Parents – do you ever wonder why your child cries when being dropped off somewhere for gymnastics class (say at your local G3kids, preschool, or even at a familiar relative’s home)? This post will jump into some of the reasons why that happens – but more importantly the quick and easy solution.
Here at G3kids we see hundreds of parents come through the doors each week for classes, a birthday party, Flip-2-Learn (our preschool alternative) and while so many of their children will happily jump into action (literally), sometimes the drop-off process is not as easy. We have noticed over the years that there are five (5) major elements that cause children to get shy, fussy for the parent not to leave, or cry:
- Nutrition. Healthy food matters, and ensuring your child in not on an empty stomach will make a big difference.
- Verbal Preparation: Discussing the plans with your child – make sure they understand exactly what is happening
- Repetition: How often is your child immersed in a social setting as this will heavily influence their comfort level to new places
- Apparel. How a child sees their self will help them subconsciously fit into a certain situation
- The entrance. How you transition into a new setting will play a big role in helping your child adapt.
While there is no perfect solution to helping children lower the barriers of shyness and hesitation when entering a new scene, taking one or more of the 5 steps above could make a big difference helping your little one have the ability to easily wave goodbye – so keep reading as we expound on each of the steps above.
STEP 1: The Entrance
As with anything in life, ‘the subtle difference makes all the difference’; yet with kids nothing could be more relevant. We have noticed that over the years a parent’s entrance into a venue can have the biggest effect on the child’s ability to comfortably step forward and say “goodbye”. We believe that the entrance is the single most influential moment for a child and how receptive they are towards a new environment. As we begin to explain this point, I would like to detail a scene that is the antithesis of “The Ideal entrance” and will explain the logic of it:
Paul walks into a venue with his son, Rocky (3 years old). Rocky has his arms clasped tightly around Paul’s shoulders and neck and is simply enjoying the father/son connectedness while sucking on a pacifier. When SUDDENLY Paul lets Rocky down to the floor. Much to Rocky’s shock he looks up at his father as if to say “what the heck is going on… I wasn’t planning on this!”. Similarly, much to Paul’s dismay he begins thinking “oh no, you have to be kidding me… why can’t you just give me a break and go enjoy this gymnastics class? I can’t hold you all day child!”. From here tears are shed and tempers are tested as Paul ends up holding on to Rocky for an additional 15 minutes until when Rocky is finally ready to join his peers in the class.
In the short story above, Rocky was anything but excited over being dropped off at a class he typically enjoys, with a teacher he is familiar with, at a venue where he goes 3-5 times per week – so why the resistance?? The cause for this irregular behavior can be triggered by a number of factors, however the most evident one is that he was not mentally in a state to do a class.
“His mental state was more focused on the attachment he
had to Paul at the time when they entered the venue which
is the main factor to blame for his clingy behavior and
refusal to detach.”
Additionally, even though he has spent hours and hours in the gym prior to that, an overall familiarity with the facility cannot replace a proper entrance to set the child’s mood to embrace departure. In conclusion, the child was surprised and not in the correct state to cope with class; moreover, a detachment from his father without being prepared incited Rocky’s emotional reaction.
So what is the easy fix? For an improved entrance, try the following 3 steps:
- First, encourage your little one to get out of the car without your assistance. This will give them a feeling of independence from you, and is generally a good step to practice for overall improved motor skills and balance. This goes without saying to ensure they are safely getting out onto the sidewalk (not the street) and start off by holding one of their hands and let them do the rest.
- Second, allow your child to walk into the venue by their self. This will help them feel as if it was their choice all along which will eliminate their feeling clingy or any feel of surprise with the venue change. And
- Third, take a moment to interact with the staff if necessary and whenever possible to help your child feel comfortable and get acclimated to the new setting. These small steps will help your little one feel enough independence from their parents without separation anxiety.
A similarly effective step is verbal preparation; where prior to and throughout the process the parent continues to explain to the child what the plan is and what they will be doing. This step is easy to repeat 5 minutes prior to arrival and upon parking at the destination where you remind them what they will be doing and to get ready to get out of the car.
In the grand scheme of things, this encourages them to mentally prepare and begin thinking of the activity at hand, but can also fast-track their learning process. It can be compared to studying for a test and at an early age will get them to plan for things that are yet-to-come and be better equipped to control their behavior. Verbal preparation can be done simultaneously to focus on the entrance to the venue to best prevent your child from feeling separation anxiety during the transition.
Children will sleep more sound if they are well fed; however, this also applies to their ability cope with stress caused by changes in their environment. If your child is well nourished and benefits from a good meal prior to an activity, the risk of fussy behavior at drop-off decreases significantly. A technical explanation to this according to Kim West, LCSW-C is that children’s “…bodies need to regulate day and night hormone cycles, to keep them in-sync with their internal clocks” however, without proper nutrition “…appetite hormones that signal to your brain It’s time to eat! Also fire up those brain regions linked with stress and anxiety” , according to Dr. Paul Currie, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, which exacerbates a child’s negative response to a stressful situation where a child is separated from its parent.
Some children are more aware of their surroundings and how they fit in to a situation. It is a misnomer to assume that young children don’t know what environments they belong in. While clothing and “what to wear” is a topic that haunts much of childhood, it can be a tool that helps some younger children feel comfortable in when stepping into a venue to further thwart separation anxiety. Whether it is as simple as their favorite article of clothing, or something that helps them associate with the activity they are participating in, take advantage of the benefits that clothing can offer for helping your child feel confident upon arrival.
The more a parent commits to activities, the more the children will learn to embrace the transitions between them. It is normal for them to oppose activities from time-to-time, but the tools outlined above in addition to continued implementation will help mold your child into a flexible ready-to-go ROCKSTAR who is up for anything at any time – anywhere. There is so much content that has been published about the benefits of repetition; however, it is well explained by the Montessori Academy (montessoriacademy.com.au):
“Learning requires electrical energy to create neural connections.
The less ‘automatic’ something is, the more energy is required to create the connection.
In children, these neural connections are only beginning to be formed. Repetition is a necessary
building block that allows them to strengthen the connections in the brain that help them learn.”
Ultimately, parents and guardians have the ability to reinforce a child’s ability to learn and how to act. Simple activities like a class at your local G3kids can be a good step that reinforces learning, and you can maximize the benefits your child realizes through implementing the some of the steps above as needed to help them through the transitions.
In conclusion, prior to dropping off your child at preschool, a birthday party or some similar venue re-read the 5 steps above and ambitiously charge forward. You will be amazed by the significant changes in your child and how their ability to have confidence in any setting can be influenced by the minor steps as those discussed here. While there is never a perfect solution (especially with every child being different); a combination of great nutrition, proper attire, and encouraging your child to walk while holding your hand (as opposed to being carried) will make a big difference in how they cope with new settings and feel control of their own ituation. The more you communicate the plans with them and keep them feeling involved in the decision process will help children and ease their separation anxiety by reducing the surprise and their apprehensiveness toward any venue.