Why parents cry when their kids start kindergarten: 'fear, excitement, anxiety and loss'

Beth Greenfield
Senior Editor
The first day of kindergarten can be a hard one for parents. (Photo: Getty Images)

As first days of school have been unfolding in classrooms around the nation, parents have been taking to social media to share their joy, excitement — and, especially for parents of kids heading off to kindergarten, tears.

“He is fine. I am a mess,” tweeted Lin Manuel-Miranda in his Thursday morning status, which included a father-son photo to mark the first day of kindergarten for Sebastian. His post elicited over 49,000 likes and a slew of empathetic comments, such as “Same,” “‘Sunrise, Sunset’ is playing on a loop in my heart,’” “I feel you, my brother,” and “I get it.”

Other high-profile parents of new kindergarteners also announced their tears on social media — Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Savannah Guthrie, and The Bachelor star Melissa Rycroft Strickland among them.


But the phenomenon has definitely not been limited to celeb moms and dads. Practically everyone, it seems, cries when their kid starts their first year of school.

But why? What triggers sadness on such a seemingly happy day?

“We cry when we’re overwhelmed with emotions, right? And it’s a real mix of emotions with kindergarten — fear, excitement, anxiety and loss,” Connecticut-based psychologist Barbara Greenberg tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s a loss of a really important stage in which parents are really necessary. There’s a lot of fear — are they going to lose their child? Still get time with their child? Are the other kids going to like their child? But there’s a lot of excitement, too, as you hope, when they are away from you, they are going to be successful.”

Of course, Greenberg adds, “There’s some pride there, too.”

For parents doing their first major classroom drop-off, even if they’ve had their child in daycare, there’s the feeling of losing some control.

“Education is a move toward independence, while in daycare they’re just being watched,” she explains. “We start thinking of them going to college and leaving us, as it’s the first step of them transitioning out of our homes and onto their own.”

Finally, Greenberg explains, leaving your 5-year-old with strangers — “because they are strangers,” from the bus driver to the teachers to the other kids — is “a leap of faith.” And that’s never easy.

Here’s what other parents had to say about shedding tears over their kindergarteners (crying emojis and the “I’m not crying you’re crying” hashtag were popular):

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