This week’s reader question:
Why does my daughter pretend I’m a monster when I pick her up from day care?
I’m assuming that you mean she treats you like you’re a monster, not that she actually pretends you’re Godzilla and runs away screaming. Though that would be fun and entertaining.
And the running away screaming part can often be true, so your child is not alone. I’ve seen other similarly icky behavior like crying, tantruming, kicking, ignoring, full-on defiance, pulling off the coat and shoes that have already been put on, clutching the provider, refusing to put down a toy, stalling, stalling, stalling, etc. It has happened to all of us, so don’t feel bad. You’re not really a monster.
You’re dealing with transition times, which are always tricky – especially at day care age. When they’re this little, sometimes it’s just hard for kids to move from one activity to the next. It’s extra tough at the end of the day when everyone’s a little cranky, no matter how great of a day they’ve had. I call it “the witching hour” (and that hour lasts from 4:30 – bedtime).
Also there’s a lot going on in that moment: you have expectations of seeing your child, your feelings are hurt because they’re being awful, the provider is probably trying to talk to you about their day, other kids are around making the usual ruckus, it’s a very stressful time.
Besides all that, look at what your child is doing and see the moment from their perspective. They may be right in the middle of a crayon masterpiece and don’t want to be interrupted, but your arrival means they have no choice. Sometimes the emotions are just too much.
So pickup time can be a perfect storm. What’s a sad-Godzilla mom to do?
Work with your provider to establish a routine for pickup times. Ask if she can have your child ready with coat and shoes on. I try to have my end-of-day pickups on the front porch so we’re ready to walk out the front door instead of lingering all through the house.
Try to arrive at the same time every day so it’s very predictable for your child. I always tell parents they know when you’re coming – and if there’s a usual order for pickup they know that too. If they always get picked up after Johnny and before Susie, they will be upset if Susie gets picked up first. If you are very late, they will get worried. Let the provider know you’ll be late so she can reassure your child.
Recognize that it might not be the best time for talking with your provider, and call her at another time if there’s something you need to discuss. If your child is SO excited to see you but you’re saying, “Wait a minute!” so you can talk to someone else, that’s going to hurt their feelings and escalate fast. I had one provider who would open the door, hand me my child, say, “It was a good day, see you tomorrow,” and close the door. Well, it was quick and painless.
It may not seem true, but often quicker transitions are much easier. It doesn’t give your child a chance to ramp up the behavior. There’s no negotiating if – boom – you’re out the door. Try not to respond to any bad behavior in this moment except to say, “It’s time to go. Say goodbye to (insert provider name here) and your friends!” Then walk out the door, carrying the crying child if you have to.
If all else fails, know that this too shall pass. You will have days when your child runs screaming TOWARD you, and you will feel like your chest is going to explode. You’ll have days where they barely acknowledge you but at least they head for the door without a fight. And know that beneath whatever they’re showing you on the outside, they are really SO happy to see you, and so relieved that they get to go home with you. There’s no one like Mom – that’s why we can show her our ugliest self – and she will still take us home with her.