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Reality Check: Emotional Pickups

Q.  Our 2½-year-old cries when I pick her up from daycare. The other kids are happy to see their moms. How can I stop her embarrassing tantrums?

A. You can't. Be grateful she only has tantrums at pickup time. Our eldest began and ended preschool days with a teary meltdown. In between, she was happy as a clam -- I know because I did spot checks. I still took the fussing personally, filled with working-mom guilt ("She's mad at me for leaving her..."). But it had little to do with me. Toddlers have tantrums --in public and at the least convenient moments. Your child's acting her age when you show up at daycare. The kid skipping out cheerfully with her mom probably throws fits at the supermarket. Life with a toddler is sunny and stormy for all parents.

Many toddlers also have trouble making transitions. To you, pickup time is a happy ending to the day. To her, it's another transition: from daycare to home, from caregiver to Mommy. All day long your toddler holds herself together emotionally. She's happy and safe at daycare, but she knows it's not home, where she's loved no matter what she does. So when you finally arrive, she lets go and falls apart --almost as a relief. Take it as a compliment that she knows she can, and adjust your expectations.

Though I'm not sure why, I always felt less embarrassed if I answered my daughter's loud protests (and the judging stares) with a calm-voiced monologue: "I know you're tired from having so much fun today, and I missed you too, and soon we'll be home..." When your child's going to pieces, understanding words can help hold both of you together.

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