Is your child starting school or preschool this month? Are you wanting to know how to give your child the emotional support for a smooth start to school? Are you wondering, “Is it okay to stay with my child in the classroom?”

This blog is written by a young mum, sharing the challenges she faced.

When your young child needs you at school – it’s ok to stay!

This is a look back to when my first daughter started preschool …..

it it okay to stay with my child at school

It’s a few weeks till my first child starts preschool and my heart quickens every time I think about it. I calm myself, thinking,

“Its’ ok I can stay with her until she settles.”

Then my own thoughts run away with me … “Sh*t, they’ll think I am an awful eejit…I ’ll be mortified….. Will they even let me stay?”

I call the owner of the centre who agrees to let me stay in the room with my 3 year old, but she cautions,

“You’ll only be making it harder for her” by staying with her. Part of me is almost swayed not to stay with my child but a much larger part of me tells me I’m doing the most helpful thing for my child in this situation.

In my naiveté I tell people what I’m planning to do … the comments reel in:

“Who do you think you are thinking you can just stay there?!!”

“Are you going to do that in primary school too?!” (“Yes actually I am!”)

“Tough love that’s what I always say.” (“Really? I didn’t know that love had to be tough”)

 The First Morning 

Day one comes and we arrive at the preschool. There are some children crying and I feel like running away with my child. I want my child to make this transition without stress so I stay. I meet her teacher who is warm and friendly but quizzically looks at me as if I’m totally bonkers when I explain I want to stay whilst my child needs me.

“Ah this is for Mammy’s sake anyway!” she smiles. (As if I want to be sat here in the middle of twenty 3 year olds!)

I sit in the corner and try to keep my 1 year old as quiet as possible, whilst my older daughter surveys her new surroundings. Over the next few days, I stay for less and less time and I get to a point where I tell her I’m going to the butcher’s shop and she is ok with that. We take another few steps back and then forward again over the next week or two before she settles fully  – but we get there. I’ve stayed with my child so that she has had time to adjust to this new environment.

A Second Experience – where my viewpoint isn’t appreciated!

A few months later I decide to try the two girls in a local crèche for two afternoons a week. The manager tells me that they have a week settling-in period, which sounds great! When we arrive I realise that the girls will be going to separate rooms. The carer in the baby room puts out her arms to take my two year old from me, but my little one is having none of it. Her body is rigid, and her fingers dig into my arms, she clings tightly to me. I can’t believe the worker wants me to hand my toddler over to her straight away when she doesn’t even know her!

“Leave her for fifteen minutes, and come back,” I am told. I can’t even imagine how upset she would be if I left her. I try to handle my concern diplomatically but inside I’m screaming,

“Do you really believe I should leave my child with a total stranger in an unfamiliar place and she won’t even know how soon I’ll be back!”

They let me stay with her for a while and then ask me if I will leave. I won’t – not without my daughter unless she’s settled. So when I do leave I take my daughter with me. I call the manager the next day and ask if I can stay in the room with my toddler for the next few days.

“No. I don’t have the staff for that.”

I offer to pay for the settling in time (it’s usually free) but still she tells me that I will have to wait outside. I realise quickly that this creche is not for us.

Is this the norm?

I suspect, these are situations that are replicated all around the country all the time. Why can’t the parent, or the carer who is with the child every day, stay for a little while to settle children in? Mostly, I suspect, because it’s awkward for the school/crèche/ institution. They want the parents out of the picture so that they can get on with their work/ day. It appears understandable – especially if the staff do not believe that the children are genuinely upset. They seem to think the children are “just manipulating” their parents. But at what cost to the child’s well-being is this enforced separation? Surely the needs of the children should be paramount?

Why do we parents hand over our say on this? Other people are not the experts on our children. No one knows our children as we do.

An upset child cannot be reasoned with and cannot hear that you will “be back soon”. A staff worker or teacher should be able to understand that a little lee-way and flexibility with parents will go a long way to making this a positive experience for the child.

Some tips that helped me:

#1 Talk to the care provider beforehand and agree ahead of time on how to meet your child’s needs during this initial stage. You don’t want to be figuring this out over your child’s head on day one.

#2 Get support to help you clarify your thinking ahead of time regarding what’s needed and how you will approach the school regarding their “parent staying” policy. If you don’t have support readily available, find a clear-thinking, sympathetic friend or a counselor or accredited parent coach. You may find to helpful to also check in with this person in the early days of this transition, if the transition isn’t going as easily as you had hoped.

#3 Be cautious who you tell about your intention to stay. It can be very triggering for people – so “keep schtum” unless you are sure that person will genuinely support you in finding the most helpful solution for your child’s benefit. I was amazed at the amount of negative reactions I received. It’s easier to steer the course you want through this period without negative or judgmental comments from others.

#4 Stay out of the way in the class. Sit in the corner and read a book. Your child may not come to you but they will be happy just to know you are there.

#5 As you sense your child is coping in the new situation, you might choose to move a little further away. Maybe sit just outside the door or window when your child is aware you are still there they will be calmer.

#6 Remember what really matters here!! Is this about the convenience of the staff or your child’s happiness and security? It’s the adults who need to give a little and to be flexible – not the three year olds!

Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are  taking a firm stand on being with your child so that your child  know and experience you will be there for them when they need you the most.

You may want to not risk doing the unpopular thing for yourself but you ‘ll do it for your child!

For more parenting tips regarding starting school see: “Is Your Child Anxious About Starting School?”  

What memories or concerns does this parent’s experience raise for you? Please add your comments below.

Last edited August 31st 2017

Is your child anxious about school or childcare?

