.  I can definitely tell the difference, and in that moment this chick was not playing around.  I got down on my knees and pulled her to me.  I hugged and kissed.  I cajoled and bargained, bartered and pleaded.  I told her I was coming back in just a few hours, that there were so many fun things to do inside, new books, new friends, etc etc.  Finally the teachers helped me get her in the door.  I saw a few other kids a bit weepy so I chalked it up to second day jitters, blew her a kiss, and darted out the door. As I was walking towards the car, I felt like the world’s most giant asshole. It really made me feel awful to leave my kid crying, but what was I supposed to do? Do all kids like school right away? She needed to learn and be prepared for the school environment at some point, right? I took some deep breaths in my car and repeated in my head “It’ll just be a few days, a rough week maybe.  Then it’s going to be GREAT.

Well, ladies and gents: 4 weeks later and every single day is exactly the same.  And I’m currently dealing with the most emotionally challenging, continuous parenting hurdle I’ve ever come across.  How do you decide what to do, what is right for your child, how to encourage them through a tough time, and to learn to trust you and themselves when they absolutely refuse something that you are absolutely sure is important for them: Preschool? And here is the craziest part: every day when any one of us picks her up, Marlowe is ALL SMILES.  Happy, beaming, laughing, telling me about her day, showing me what she made at school– and then not even an hour later once home she refuses to ever go again.  In the morning before school, it takes me an hour of convincing to even get her in the car, and ten to twenty minutes to even get her through the front door of the school.  My life has become all about Preschool refusal.  And according to everyone at the school, including other parents, once we drop her off she’s fine.  Totally fine. She is LITERALLY saving the drama for her Mama, folks.  And it’s exhausting– for all of us, actually.

Marlowe Martino wears a maroon dress and buns in her hair, and climbs on the couch of her Connecticut home

I should mention that there are a few other dynamics going on.  I have been spending so much time trying to have heartfelt and constructive conversations with Lowie about school, about why she is worried about going, how she feels, what could be making her anxious to return.  And there were always different answers.  And some of them seemed more bogus than others.  For example, one day she told us that a little boy in her class “hit” her.  (There were only three boys in her entire daycare class before so rambunctious boys are kind of new to her) This complaint I understood, I mean I wouldn’t be psyched to go back someplace where a kid had hit me.  But then other reasons were more confusing: “I don’t like my teachers.” All of them or just one? “All of them.” Why? “They say bad things to me.” Really? Bad things like what? (Marlowe looks around the room for a few seconds before her eyes land on one of the pumpkins in our kitchen.  She turns to me with glaring eyes) “They told me ‘Marlowe, you are a very bad pumpkin!’ Isn’t that nasty, Mom?!” LOL.  As a parent I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Of course I want my child to be comfortable and happy at school, but as somebody who suffered A LOT in school for various reasons I know that it’s not something that feels perfect overnight.  I knew she didn’t have close friends yet and that the whole place was really new to her also.  But, as somebody who suffered a lot in school, this subject is also especially emotionally loaded for me.  I found myself with tears in my eyes as she told me at night that she didn’t want to go back there.  Every morning was a struggle for me not to get emotional as I had to leave my panicked child at the door.  Her eyes pleading with me, calling for me as the door closed behind me. It has been so hard for me to distinguish between identifying Marlowe’s feelings about school and what is behind them, and my own feelings of abandonment, betrayal, and hurt from my own experiences as a child.

Obviously, from day two we started talking to the teachers.  They could clearly see that Marlowe was having a hard time every morning, and when Lowie would report an “incident” with a child at school I would ask them for details.  The challenging part is that these kids are three years old.  There is physicality going on from time to time, especially on the playground– but also kids this age (mine included) can sometimes get bumped or brushed up against and say that they are being hit.  There is so much grey area.  How do you figure out whether your toddler’s description of an event is over dramatic or spot on? If they’re crying about it for an hour, does it even matter what the facts are? It got to the point at the end of last week where Kyle and I were seriously considering pulling her out.  I just couldn’t figure out what the right thing to do was: stick with it and encourage her to get used to this school that her loving parents had carefully selected for her, or take her out and cross our fingers that she wouldn’t have the exact same reaction at another school.  I stayed up many nights thinking about it.

Marlowe Martino wears a maroon dress and buns in her hair, and climbs on the couch of her Connecticut home

Finally on Friday, Kyle and I called a meeting with her three teachers and the head of the school.  We just felt like things weren’t adding up and that we all had to get on the same page to see if we could come up with some solutions to make Marlowe’s transition a bit easier and faster.  We just didn’t have the ability to fight with our three year old every day about something that at the end of the day should be fun and positive! We ended up having a really amazing and incredibly helpful meeting.

They had done something really smart, which was film Marlowe that day in the classroom.  They showed us videos throughout the day of her playing with the other kids, laughing, singing, and being such a leader in the class.  My eyes welled up as I watched the happy, social, fun-loving kid that I know so well seeming so in her element.  They turned to us and explained their take– they think that Marlowe is having a classic and unexpected case of separation anxiety.  They told us that they see it happen out of nowhere sometimes with kids, and even halfway through the year with some kids who had been totally adjusted and happy for the first half of the year.  She definitely is feeling uncomfortable, but because she can’t really place the feeling that she’s having, she’s transposing it on to lots of varying things when she tries to explain it.  Kyle and I were both there, and they were able to share with us that she recovered much more quickly when Kyle dropped her off in the morning than when I did.  That possibly Marlowe felt a bit worried about me leaving her and not having eyes on me for the entire day.  I can totally see that– and I’m sure the fact that she knows I work at home with Major in the other room for me to kiss or hug whenever doesn’t sweeten the deal for her either!

