Dear Father-Hood: why does my kid cry at the nursery door?


Tears at the nursery door? To be honest, I’ve never heard of this concept, as my son is one of those rock-hard warrior kids. You know the type. They jump out of the car, swagger up to the nursery manager, give them a nod, run in and… …it’s all a big fat lie. Boy did our little man used to cry at the nursery door. He cried, wailed and then sobbed some more. And he did it during every single drop off for well over a year.

Yes, that does say well over a YEAR! It was hellish. It was tortuous. It made my wife and I feel like we were the worst parents in the history of the world. But, thankfully, it is now over. Which begs two very important questions. First, why did he cry at drop off for such a long period of time? And second, what’s the secret to stopping the sobbing?

Are you sitting comfortably? Great, then let’s begin.

1. Why did he cry for such a long period of time?

For reasons that should become obvious, I’m going to answer this query in three parts.

Part I: separation anxiety

As in the fear of abandonment that causes a kid to lose his or her poo poo every time mummy or daddy attempts to go to the toilet? Yes, that’s the one. The bad news is, apart from giving them a toy or teddy that reminds them of home and whimpering on about how mummy and daddy are “coming back soon”, there really isn’t much you can do about this. The good news is it should only last a few weeks.

Part II: habit

After said few weeks, my son was pretty settled and his behavioural pattern began to change. Sadly, he still bawled when we approached the nursery door. Happily, he stopped crying almost as soon as he was through it. We knew this, because within five minutes the childminder would Whatsapp pics of our little man reading a book, playing with a car etc.

This was a massive relief, but it didn’t explain why he would not stop blubbing at the door.

“Maybe you look apprehensive when you’re dropping him off?” suggested a friend. So we spent a week putting on an over-the-top, toothy-grinned, jazz-hand-heavy handover performance. Our singing was on point and our showmanship was worthy of the West End, but it failed to wow our little crying critic.

“Try and distract him,” advised someone else. So we spent a few days pretending to walk into walls, pointing out traffic and getting ridiculously over-excited by imaginary wildlife. It was good, but it wasn’t right. Still he cried at the nursery door.

“He’s not doing it because he’s upset or angry with you,” appeased the childminder. “He’s doing it because it’s a habit.”

Part III: the new nursery

We bought the habit excuse. Partly because the childminder was an experienced early years practitioner and the evidence stacked up (he was smiley and happy before and after ‘the nursery door’), and partly because it made us feel a bit better. And as all parents know, sometimes you need to cling onto something that makes you feel a bit better.

Before we knew it, a year had passed and it was time for our now two-year-old son to move to another nursery. Maybe the change of scenery would alter the drop off dramatics? Uh-uh.

He kept crying, only this time the tears weren’t confined to the nursery door or even nursery days. Every morning, whether it was a nursery day or not, he would blub and whine, “I don’t want to go to nursery”.

We now had a real problem. It was time to get to work. It was time to implement Operation Stop the Sobbing.

2. What’s the secret to stopping the sobbing?

Since he loves dinosaurs, our first move was to read our son a book about a dinosaur-loving boy who enjoyed going to school. It had no effect, so we began trying to emphasise the exciting activities mummy and daddy were going to do with him when they came to pick him up at the end of the day. This also failed to stem the water works, so we decided to call in the big guns – AKA my wife’s cousin, who has two kids and just happens to be a child psychologist.

She listened to our plight, assured us that it was a common issue and suggested we do the following:

  • At pick up, ask the teachers what the kids are going to be doing the following day. Then talk about these activities when you get home and on the way to nursery the following morning
  • Find out the songs they sing at nursery and begin to sing them at home
  • Cut his time at nursery down from three full days to three half days

And do you know what? I’m getting pretty bored of warbling Crabs and Starfish, but it has worked incredibly well. As in, he’s stopped crying? Yes, and on top of that, he’s also walking into class with a smile, telling us about what he did during the day, and really showing the teachers his true potential.

But what about you?

Which is all well and good for me, but what if your working arrangements mean that you have to send your kid to nursery for the full day? Well, then you scream, beat the floor and ask a higher power, “Why has this happened to me?” Not really. Then you focus all your efforts on the other two bits of advice.

And if those don’t work? Then you have two options. You can give up and resign yourself to a life of nursery drop off tears. Or you can keep trying different ideas until one of them works for your kid. And since you made it to the bottom of this article, I suspect you’ll do the latter.

Good luck. And remember these three things…

  1. Just because the stuff I mentioned early in this article didn’t work for my son, doesn’t mean it won’t work for your boy or girl
  2. You are not the only parents going through this
  3. is brilliant and you should tell all your friends about it






  1. Ah, now similar happened to a schoolfriend of my youngest. Every day he’d cry and the mum found it quite distressing. I have no suggestions, I can mereley tell you what many a childcare practitioner has told me: once kids are through that door, they stop crying very quickly!

    • Yeah, the Whatsapp pics from the childminder proved as much. It’s it pretty distressing when they cry every day. Plus it sends you off to work (in an office or at home) feeling a bit gloomy.

  2. […] But wait. Now that I think about it, I mislead my son all the time, my wife regularly makes up stuff about “the TV being broken” or “the shops being closed” and my mates are always telling their offspring fibs. And that’s before I even think about the “mummy will be back in ten minutes” tripe I hear at the nursery door. […]

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