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Children's Health

3-Year-Old Crying

06/09/2010

Question:

My 3 year old son has been going to a preschool for 8 months now. But after being going to the school for these many months he still cries in the morning because he doen`t want to go there. Every morning he wakes up crying saying he doen`t want to go to school. He cries until he reaches the school. It`s very embarassing and tough for me and my husband as we see other kids going to the same school happily. I have complete trust about the teachers at his school. They are very loving and understanding. I have no idea why he cries every day when he wakes up in the mornig. It is very frustrating as this has been going on for the last couple of months. My son keeps comes up with all the excuses for not going to school; like one day he says he has tummy pain, some day he says he has fever, and somedays he even says that he is very tired and wants to rest. I mean which kid says he needs to rest at this age! Please help me on how I should handle this as I want to see my son going to the school happily atleast once. The teachers at the school says he is happy as soon as we leave him there at school. He only cires for sometimes and then he adjusts there. But yet he has his days at school where he cries and is very sad. The teahers also dont know what to do about it. When I go to pick him up from school he is very happy, gives hugs to all his teachers and looks fresh as if nothing happend in the morning.

His classes starts at 9.00 in the morning and I wake him up at 7.30 so that I get enough time do everything with all the drama that`s going on in the side. And every morning I wake him up with my fingers crossed just hoping that today he wakes up happily and dont throw any tantrums. It starts from brushing his teeth, eating breakfast until I leave him at scool. He has always been a complainer but to see a kid cry everyday just for going to school is hard to watch. I am sorry for such a long mail but I feel like such a bad mom taking a sad child to school everyday. Please help!

Answer:

It is really tough to watch your child cry as though you are doing something dreadful to him or her every morning!

The most likely cause of the crying is separation anxiety, which is VERY common among preschoolers, especially first children and only children. They have been so much the apple of our eyes and, probably, truth be told, over-protected a bit from handling life's early challenges. We are as attached to them as they are to us! So even though we think we feel complete trust in the preschool, our very reluctance to leave them there, and the anxious expression on our faces, appear to our child to give the lie to our words of reassurance.

The other possibility is that there are changes in your home that are making him feel anxious and reluctant to separate from you. It can be as happy a thing as a new brother or sister on the way or a move to a new home in a great neighborhood, or it can a sad thing such as a beloved grandparent dying, a change in teachers or babysitters, or discord between mom and dad. Children in these situations often want to stay home to make sure all is well or to just feel more secure.

Given your description of how happy your son is once the separation is done with and that he is tear free at the end of the day, I tend to think that the issue is more of the first variety, a beloved child who senses mom and dad's insecurity about leaving him at preschool. In this case, the best strategies are to remain rock solid calm and patient and simply move along getting him off to preschool without any fretting, begging, or pampering on your part. Keep saying good bye warm and brief. Don't drag it out. Leave confidently and keep a happy, confident face no matter what you feel inside.  Remond him who will pick him up and when in relation to his daily routine at preschool, e.g. after afternoon playground time.

If a new baby has arrived, it can just be a normal backwards move in behavior that is needed to help him cope for a little while.  Have each parent spend a little time alone with him each evening that is just for HIM. Even if it is only 5 minutes of undivided attention from each of you, he will love it. Never skip it! It will reassure him of his important place in your hearts. Also be sure to follow the suggestions above in remaining calm and patient in getting ready for preschool and saying good bye.

Other tips include always being on time for pick up and letting him know in advance when a change will occur in pick up in terms of who and when. If other stressful events are occurring in your family, ask a librarian to help you find an age-appropriate book on the topic to share with him and help him talk about what is bothering him. It sounds as though you do have a daily routine, but if not, then start one for every aspect of his time at home. Routines help young children feel secure and cope better.

If you are already doing these things without improvement on his part or you feel the need for support yourself, speak with his doctor and ask for a referral to a child psychologist, behavioral pediatrician, licensed independent social worker, or other mental health professional to support you through this challenging time. They will work with your son and the whole family to improve the situation. Don't feel badly about asking for help. Parenting is a hard job and most of us encounter a time when we need extra support and information to help us do our job well and keep our sanity.

I hope this is helpful to you!




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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University