I had a sudden realization about something else that could be contributing to Marlowe’s separation anxiety: The Lion King.  A few weeks before Lowie started preschool, we had shown her The Lion King for the first time.  She loves the movie ( and has watched it many times since) and had never shown any signs of distress while watching it– but I remembered that Simba’s Father dies in the beginning of the movie.  And then doesn’t come back.  Ever.  I suddenly realized how she could have subconsciously held questions about that storyline in her head and that it could be making the separation from me every day a bit harder for her to handle.  Her teachers suggested that I tell her every day on the way to school exactly what I was going to do before she saw me again later that day.  To talk her through my itinerary so to speak– this way she could imagine what I was probably doing at that moment if she had doubts in her mind.  I thought this was a great idea.  To help at dropoff, they suggested that Kyle bring her to school all this week– and do curbside dropoff with her teacher to avoid the parent-child doorway threshold drama.  We are also going to implement a daily “journal” for Marlowe where they write down a detailed account of her day and the games or activities she enjoyed so we can read it with her at night. There would also be a description of any incidents with other children so that we would know the actual facts about what had occurred.  We will write back a little note from Marlowe in the journal about what her favorite part of the day was, including any anxieties about the day ahead that she may have.  I loved this idea. This way we can all be on the same page and have the tools to help Marlowe through this.  I’m confident now that this is a phase that is not only important for us to work through with Marlowe, but crucial.  I’m so glad we are sticking it out instead of caving to the emotional complications of the situation, and encouraging Marlowe to do the same.  I think working through this and getting Marlowe to a confident place in her daily separation with us will give her really important tools she can use moving forward.

Marlowe Martino wears a multicolored dress and prepares to jump off the couch in her Connecticut home

I’m also letting myself off the hook.  I’m realizing that my childhood is not my daughter’s, that I can’t heal myself by any actions I take with her– and that it’s definitely time for me to go back to my own childhood…with my therapist.  It’s important for me to focus on what is going on with Marlowe, in HER reality and not link it so much to my own.  I think that as my kids grow up and hit milestones that spark emotion for myself in my own history it will always trigger personal feelings from those times– whether good or bad– and I definitely want to develop the tools I need to keep the immediacy of those negative emotions in the past.  If I let Marlowe’s emotional journey rile up my own, we will just be building off of each other’s anxiety and that won’t be good for anyone.  One of my biggest goals as a Mom is to be a pillar of strength for my children– to envelop them in love, and address every emotion, but also to have them be absolutely sure that I can protect them in any situation.  Parenthood is so wild in its ability to put a mirror directly in your face and force you to look at yourself long and hard.  What a challenge this is, but also what an exhilarating gift.

I wish this post ended with an answer or solution for any other parents going through something similar, but all I can say is I’m working on it.  She is working on it.  We are all in it together.  Hang in there! And, obviously, if anybody has some other great tips for school-based separation anxiety, please share!

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60 Comments

  1. Noelle says:

    Oh poor thing (both of you!) My 3 1/2 year old has had similar issues (though my 5 year old never did). When our nanny would take her to school, she was totally fine, but when I would do it, it was meltdown central. She is now in all day care, which was a tough transition (a lot of “I don’t want to go back to school” during the first few weeks), and nap time was especially hard and she would talk about how much she missed Mommy. I sent in a shirt of mine for her to sleep with, and that made a big difference. We would talk about how a part of mommy was with her when she was there. Honestly, I’m not sure she even looks at it during the day, but she knows that if she’s really missing me, it’s there. Do you have a small token that you could put in Marlowe’s backpack that would remind her of you if she needs it? Also, maybe having a school friend over for a play date? We have done some socializing with school friends outside of school this past month, and it makes my daughter that much more excited to go back and see them each day. Finally, just continually telling my daughter how proud of her I am, how she is such a big girl for being at school all day, and praising all that she is doing helps as well. As you’ve said, acknowledging feelings always helps, but making them feel proud and feel your pride seems to help us too! Good luck!

    10.16.17Reply
  2. Kristin F. says:

    Hi Eva,

    Sorry you guys are struggling with this. I follow your blog fairly religiously and thought of something. You mentioned that you were left without childcare recently. I wonder if that could be a factor influencing Lowie’s behavior? If it was a sudden departure, it could be just one more (life altering – in her wee world) change to deal with on top of the new school.

    I provide after school care to a set of 10 year old twins. When I started working with the family a year ago I was surprised how many questions I got from the kids (9 at the time) about what the schedule for the week was, who was picking them up, what I do in my off time when I’m not with them, etc. Even at 9/10 they wanted that security of knowing who / when / where.

    It could also be compounded that w/o a nanny or babysitter these past few weeks Lowie was getting extra bonus time with Mom and Dad. Makes the separation that much harder.

    In any case kudos for hanging in there and it also seems you guys picked the right school with a team of teachers that are willing / able to work the problem on a deeper level! Good luck!

    10.16.17Reply
    • katie says:

      i read the blog post the day it went live, but just came back to check the comments– kristin f’s so insightful…

      i really, really think it is the fact she was getting the quality time from the no nanny transition, AND because you guys have so much fun with her. it is so hard to leave a house of love and fun behind..

      i would reiterate the schedule and routine over and over and over.

      we just did, pull out of full day daycare cuz i was on mat leave, and now have a nanny at home with just preschool 2x a week. the repetition and consistencies are what gets us through. we over communicate big time.

      10.19.17Reply
  3. Amy says:

    I think you are doing all the right things and I just want to say you are such a wonderful mom :)(sometimes you need to be reminded of this when you’re going through something difficult with your little ones).

    10.16.17Reply
    • Sarah says:

      Ditto! I was about to comment the same thing but I wanted to ready through all of the comments first. Love this honesty, as always.