‘How do I know if my child is being treated okay?’ you may be wondering.

Parents can often feel confused about how to help when they are concerned about their child’s well-being at school. One key thing that  you can do is listen so that your child feels heard.

Imagine that your child makes a comment that concerns you.

Getting to hear what’s really going on depends on how you listen. This especially matters if you are worried about your childcare being anxious or unhappy at school or if you have childcare concerns.

Unhelpful responses some parents make:

Child: ‘I don’t want to go to school.’

Parent:  ‘Ah, you like school.  All your friends are there.’


Parent: ‘Just two more sleeps and then we’ll have the weekend. Then we can have lots of time together.’


Parent: ‘Now be good. And then I’ll buy you a sweetie on the way home.’

These responses aren’t helpful because they ignore your child’s experience of life and they shut down the conversation.

What your child needs is a safe space to be heard.

How to respond more helpfully:

Child: ‘I don’t want to go to school.’

First PARK everything that is going on for you – all those thoughts chasing around in your head and all those emotions that jump up and grab you by the throat.

PARK your own concerns so that you can really be present to your child.

Like parking your car, you can come back and pick it up later. Right now PARK all that’s going on for you and choose to be present for your child.

To really listen, here’s some of what you might need to PARK.

1. PARK your anxiety.

It makes sense that a comment like, ‘I don’t want to go to school,’ can get alarm bells clanging in your head. But your anxiety will get in the way of listening in a way that will really connect.

How to PARK your anxiety:

– Focus on your breathing.

– Focus on being calm.

– Focus on being present to your child.

2. PARK your busy-ness.

If this is important, other things will need to wait. Your child is only going to open up when they sense your undivided attention.

3. PARK your own need to ‘fix’ things immediately. 

A safe listening space is the best gift you can give your child right now. Afterwards there will be time to seek professional help, if needed. But you will never again have this first moment of what your child needs to share now. Choose to be fully present for your child now.

4. PARK your judgments.

Thoughts might jump into your head about what might have happened – judgments about the staff, about yourself or about other children.

You might have thoughts like:

‘That worker is a *!*&!’

‘I’ve failed my child.’

‘How could they …’

‘Oooh, this is all so terrible …’

These thoughts will wind you up. You need to  be calm to hear your child’s story first.

You might be jumping to conclusions.

Whatever the thoughts are, you can choose to PARK these judgements and focus on being present to your child.

5. PARK any feelings of guilt or anger. 

Yes, you may have many strong emotions coming up. But if you allow yourself to focus on your feelings of guilt or anger right now, you are putting the focus on yourself instead of on your child.

So now you’ve PARKed – what next?

When you choose to PARK your own stuff you can cross into your child’s world.  Only when your child really senses you connecting will they share what’s bothering them.

Make sure you are calm.

Choose your tone of voice, your eye contact and your body language to connect.

Child: ‘I don’t want to go to school.’

Reflect your child’s words (without adding anything extra) :

Parent: ‘You don’t want to go to school?’

Child: ‘Cos my friends won’t play with me.’

Parent: ‘Your friends won’t play with you? Tell me more.’

Keep your own stuff PARKed. Keep focused on being connected with your child. Reflect what your child says and adding ‘tell me more.’

Hold the listening space.

Keep connected and wait for your child’s answer.

Don’t rush in with more words.

Just hold the listening space for your child. Then reflect what you hear, using your child’s words.

When your child senses the connection, he’s likely to share.

Keep holding this listening space.

You will get to the point when your child has told you all he needs to say.

Whatever your child needs, be there for them.

Reassure them that you will deal with it. Give a cuddle or go for  walk. Trust your intuition to give what your child needs.

When you PARK your own thoughts, judgements and emotions you will find you are able to really listen to your child and to sense what ‘s needed, no matter how small or large the issue.

A few extra tips:

#1 Be careful to avoid talking about concerns about your child’s situation in front of your child. Children are listening even when you think they aren’t, and they are going to pick up your anxiety.

#2 Avoid trying to prompt the conversation with your child. If you push or pry or ask questions when your child is not ready to talk, your child will shut down down the conversation like a hedgehog rolls into a ball when it feels unsafe.

Your child will open up or close down depending how safe he feels.

#3 Avoid leading questions that can put thoughts in your child’s head that weren’t there before.

Questions like:

‘Did she smack you?’

‘Did she shout at you?’

are your thoughts. PARK them.


Hold a ‘clean’ listening space so your child can share his own story. When you are there to really listen, you may discover that your child’s upset is not big. The connection time will still be precious.

Or if it is a serious issue, at least your child experiences you as his loving and connected ally, who will take action on his behalf.

Please comment on your experiences of your child being unhappy at school or your childcare concerns (But please do not name staff or institutions in your comment).

Please seek professional help if you have any concerns.

Let’s not forget our appreciation for all the staff in childcare centres who are doing sterling work. Many of these are community based, not-for-profit centres. Most childcare workers follow this career path because they are passionate about young children. We all need to lobby for better pay, training opportunities and working conditions for the childcare workers who ARE taking good care of our children. 

If you are looking to train or retrain your staff,

Val Mullally is an experienced teacher, principal and trainer in Early Education.

She is also a skilful Siolta facilitator.

She offers regular Parenting courses  (also ONLINE) and is available to travel to offer training.


Related posts:  ‘Toddler Upset – essential reasons for responsive parenting’

Recommended Reading:

You Are My World – Amy Hatkoff

Why Love Matters – Sue Gerhardt

The Whole Brain Child – Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes – Peter Levine and Magie Kline











Last edited September 21st 2019