Tips for Difficult Day Care Drop-offs

You did the research, investigated your options, and finally selected your day care. But this new change for your child comes with a new set of challenges.

It’s understandable for you and your child to have anxiety about this upcoming separation. So, our day care drop-off tips are here to help your whole family with this transition.

Drop-off Challenges for Children

Every child’s situation is different. But no matter whether you are facing tears, screaming, or silence, it probably won’t be easy. Until children are older, it’s hard for them to understand that the new caregiver will be there to help them when their loved ones can’t.

0 to 7 months

At this age, the separation might be harder on you than your baby. But your child can start to show signs of distress as early as 4 to 5 months old. This is because they have begun to understand that you still exist even when you leave.

7 to 12 months

Your child has a sense of stranger danger now. They recognize that the people and the place they are going to are unfamiliar. This is a tricky time to start child care — but if you do, ease them into the program slowly.

12 to 24 months

At this point, separation anxiety will be at its highest. These may be some of the toughest goodbyes, as your child may not trust that you are coming back.

24 months or older

Children are now old enough to know that their screams for attention will affect you. So, it’s all about consistency and sticking to your routines.

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Day Care Drop-off Challenges for Parents

Your child is going through new and upsetting emotions, but so are you. You’ll hear that your child’s antics are normal and will stop after you leave, but that doesn’t make leaving any easier. Feelings of guilt or “Am I doing something wrong?” are bound to be present.

Be sure to also take care of yourself. Reach out to other parents and family members to get the support you need. Books and other resources can help you learn more about this time in your child’s life.

And remember that you should not return until the promised time to take your child home. Otherwise, it could make the separation anxiety worse as you have to start the goodbye process all over again.

Day Care Drop-Off Tips

Being prepared for what is coming is half the battle. We have some tips to help you be as ready as you can be for your day care drop-off.

Stick to the routine

Staying consistent with how and where you drop off and pick up your child every day helps minimize anxiety and establish trust.

Keep it quick

Do not prolong the goodbye — as tempting as it may be. Give your child your full attention, but then keep the ritual moving in spite of their attempts to get you to stay.

Speak in their terms

Older kids can understand time. But younger kids may need daily events as a marker, such as “after naptime” or “before reading time.”

Practice makes perfect

Give your goodbye ritual a test run before day care starts with a babysitter or a family member. You may even be able to go to the facility itself and do a practice run.

Keep your cool

Your child can feed off your energy. If you remain calm during this time, it will help them. If you show confidence in their new environment, it can show them not to be worried either.

Stay communicative

Communicate what is happening with your child. Kids should know it’s OK to miss their parent, but there are ways to help them cope with those big feelings.

Rely on the caregiver

The new caregiver can offer insight into what your child is feeling. And you can give them tools on what activities your child likes and how to speak to your child while you are gone.

Bring a special item

Let your child bring a reminder of home to help give them comfort during the day. It could be a photo, a toy, a teddy bear, or even a favorite book.

Drop-Off and Pick-Up Routines in Child Care

Here are some routines you can use every day to stay on track. And discuss these with your child. You can consider using a book or pictures to make sure they know their daily schedule.

Leaving home

A high-five at the door or a song in the car helps to establish predictability and consistency. It also gives both you and your child a fun ritual to look forward to every day.


Drop-off should be in the same place, at the same time each day. The key to this routine is to keep it short and sweet. Share a few kisses, or maybe a ritual involving their special item from home, but be sure not to linger. Keep moving, and keep the routine intact.


Pick-up should also be in the same place at the same time to continue to build trust. And sticking to this pattern can make drop-off the next day easier. Try talking with your child’s caregiver about something they did well so that you can celebrate their successes. See how your child wants to greet you at the end of the day, whether a hug or a fun way to say “hello.”

At home

Your child’s schedule should go beyond drop-off and pick-up routines. Having a set sleep schedule and healthy eating schedule will go a long way in contributing to an easier day care experience. A sleepy or hungry child is already going to be in a bad mood for drop-off, which won’t help anyone.

Are you ready for the trials of day care drop-off? See more resources on separation anxiety or talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have more questions.

Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 6th Edition (American Academy of Pediatrics). Making Baby Drop Off at Child Care Easier. Link

Choosing Quality Child Care: What's Best for Your Family? (American Academy of Pediatrics). Preparing Your Child for Child Care. Link

Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, Mama Doc Medicine: Finding Calm and Confidence in Parenting, Child Health, and Work-Life Balance. How to Ease Your Child's Separation Anxiety. Link

Jessica Gross. How to Tackle Tough Drop-Offs. New York Times. Link

Julia Luckenbill. 11 Ways to Help Children Say Goodbye. National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Link

Julia Yeary, LCSW, IMH-E®. Rocking and Rolling: Difficult Goodbyes Supporting Toddlers Who Are Coping with Separation Anxiety. National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Link

National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. Helping Young Children and Parents Transition Back to School. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.