      10.16.17Reply
  4. Abbi says:

    While I’m so sorry to hear that Marlowe (and you!) are having a rough adjustment to preschool, I’m also really glad that you’re speaking out about it! My oldest son had a rough couple years (!!) going to his preschool program, just like your daughter: fussing on the way, crying on the walk inside, etc. His teachers were great with communication during those times, texting pictures of him playing happily within minutes of drop-off and always maintaining a positive attitude with him at carpool. Going more days, i.e. making it a bigger part of our week, actually helped because it made him realize that we ALWAYS come back for him, and he got to see his school friends more. Eventually, he grew out of it, and now LOVES going to school!
    My middle son never had a problem with it! He is so happy to go to school with his big brother, who now has such positive connections with preschool. I hope Major has the same reaction when it’s time for him to join Marlowe!
    Good luck! When in doubt, a glass of bourbon (for yourself) after kid bedtime does wonders!

    10.16.17Reply
  5. Laura says:

    It sounds like you’re doing all the right things, and I believe that Marlowe will begin to love school eventually! My 3 year old has been going to daycare since 8 weeks old and he still is a tough hand-off most mornings! And the minute I’m out of sight he’s fine. 🙂 What I really wanted to say though is that don’t discount the age in general! None of my boys (I have 3) had typical “terrible twos”, but so far the first two have had REALLY tough transitions to threes. My oldest was always very calm and mature, but about a month after turning 3 he completely lost it regularly and I genuinely thought there was something wrong or I was a bad parent. A few months later, he was back to his normal self. My second son did the EXACT SAME THING shortly after turning three, and although his phase lasted a bit longer, he’s now back to normal (almost 4 now). Luckily the second time around I was prepared for it. For some reason this age is just rough for some kids, and very emotional! Best of luck to you!

    10.16.17Reply
  6. Tracy Seymour says:

    Hi Eva. I can totally relate to what Marlowe is experiencing in preschool. I was the same way. This was back in the 1970’s when I had the same behavior. I would cry hysterically when my Mom would drop me off at preschool, and then I would be OK until the teachers left the room. I would then burst into tears, thinking that the teachers were abandoning the kids. I am an only child, and my parents had enrolled me in preschool with the hopes that I would interact with my peers. I would sit in the corner, and look at books. I’m now 48, and to this day I love reading. I sincerely hope that Marlowe will adjust. Good Luck to you.

    10.16.17Reply
  7. Leigh says:

    She is so lucky to have you and Kyle!!!

    10.16.17Reply
  8. Maura says:

    My son went through something similar. It lasted until kindergarten. The best advice I can give is always talk to them and find out why they don’t want to be in school. My son’s most common reply was “Its such a long day Mommy. I miss home.” And very similar to Marlowe he was happy as soon as he entered the building until pick up. Which made it hard for me was my older boy loved school from day one! So this came out of nowhere. Just be there and listen and investigate(which you clearly did). It just takes time.

    10.16.17Reply
  9. Jessica Hulse Dillon says:

    We have been having similar problems with our almost 3 years old but going to her nanny share where she has been going every day for nearly 3 years. There are changing dynamics, the addition of the other girl’s little brother to the mix and our impending 2.0 arrival as well as the start of preschool. It makes it so hard to leave for work when she’s screaming “mommy dont go, we stay home and cuddle” (seriously, you’re killing me kid). I love the ideas your preschool recommended and am going to try them. Keep us posted and know you are a great mom for being so worried for her.

    10.16.17Reply
  10. Irina Visan says:

    Hey Eva! My mom was a kindergarten teacher for many years and one of the things she suggested when she read your story was gealousy. As you said, Marlow knows you are going back home to Major and he’ll be spending the whole day with you while she doesn’t. Plus in some of the videos you posted it’s pretty obvious that she feels gealous of you: things like saying “look mom I can do what Majie does” or “look at me mama” when you are filming him. So she probaly can’t pin point this feeling or doesn’t want to. I am not sure what the solution is, maybe give her more attention when she is home? Maybe your therapist can suggest something?
    Good luck!

    10.16.17Reply
  11. Crystal says:

    This is a very timely post as I’m dealing with a similar situation with my 4 year old. He suddenly decided he didn’t like school and came up with very similar ideas and stories as it sounds like Marlowe is. I think you’re right about the drama part, too. After feeling like a horrible mom for several days I was on to him and discovering that he was probably loving the drama because it was giving him an extra opportunity for attention from momma in a rushy-rush morning. The more he struggled, the more attention I was giving him and therefore the longer I’d stay by him. It was a winning strategy for him. He also wasn’t doing this for my husband at drop-off on his days. I don’t have great tips yet, but Ond thing that worked for us is the teacher switched up the morning routine a bit and switched out the puzzles or toys or activity on the tables when the kids arrive. He was intrigued and was more excited to see what activity was there than throwing a dramatic fit over Mom leaving him. So far that has helped tremendously! Good luck and I hope Marlowe adjusts soon!

    10.16.17Reply
  12. Luciana says:

    Thank you for this Eva! I often see my 4 year old mirrow Marlowe. They have the same strengths and over the top meltdowns. Girls? Maybe. I didn’t put Genevieve in pre-school, not because she wasn’t ready. To be honest, I wasn’t the one who was ready to watch my bestie go out into the world. Now comes pre-K and she is beyond prepared. I, on the other hand. So when you mentioned therapist, there was a A-HA moment for me. Continue all that you do. Your work is much appreciated.

