Ask An Expert / Parenting Challenges

My son cries every day at kindergarten because he misses me, and isn’t making friends. What can I do?

En Español

First get more information from his teachers

Rachel Busman, PsyD
Rachel Busman, PsyD

Senior Clinical Psychologist, Anxiety Disorders Center; Director, Selective Mutism Service

Child Mind Institute

I am lost and heartbroken for my son. He cries almost every day at kindergarten because he misses me. I worry about him making friends. I don't need him to be the most popular, but I want him to go and have fun and be engaged. He mostly cries at lunch and will not participate on the playground. He says the boys don't ask him to play. I don't know that he would play even if they asked him.I ask him a lot of questions and am probably doing more harm—I think I am nagging. I tried telling him I have a job and so does he, and I will always be there at the end of the day so we can be together. I don't want the kids to think he is a crybaby. What can I do to help him really enjoy his day?

It must be so hard to go to work every day when you’re worried about your son feeling so sad. I love that you told him that you have a job and so does he but that you’ll be there at the end of the day. Those are really good messages.

It’s true that asking a lot of questions isn’t always the best strategy. Getting information from young children can often feel like pulling teeth, and it’s not uncommon for kindergarteners to give very little information when you ask about their day. Instead, the first thing I would do would be to have a conversation with his teachers and elicit from them what they observe. Is he just having difficulty with some of the transitional moments or more unstructured times, or is he actually crying throughout the day? Another good option is to have a social worker or school psychologist come in and do an observation of your son. It could be unobtrusive and would provide you with some helpful objective data.

Using rewards to encourage the brave behavior that you want to see can also be helpful. Simply using verbal encouragement can be very effective. Compliment him when you notice him doing something brave (for example, “Great job getting out of the car and walking into the school!”) Verbal encouragement like this helps your son feel good and promotes healthy self-esteem while also reinforcing the behaviors that you want to see from him. You might also come up with slightly more elaborate rewards for goals that your son is working towards. For example, you can set the goal that your son talk to someone at lunch and then each time he talks to someone at lunch he will get a sticker. After earning five stickers he can get a prize that you have both agreed on. You can also use any feedback that you get to help set goals for your son. For example if you hear he likes one particular boy at school, you can make playing with that boy a goal.

The bottom line is that, as a mother, your emotions are going to be pulled when you hear your child say he’s sad and he misses you. Take a step back and get some objective information from his teachers and other people at the school. Knowing more will put you in a better position to decide what to do next.