My DD will be 3 years old in about 3 months, and she just started a preschool this fall, for just two mornings a week. Before this preschool experience she has always been pretty good with separation - her grandmother watches her during the day, and she has always been fine going between grandma and mom or dad. She has also been fine being left with my sister as the babysitter. (Frankly, in these other contexts she often doesn't even notice when I leave, or bother to say goodbye unless I remind her.)
The first two days at school were a transition time and I stayed, and while she did want me to play with her, I kept explaining that I was there to watch and she was mostly ok with that. But the last few weeks her issues with separating have really been escalating - the last two mornings, she has spent three hours before we left for school crying and telling me that she did not want to go. Each of the last three times I have dropped her off it has gotten worse: the first time she cried but I was able to comfort her and then she went off ok with the teacher; the second time she kept crying and I could not comfort her so I just had to leave while she was crying; this morning she screamed and sobbed hysterically and clung to me with all her strength and had to be forcibly pried off of me and taken off by the teacher. I was really not comfortable with that at all.
I had expected that it could take a few weeks or a month (and in rare cases longer) for her to stop crying when I drop her off, but I had expected that it would gradually improve, not get progressively worse and worse.
The teachers have said that she does calm down (although not necessarily immediately) and mostly participates in the activities, although she still cries some during the day. It hasn't been enough for them to call me, though. We have tried a specific routine with dropoff, I have tried explaining exactly what we are going to do and when, I have explained to her that the teacher can reach me if she is really sick or upset but that as long as she is just a little sad that it is better for her to try to play along with the teachers and other kids or to hug her stuffed animal, she brings a special stuffed animal with her every day, I've let her bring special treats with her also like her favorite stickers, and today we had her bring her special slippers that she wears at home. At home we have talked about what she does at school, and who the other kids are, and why it's important for her to try to enjoy her time there, and about ways that she can cope if she is missing one of us or if she is sad. But none of this seems to be working. I really don't know what to do.
I get the theory that the transition is better if it is quick and follows a regular routine, but how am I actually supposed to walk out the door if she is clinging like death to me and has to be physically pried off me by the teacher as she is having hysterics? I've just never had to deal with this before with her - in all our other discipline or boundary setting, I've been able to explain to her calmly what we were doing and why, and on the rare occasions when I did have to let her cry a bit about something, she would cry for 5 minutes or so and then stop and recover and move on. But she is just not doing that in this situation, and our discussions or explanations about school are not helping at all - she refuses to listen to them or to engage in them - no matter what I say she just repeatedly says that she does not want to go to school, that if we go to school she wants me to stay, and that she misses me.
What am I supposed to say if all my kid will talk about all morning for three hours straight is how much she does NOT want to go to school? Nothing I say calms her down, or makes it better, or gets her to change the subject.
I don't think the school itself is a bad fit, as it is right next door to us in a building/neighborhood that she is already familiar with, the teachers all seem very kind and patient, it is very small with a good teacher/kid ratio, she does seem to come home singing the songs that they learn there and showing me her artwork, and they have even given her special attention because she is the only new kid this term (the others were all there last year or participated in a summer program). I feel that it is a good time for her to go, because she doesn't have any friends yet but seems to want them, and because next year we will have to transition her to a full-day preschool, and I think it will be gentler for her if she can adapt to this "few mornings a week" this year before going full-time next year. When she is not crying that she wants me to be there, she seems to participate well and enjoy herself there.
I'm just hoping someone here might have advice about how to better talk with her about the school, and about how to handle leaving when she isn't just crying a little but really hysterical? I feel like everything I've tried so far has just made it worse...
Thanks for taking the time to read my post!