    10.16.17Reply
  13. carrie c says:

    You are singing my song. My almost 4 year old son will go into school with my husband like its no big thing. He also wakes up, gets dressed and goes to bed better for him. For me its more of a struggle. And I get it-I cuddle more, demand less. I think he knows how guilty I feel sometimes when i drop him off and I go off to work. He is playing the system so to speak. That said- after about 6 weeks it got better. We now have a routine for drop off that works and I can get in an out under 10m. Yes I know its still 10m-but I am comfortable with that and he seems to be too. One book we like is llama llama misses mama- about coping with being left at school. We read it often before bed and repeat the concepts in the morning. Good luck!!

    10.16.17Reply
  14. Meaghan says:

    It’s so hard. My (almost 4 year old) daughter loves school, but she’s had periods that have been more difficult than others. My husband has brought her to daycare for probably the majority of her life. I have noticed it’s a more difficult drop-off when I do it. When I changed my shift at work and took over drop-off, I was crying every day as I pulled out of the parking lot. I felt like I wasn’t trusting her instincts and I felt so bad. However, today she’s in a good place and really only refuses to attend if I have the day off work.

    On another note, from about 18 months until about a month ago, she’s been difficult to get to bed. She also spent all that time getting into our bed in the middle of the night despite all our efforts to put her back in bed and to try different light products (like the clock Marlowe has). Like i said though, this recently stopped and she goes to bed without fighting for an hour and she was sleeping through the night in her own bed! Until about a week ago. There have been changes in our house (dad opened a restaurant and is only around in the mornings now). Every night for a week now she climbs in our bed in the middle of the night. This weekend she also screamed and cried at bedtime “Stay with me! Sleep with me! Please mommy!” Which breaks my heart, but also if I do it once, I’ll be there every night. Anyhow, you just opened my eyes to something. She recently watched Dumbo. I must admit I remembered nothing from this movie so I didn’t hesitate to let her watch it. Immediately though she came to me and said how sad she was when Dumbo’s mom gets put in jail. Lightbulb! Is this the reason for her recent clingy-ness? Ugh. This mom gig is so hard. 🙁

    10.16.17Reply
  15. Samia byfield says:

    My daughter did this at 5 years old . She had to be in daycare for 5 weeks while my hubby did some work training (he was always home with her prior to this, or I was). She was in 1/2 day kindergarten and 1/2 day at a carefully chosen daycare. She would start the night before freaking out about not wanting to go. I would ask her many questions about why and she never had an answer. Of course it stressed me to the core and the drop off felt horrendous . The guilt eats you up. I asked her the other day (she’s 11 now) if she remembers that and what it was all about . She said she remembers it and she just didn’t want to go. No one was mean or mistreating her. She just wanted to me home with her dad or I! And she definitely remembers the 5 weeks of crying and pleading not to take her there !!! So in perspective now…it may not be as bad as everyone thinks …just simply “I didn’t want to be there , I wanted to be with you !” You sound like a wonderful mom! Keep it up

    10.16.17Reply
  16. Jane says:

    I feel for you all in this situation. It is not an easy one to go through when you know it would be a positive experience for Marlowe. Every new thing is hard for them at first until they can sort it out in their own minds. Stay strong and keep talking, and lots of cuddles and kisses of encouragement. Not sure if it would help but we read The Kissing Hand when my daughter was little and would refer to it whenever there was a new experience on the horizon😊

    10.16.17Reply
  17. Martina says:

    This is a wonderful post. I echo your thoughts about not having your childhood experiences project onto your kids, that is so wise of you. I find so many emotions from my childhood come up for me as my kids go through certain situations and you are so right in your approach. Thank you for sharing and good luck as you continue to transition Marlowe.

    10.16.17Reply
  18. Martha says:

    Poor baby. I remember being traumatized by having to leave home at 6 for first grade. Why does she have to leave at 3? I don’t blame her for protesting.
    m

    10.16.17Reply
  19. Shauna says:

    OMG! We had the same thing! Unfortunately our school wasn’t the right fit and my little girl started acting out and runnng away and hiding in the giant building. We started to get calls to pick her up earlier and earlier. They had us take her to be tested for a learning or behavioral issue even though our pediatrician said she was fine. So so stressful! It effected our work and home lives. We finally determined that she wound up and acted out most during nap time. We chose to switch schools to one literal 1/2 a block away where she could see our house. We also pick her up before nap. It’s been a loooong hard summer – but she has been doing so well recently. She comes home and plays school with us! Hang in there!!!

    10.16.17Reply
  20. K. Martin says:

    Oh my goodness. My heart aches for you and Kyle and for Lowie. I was one of those children that loved being in Kinder but I cried every morning and it was all about leaving my Mom! So, I think you are on the right course for having Lowie transition better in the morning. I am glad you are working through it with the school and it will all work out for your family. You and Kyle have so much fun with your children and are good parents. What child would WANT to go to school everyday when you have so much fun at home. LOL. Just to let you know, it was SO difficult for me to leave my baby (I went back to work when he was 8 months) that my husband made the smart decision that he would do the morning drop off at day care and I would pick up. It worked out better for me with my separation issue. Prayers for Lowie’s transition in the morning to improve and for you and Kyle to keep the faith!

    10.16.17Reply
  21. Zoe says:

    Sounds like you are doing an incredible job as a mama and a woman! I love reading your personal posts. They are inspiring, motivating and so comforting all at the same time. Thank you!! Good luck on your journey! Xo

    10.16.17Reply
  22. CINDY MEYERS says:

    My daughters were the same way – especially my youngest. Her dad travelled all the time so it was always me, her older sister and herself – our little tribe and I think that is where she was felt the safest because there was never any change; we never left each other.
    We struggled hard from 18 month mother’s day out thru January of Kindergarten. She learned how to get her way early and tried all of them until they didn’t work anymore. THEN I hit the jackpot – I found the book “The Kissing hand” and I bought a little glass ladybug – her fave. I read the book to her. Then everyday I would kiss her little ladybug and send her off to school – ladybug in pocket. She was golden! Years later, when she was 12, she was going on a trip with only her sister. I saw her take the ladybug out of her pocket before going thru TSA and then get it, and kiss it, any put it back in her pocket after making it through security. Gave me tears 🙂 She STILL has the ladybug and she just turned 16 years old. It sits on her desk in her bedroom. I hope this helps and good luck!

