Q&A: child crying for one parent but not the other

My almost-4-year-old has changed his name from Master Yoda to Darth Vader. I just thought you should know.

Anita writes:

"My grandson is 2 yrs and 8 months.  He was a2 lb. 4 oz. preemie at birth but has done amazing with no health problems. He eats well, goes to bed easily and sleeps well and is a fairly happy little boy.  My daughter and her husband have been separated for a year.  My grandson stays one week with his dad, then one week with his mom.  He goes to a church daycare everyday while his parents work and has since he was about 4 months old. 

Our only problem with him is the following.  When it is my daughter's week to have him - he goes to daycare fine, but when she arrives to pick him up, he starts crying and doesn't want to go with her.  This has been going on for about 6 months now.  She had to just pick him up and carry him out, which is embarrassing for her.  Once they are in the car, he is fine.  He does not cry like this when his dad picks him up.  What could be the problem?  My daughter spends quality time with him in the evenings and on the weekends they go to the park and other fun things, which he enjoys.  We just can't figure out why he cries when she picks him up.  Any suggestions?"

You know what truly sucks about divorce? No one gets the benefit of the doubt. When a couple is happy together, neither parent has to worry about what happens if a child gets a bruise or scrape, or goes to bed an hour later one night. And things like this, in which the child cries for one parent but not the other, can just be taken as phases or temporary preferences, and no one thinks much of them. But because the parents are separated, it becomes almost a competition (even if you don't want it to be), and someone's always worried about something.

There could be any number of reasons he cries when she picks him up. Maybe she isn't giving him as much warning as he needs that they're going to leave the daycare. Some kids at this age really need a lot of transition time and multiple reminders that they're about to stop doing one activity and move on to another one. So she could try giving a longer series of warnings before they leave so he gets eased out of the daycare and into the car with her.

She could also try creating a ritual inside the car so he has something fun to go to immediately after leaving the daycare. Even though they have fun in the evening, it may be too long for him to keep that in his head. So he's upset about leaving his friends and the fun of the daycare, but doesn't have anything immediately fun to do instead. Creating some kind of immediate, in-the-car fun ritual (like singing along to a goofy song, or making funny faces at each other, or eating three gummy bears, or any kind of silly thing like that) will give him something to think about going to, instead of just being sad he has to leave the daycare.

Has your daughter talked to the daycare providers about the crying? Since they're with him all day long they may be able to offer some insight about anything different that happens at pickup time that may be causing him to cry for your daughter but not for his dad.

Have any readers going through consistent crying at daycare or preschool pickup? If so, what did you do to resolve it?