09/28/2011 04:43 pm ET | Updated Nov 28, 2011

The Morning Drop-Off

I knew the day would come. Two weeks after school started, reality set in and my first grader, who initially skipped off to school, started complaining and begging to stay home.

I knew once he was there he was fine, more than fine. All the parent volunteers told me he had a smile on his face all day and were surprised to hear of any distress. In addition, he regularly returned home in great spirits, telling me his day was "good," sometimes even "great." So why was drop-off so difficult?

Some might say it's obvious that he knew exactly which heart string to pull with the hope that maybe just one time I'd give in and let him stay home. Just as he began to ask, we'd go back and forth for way too long and ultimately I'd tell him that I love him. Then I would drop him off and feel the pain of his sad eyes watch me as I headed for work with my morning ruined!

I started wondering if he was at the wrong school? Academically and socially, his teachers told me he was doing great. No, I concluded the issue must have been me. Maybe he missed his working mother so much every day that he couldn't bear to part. Maybe I wasn't handling his morning pleas the right way and only escalating the situation. So I recently turned to self-help books, something I used to frown upon, and sought guidance on how boys think and act, hoping to learn a new approach to parenting -- figuring it's not the school, I must have been doing something wrong. I learned from Leonard Sax's Gender Differences that boys are physically wired differently than girls -- they see and hear differently; they use different parts of the brains to process certain situations and emotions; and they react differently to discipline and instruction. Which means, in short, that while my son could be in the wrong school, one thing is for sure: all of the touchy-feely approaches that I had taken to get him to stop complaining about going to school had been a waste of time. I had no idea that my approach was perfect for a girl and utterly meaningless to most boys. So I have changed.

Strict boundaries. Strong consequences. No yelling, just strong words and tone. No chances (he's had them all by now) and no wiggle room. The results are immediate. No if ands or buts, and I swear I think he's loving the approach and understanding it. And now for the morning drop-off, I have started to ignore the pleas to a greater degree and they are growing weaker. Which means my mornings are increasingly stress free and ultimately, we are both happier. My son continues to return each day with a smile on his face, which convinces me further that his earlier pleas for attention had less to do with the school he's in and more to do with me.