    10.16.17Reply
  23. Becky says:

    Hi Eva! You are definitely not alone! My daughter had a very similar experience last year (she’s 4 now) and it took almost 2 months for my daughter to get used to the school routine. For us it was definitely separation anxiety and it broke my heart every time walking away from her crying. I considered pulling her out but was encouraged to keep her in and am so glad I did! She adjusted and began to thrive and made some amazing little friends and now drags me out the door to get to school!

    One thing that was recommended by another mama that really helped us was my daughter and I got matching bracelets and we would both wear it every morning and I told her anytime she missed me or got scared to look at her bracelet and to remember mommy loves her and will always come back for her. It really helped give her a little tangible piece of me to have with her at school. Good luck and remember it will get better!

    10.16.17Reply
  24. Missy J says:

    I started kindergarten at 4 – due to my penchant for biting at the preschool that I had started at Ding Dong Campus- yeah I know. Turns out they determined I was bored – I went straight to kindergarten with no issue. Well no issues until I hit high school and graduated at 16 – whole other topic. Good luck- you and Kyle are doing a great job!

    10.16.17Reply
  25. Stefanie says:

    I was a preschool teacher for many years. I would always tell the parents there may be tears for a while. And when they stop being from your child they may be from you when he/she doesn’t seem upset when you leave. Flash forward a few years when it was my own child and I was a mess. And it was never at certain specific times they’d start to have anxiety and often out of no where. It’s great that are building the strong school- home connection. That is so important for everyone to all be on the same page. I’d have parents just not care what was happening at school or how their child was. The school came up with such great ideas and I’m sure in a week or so Marlowe will be skipping away from you and Kyle into school. Let us know how it all works out!!

    10.16.17Reply
  26. Vanessa Moran says:

    I sent my son to preschool with a laminated photo of myself, his dad and his sister so he knew we were right there no matter what. I also wrote him a note every morning and placed it in his pocket so he knew that no matter what I was thinking of him. He is now and First Grade and we don’t even need notes anymore. They were right though my husband takes him to school every morning and I do pick up and there are no issues. Sometimes just changing the subject helps and just the reassurance of you will have a great day!!! ❤️

    10.16.17Reply
  27. Kate says:

    Hi Eva! As mom to a 3 year old boy who also just started preschool (and an almost 1 year old girl. Kids the same age!!) I relate to soooo many of your posts and Instagram stories. 🙂 My son started his first few weeks of preschool happy and excited to go, but it’s becoming more and more of a struggle by the day. Today he was crying leaving the house and going in. I’m not sure if this is the start of some separation anxiety as well, or what is going on, but it was so interesting to read about Marlowe. I’m not sure if this is an option for you guys but my sons speech therapist recommended having him take the bus to school. That way he would perceive it as he’s leaving me(!), and not me leaving him at school. And that the time on the bus would be a great transition to change his mood and he’d be ready to go by the time they got to school. We haven’t tried it yet, but I thought it was an interesting idea.

    10.16.17Reply
  28. Meg says:

    First of all, I just want you to know that even when you feel like you might be failing that you are an AMAZING mom and an incredibly strong woman. Never doubt that! As someone who has taught preschool and is just finishing a degree in elementary and early childhood education, the staff at this preschool sound like they are well-trained and properly educated. They are handling things exactly as they should and so are you. Three is the trickiest of ages (until you hit the teen years – which is where I am with my kiddo – ugh!) and these random phases of separation anxiety, not sleeping, sudden aggression, periods of regression, they are all very normal, but can make life quite challenging at times. Just keep an open and honest line of communication open with Marlowe, her teachers, her doctor, and most of all, make time for YOU! Try things like the chiropractor, essential oils, a special stuffed animal or blanket, and having special mommy and Marlowe time. She is an awesome kid (so is Major) and she is so lucky to have you and Kyle as her parents. Hang in there Mama!

    10.16.17Reply
  29. Lori says:

    My daughter had this reaction to preschool. Cried. Begged not to go. Cried when I left. Followed me to the door. I ignored it all. Thought she was being dramatic. And I am a very sensitive mom. We spend a lot of time together and I ignored it. I fully regret that. I had the school psychology watch her. There were in fact kids at school that were mean. It took me time to figure this out. Also my daughter is an only child and spends time with me and we talk a lot. She’s used to talking and getting responses. Kids don’t respond. She’d tell a little girl, “I like your shirt.” And they would just stare at her like she had 3 heads. Once she went to kindergarten this all stopped. Kids were older, more mature and so was she. She could handle herself better. Kids still are mean but she does not take it so personally. She is in first grade now and doing fabulous. My mom advice: if your daughter is really bothered by her current situation go with your gut. Listen to her but remember she is still so little. My daughter could not articulate to me what EXACTLY was wrong and it sounds like your daughter can’t either. I’m sorry. I hope y’all figure it out soon. You are a great mom.

    10.16.17Reply
    • Aneta says:

      What a good point! My daughter is so 3 and so much more at ease with adults. I never connected the getting a response thing, but it makes so much sense. She is so verbal and I can see she is confused talking to kids her age.

