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Pickup Time at Day Care: Why Kids Act Out

Why do children react the way they do when they reunite with their families at the end of the day? It’s never easy to get inside a child’s head for definitive answers, but here are some possibilities that may come into play on any given day.

What’s Going on in Their Heads?

  • Ignoring us may actually be a sign that our child has adjusted well, feels secure at childcare, and knew all along that we would return. “I’m glad to see you, but it’s no big deal. I knew you’d come back, and so I’ll just continue with what I was doing.” 
  • “Going to pieces” may be a natural reaction to the sight of the person the child is closest to—you! Sometimes it’s hard for a child to be in a group all day, and by the end of the day they are tired and their resistance is low. You are a big deal; almost too big.
  • Children are driven to experiment. Acting out can be a child’s way of testing an interesting situation. There are two people (the parent and the caregiver) who set limits and enforce the rules. “Who is in charge?” or, “How do these people work together?” Unable to articulate the question with words, the child may ask the question through behavior. 
  • Our child may just want us to stay a while in the place they have spent the entire day and may want us to share that special place together.
  • Maybe there is a little unconscious payback and resistance to being forced to suddenly stop an activity in which our child was engrossed. He may be thinking, “I didn’t like it when you dropped me off here rather abruptly this morning, so I’m not going to leave easily for you tonight.” 
  • It’s even possible that your child may be anticipating the hustle and bustle that characterizes the evening routine until bedtime, and is voting with his feet to stay in this child-centered place!

Children are complex human beings. They are instinctive social scientists at every age, using their behavior to investigate how the world works and how they fit in it. In the process, they will both delight us and push all of our buttons. In the instance of a childcare reunion, one thing is certain—you are the ones they love best. They just have a funny way of showing it.

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