      10.16.17Reply
  30. Angela says:

    I have had a similar experience wth my son. I found using pictures and a daily calendar the best way to ease separation anxiety. The daily calendar allows for a fun way to discuss your child’s day with her and for her to see all the activities in an easily understandable way. I reviewed the calendar every morning with my son and then he removed the pictures with him when he was done with the activity. It also lessened tantrums and transitions. You can also use photos or simple pictures as well. Laminate them – it’s a fun project. Also you can get a calendar from Amazon as well. There are great books to read: Bye Bye Time; Ilama Ilama Misses Mama; The Kissing Hand and so many more. It is definitely a process and I can say that after two full years of difficulty getting to pre-school my son is so happy to go off to kindergarten every morning.

    10.16.17Reply
  31. Jo Miller says:

    I love your Instagram account, and now your blog! I love how you keep everything real, and approachable. You are an awesome Mom, and your kids are beautiful!

    PS: after you said in one of your Instagram photos how you love watch your little girl eat, I now pay more attention to how my little boy eats, and I agree 100% with you; it’s the cutest thing ever!

    Have a great day!

    10.16.17Reply
  32. Diane says:

    As I was reading your blog it reminded me of my daughter and how she acted the exact same way like Marlow. It lasted awhile, not exactly sure how long but eventually she was better and the morning drama ended. However we did have another episode of not wanting to let go, this time it was me that was crying as I left my baby in her collage dorm room. This too will pass, not sure how or when😂. Hang in there.

    10.16.17Reply
  33. Katie says:

    Those all sound like wonderful ideas I will have to keep this post in mind when my child goes to school! I taught Kindergarten for many years and I saw a lot of separation anxiety so I get it! Also not sure if she is too young but maybe having a play date with another child in class or just time at the park with another child and their parent. I know when my students would have a play date they would be so excited all day!! Gives her something to look forward to!

    10.16.17Reply
  34. Laura says:

    I have a 3 year old that is in the exact same situation. Dropping her off has been so difficult but I’m reassured that when I’m gone she has the best day. I’m also at home (currently on leave with my9 month old) and we realized that she was missing being with me. I did some asking around and it was recommended that I buy and read “the kissing hand” it’s a beautiful book about a raccoon starting school and missing his mom.
    Every day at drop off, we now mimic the book and kiss each other’s hand and hold it close to our hearts. Now my daughter says that when she misses me, she just puts her hand to her heart and knows I’m with her.
    This book has been such a game changer! Best of luck!

    10.16.17Reply
  35. Kaila says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this!! We are having a similar issue with our son and I thought I was losing my mind. He has been in preschool since April and every day he is hesiatant to separate from me — to the point I have to physically hand him over to a teacher but he is always having a great time when we pick him up. This makes so much sense. But it really is hard to figure out the emotional truths of a toddler!

    10.16.17Reply
  36. Robyn says:

    Eva, First a big hug. This is deja vu for me. My daughter Amanda is 22 now. But this exact story about Marlowe having a hard time with pre-school drop off is exactly what we went through. And the meeting you had with the teachers and principal sounds like just what you needed. I was also a two and three year olds teacher. Let me reassure you that when a child comes in to school with separation anxiety the best of the best (and it sounds like Marlowes teachers are angels) love them and deflect their attention to something fun. I bet when you read the Journal as a story of Malowe’s day and relay your day that will make things run more smoothly. Also set up play dates so she can get to know the other kids in her class. Definitely let Kyle drop her at school for a while. Drop off in carpool line is best. And praise her when you pick her up. It will all work out. She’s a great little girl. And y’all are doing an amazing job!!! Hugs Robyn

    10.16.17Reply
  37. Vicky says:

    I’m sorry your struggling with this but so happy the school worked with you and together you found some positive solutions to get Marlowe to school without a struggle. It’s very difficult trying to balance when and how far to push them for their own good and development and wanting to cave in and just hold them tight.
    One thought I had is that besides the new changes in school and child care …. Major is also becoming more mobile and active.. more of his own person and Marlowe may be feeling that when she leaves you she’s also leaving you home with Major.. not a jealousy but a feeling of missing out with Mom maybe, or even time with Major. It’s so hard for little kids to express what they are feeling – if they even know what it is they are feeling or not 😉 Good Luck! She’s such a sweety it will balance out!

    10.16.17Reply
  38. Elyse says:

    I vividly remember acting out in nursery school, not wanting to go. I thought that my mom and sister were at home having fun, partying it up without me. But once I got to school the teachers said I was fine. My parents ended up enrolling me in a neighborhood carpooling group so I had something that was special to me, that my sister could not do. After I week I was loving it and forgot about what they were doing back home. But my mom loves to remind me that when my teacher asked what she did for a living I said she sat home and ate Bon-Bons 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    10.16.17Reply
  39. carmen says:

    i don’t have anything incredibly articulate to say, or my own experiences to share, but i’ve been following you and your family for a while on instagram and on this blog and i just have to say, you are such an incredible parent. the clear joy you feel in just BEING with your children, the intentionality with which you set goals for them and for yourself, the way you treat them with so much respect but also allow them to be wild little ones… i really could go on and on. i remember one post where you wrote that your positive memories of your own childhood had a lot to do with the way your parents made you feel — loved and safe — and i just see you doing that a hundredfold. thank you for all the open hearted and wise sharing you do, and for the way you are with your children. it’s so beautiful and so inspiring. ❤️

    10.16.17Reply
  40. carmen says:

    i also just wanted to add that all of this attention that you’re giving marlowe now IS crucial. you’re right. i truly believe that as parents our job is to pay deep and close attention to when our children cry out for help, and not attempt to diminish their feelings or make them conform to something that isn’t working for them. at the same time, we want to raise children that can adapt to the often difficult world around them, that won’t always be what they want or need. we need to raise independent and adaptable people, but also people who are supported and know that if they are honest about their emotional needs, those needs will be seen and heard and met. that’s what i see you both doing with marlowe. when a child is this young it can be easy to just dismiss her feelings but you are paying attention in all the right ways. this will serve you and marlowe all your lives.

    10.16.17Reply
  41. Diane says:

    My son did something like this when he was in his 3s class. He had been going to the school already, starting with a Mommy and Me class at 2 yrs old. Then the 3s started off without a hitch. Around March, out of the blue, he had major separation anxiety one day. Just total panic and meltdown. We were all shocked. The teachers all referred to him as Mr. Mayor because he was so outgoing and social. We never really found out the cause, other than he had just started talking more about my twin sister who had passed away the prior summer. It was almost as if it took him that long to process her death and the finality of it. He had started asking me if I was going to go to Heaven and never come back. The anxiety got so bad that even sleeping at night was a fight. He had to ultimately sleep in a sleeping bag in the doorway of his bedroom so that he could see me. That went on for nearly a year. We worked a lot with a motivation chart by Melissa & Doug. He earned little trinkets and special trips by completing tasks, like having a good separation at school, using positive words, etc. He STILL, at five yrs old, has some anxiety, although not during school. Night times are hard. We rearranged his bedroom so his bed was close to the door and he could see directly into our room and see me in my bed. But if I don’t “go to bed” at the same time he does, he panics. We haven’t tried a sleepover yet. He’s only ever been without me overnight one time and that was when I was hospitalized. SMALL steps make a big difference. Reassuring him that I WILL be back. Mommy will ALWAYS come back. I also give him a rundown of what I’ll be doing while I’m gone (and I make it sound super boring), so he can picture me during the day. Everyone says This Too Shall Pass. I hope it does.

    10.16.17Reply
  42. Julie says:

    We are going through a similar struggle and my daughter has a locket she wears to preschool with pictures of her dad and me in it. She knows when she misses us, she can open her locket and say hi to our pictures. While it didn’t solve the issue, it has helped!

    10.16.17Reply
  43. Sarah Adams says:

    Oh no that breaks my heart- I never had that issue with my daughter, but I have friends who have. So I saw one of them purchase ‘mommy and me’ bracelets for when they were apart. She got a set on Etsy for her and her daughter and it helped!

    10.16.17Reply
  44. Andrea says:

    That’s so hard. I had massive separation anxiety as a young child too. And it’s miserable. The teachers at your school sound amazing! I love the journal idea! When I was a teacher we did detailed journals too. It was so helpful to know If the child had gotten a good night’s sleep or had a rough morning or if something difficult was going on at home. I could adjust the activities and expectations for the child’s behavior every day.
    I prepared my boy for preschool with books and my all time favorite- Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. There is an episode where Daniel is nervous for school and the jingle goes “Grownup’s come back”. I bought the book, I bought the Daniel Tiger album off ITunes and we sang the songs everyday before school. There were days where he just didn’t want to go but I was confident it was a good place and he was happy. The second year with new teachers wasn’t so great. We pulled him out after a couple weeks. The classroom dynamics were different, new teachers and there were five 4 year olds and fifteen 3 year olds (And two teachers.) so he was doing the same lessons as the year before. He was bored. I spoke with the moms of the other 4 year olds and their kids weren’t happy either. So we pulled him out and put him in a neighborhood preschool, ten kids and two teachers and lots of new activities and things were great again.

    10.16.17Reply
  45. Jemma says:

    Great post to read. When reading this i thought i was reading about my niece. She was the third girl in the family. Her sisters never had issues going to school so this was troubling and she cried everyday for for 3years but thrived with her peers and teachers. She just didnt want to leave her mum. Im happy to say she is now a beautiful happy out going 18 year. It doesnt last forever. Good luck xx

    10.17.17Reply
  46. Charmaine says:

    Hi Eva,

    My two year old daughter took around three months to get over the separation anxiety. What I found helped was to say the same thing to her each drop off: “Bye darling, Mummy has to go now but I’ll be back later to pick you up. Remember Mummy always comes back! Love you”

    She would still shed a few tears as I left the room but the minute I’m out the door, she stops crying. If she got upset and missed me during the day the teachers told me she would say to herself “Mummy always comes back” or “Mummy is coming” and that would make herself feel better. Even at home when she is back in my arms and telling me about her day she will sometimes say “Mummy always comes back” and I reassure her again and say yes of course.

    Hang in there, Marlowe will be fine soon and so will you Mummy 🙂

    10.17.17Reply
  47. Marci says:

    Oh, man! Complete waterworks reading your post. We have been going through the exact same thing with our five-year old transitioning to Kindergarten. I have been feeling so alone and emotional and defeated, and reading this post made me realize that I’m not alone at all. Cole has been home with me full-time before this, as I work from home as well. Everything that you have talked about from Marlowe’s behaviour and not wanting to return, to the horrible mom guilt and emotional struggle that this has been for us as parents, we can relate to it all. Funny thing as well, the solutions that you have come up with for Marlowe are very similar to what we are doing. Shea is now doing drop-off in the mornings, which seems to help quite a bit, and just this week we have also started using a communication notebook so we can keep in touch with the teachers and they can record Cole’s day. We’re going on day two of the new “program” and so far it seems to working much better. Fingers crossed! Thanking you so much for sharing this- we’re all in this together mamas (and dads). Best of luck to you and Kyle and Marlowe. Hope everyone has a great week! xo

    10.17.17Reply
  48. MALEA says:

    Oh my goodness, this was awesome to read. Not only have I dealt with separation anxiety from my kids, but I was also an in-home childcare provider and there are definitely differences in children depending on WHO drops them off. It all makes so much sense. My children also seem to do better at the “scarier” doctors appointments when Dad takes them, because I think they rely on me as mommy “the comforter”, even though their dad is good with him, he’s still not mom, so they freak out when I take them and are more brave and less emotional when he takes them. I had a daycare baby/toddler who would freak out when her mom dropped her off, but come right to me when her dad dropped her off, and usually didn’t want to leave when he picked her up. I feel like sometimes they see other women as trying to “take over” the mother role and it makes them nervous. I watched a toddler a few times who cried and didn’t pay much attention to me, but when she saw my 6’4” husband, instead of being scared, she started trying to talk to him and show him toys.

    I also appreciate that you brought up your own childhood, because it’s so hard sometimes to know how to decipher whether something is an intuition, a way of preventing them from dealing with something you had to, or bringing too much emotion from past experiences and attaching it to every aspect of your children’s lives. I had social and generalized anxiety as a child, but not bad during certain parts of my childhood, yet for some reason I don’t really like to think back on it even when it wasn’t negative. Sometimes just going somewhere that smells like a school cafeteria gives me an uneasy feeling, and I hope and pray my daughter doesn’t have to go through anxiety. Motherhood can be so confusing and hard. Your daughter’s teachers sound amazing.

    10.17.17Reply
    • MALEA says:

      Them* not him lol

      10.17.17Reply
  49. Madison says:

    I read this somewhere below in the comments also, but when I was about Marlowe’s age I had a hard time letting my mom leave me anywhere. We were attached at the hip! But one day my mom read me the book “The Kissing Hand” and after she would kiss my hand each morning and I would go to school knowing if I missed my mom, her kisses were right there in my hand if I needed one!

    10.17.17Reply
  50. Mary says:

    It is like you have said it in an older post, it went something like this : kids sometimes adjust perfectly when you expect them to be fussy and negative and the opposite, when you think that they will embrace easily a change or a new situation they end up having epic meltdowns and anxiety.My mom still recounts – and I am 40 – how stubbornly I refused preschool even though my dad used to drop me off.It happend after the birth of my little sister cause I had to stop going to preschool for a month and when I got back I hated it.I dont remember how i got over with it but I remember finally feeling that preschool was so much fun, full of creative and entertaining stuff.I really missed it within the next year of “normal” school.Your post is really helpful cause I try to figure out how I will “present” the idea of preschool to my son when it’s time and how to deal with a possible negative reaction.

    10.17.17Reply
  51. Jordan says:

    As I often and I am with your posts, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and experiences. My daughter, who was 3 in July, is going through something very similar. I have felt so much Mommy guilt these last few months: we were selling our house, buying a new one, and moving when we moved her to her new preschool, which we love. She has always been so flexible and resilient (she’s been in 3 other schools :/ ) and even though we did all the “right” things to prepare her for the move, including getting her super excited about finally being in class with her bff, every morning she tells us she doesn’t want to go. What breaks my heart is that she says she wants to go to her “real” school (her last one). We’ve talked to her teachers, observed without her knowing, and at the end of the days, she is so happy. So much change in her little life, with her growing brain…oof, it’s a lot. But, I know she is growing and learning SO much. Her school has a similar diary, and we get daily updates and pictures of what the class did. I think it is helping that I can talk to her about specific things she did that day. (Because if I ask her what she did, like a typical threenager, she says “ohhh, I don’t know”.) We’ll just keep on trucking!
    Best of luck in your continued momming. Thanks for always being so vulnerable and candid! Hugs, Jordan

    10.18.17Reply
  52. Lina says:

    You are such amazing parents! I had this situation myself when I was a kid. I was crying in the morning and didn’t want to go home in the evening. Now I realize how tuff it was for my mum. The thing is, I am happy for Marlowe that she is going to pass this stage in her life and will be happy to go to school. Because it took me YEARS to overcome it and it even came back to me wnen I was a teenager! I’m pretty sure that I’m done with all of it now but I feel that I am still dealing with consequences of that childhood “drama”. So, you did the right thing deciding to deal with Marlowe’s problem! She will be so much happier in the future and will be grateful to have you as her parents! Lots of love to you and your family!

    10.21.17Reply
  53. sarah says:

    Hi Eva,
    I have taught this age group for years and have worked with families through this tough transition. It is a phase. I have watched parents agonize over the teary upsetting farewell. I can tell you, within 5 minutes, that child has usually moved on and is quickly absorbed into play.

    I truly believe that it is a coping mechanism. As you say, it is separation anxiety, but it is also an easy way to communicate their need for extra attention. She is probably loving school, but is also aware that you will not be as accessible to her and her needs. Children are too young to be able to communicate or differentiate their needs and feelings. They need attention and will find both positive and negative ways of achieving it. She, and so many children I have taught, realize that they will receive your undivided attention with this type of conversation. You are an amazing Mum and that means that you are probably dropping everything to listen and calm her. This makes perfect sense as we want to calm children’s anxieties and make them feel safe, but it can also compound the issue, for as she finds it so affective at getting your full attention, it will become a go to route.
    I suggest you listen to her, acknowledge what she is saying, but don’t give it too much attention. It is important to let them feel heard and appreciated, but once you have done that, talk about all of the positive aspects of school, and what a big girl she is for adventuring there! Make it all about her achievements and learning. What does she enjoy, find tricky, find funny? Keep it positive or just move on to another activity.
    Also, make playdates with a classmate of her choosing. It helps her feel more connected to school and connects school to her home life.
    Take time to do special things one on one. I know you do, but that can reward her bravery and perseverance.
    Read the Kissing Hand. This is the best story, but there are many about children starting school.
    I think it sounds like you have some amazing teachers too. This will be but a memory soon.
    xx

    10.22.17Reply