When a child first starts preschool, their world is turned upside down. It may be his or her first time away from mom or dad. There may be lots of tears... from your child, too! But if you’ve done your research and picked a facility with teachers and care providers you trust, take a deep breath and know that they will do their best to make the transition as smooth as possible for both you and your little one! We consulted with local clinical social worker and mother of two, Sarah Gugluizza LCSW, to bring you some wonderful tips for helping your little one (and yourself) adjust to preschool.
1. Take a tour & talk about it
Visiting the school and classroom, meeting their teacher, and hearing about what kinds of things they’ll be doing in preschool are all very helpful in preparing your child for the start of school. Afterwards at home, encourage them to ask questions and express their concerns. Never diminish their feelings - what may seem silly to an adult can be a very real and frightening feeling for a child.
While talking about it is important, Sarah advises that practicing leaving and coming back is also key. "Take turns with different members of the family leaving a room for a few minutes and coming back," she says. "Always reassure your child that you will be back for them. If you are not the one to pick up your child at the end of their day, make sure they know who is picking them up and when they will be able to see you."
Also note that concerns and anxiety may not come out as expected - they might instead be expressed through drawings, pretend play, acting out, or regressions with sleep or using the toilet. Talk to your child’s teacher or a local librarian for recommendations on books for children and adults, and also TV shows you could watch together (for example, Season 1 episodes 2 and 3 of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, click here to download on Amazon). We'll include a list of books Sarah recommends at the bottom of this post.
2. Create a routine
Create a morning routine that helps your child know what to expect and doesn’t rush them. Make adjustments where necessary. For example, if your child isn’t eating breakfast quickly enough, consider a blended meal in a pouch to eat on-the-go, oatmeal or a smoothie (with fruit, chia seeds, and spinach), are delicious and nutritious! The routine should even include how you drop them off and say goodbye - maybe a hug, silly faces, and a high five!
Sarah adds, "There should also be a routine for bedtime. Children need their rest to grow, heal and learn. If bedtime is inconsistent or starting too late it can set your child up for a difficult wake up and subsequently a cranky day. Kiddos should go to bed at a reasonable time (between 6-8pm for children ages 3 to 6). Avoid screen time before bed will make falling asleep easier."
3. Leave a comforting item
Check with your child’s teacher first, but it can be helpful to send something with your child that helps comfort them - perhaps a favorite “blankey”, stuffed animal, or even a photo collage of your family. Sarah recommends, "Try sending your child with something small and tangible from you that helps them feel like you are with them - a hair band they can wear like a bracelet, a clip, a stone you found together, or a scarf, for example." Things such as these can bring great comfort to a child in a new place with unfamiliar faces.
4. Stay positive
Children will pick up on whatever vibe you are giving off, so do your best to stay positive, even if you may be feeling as anxious as they are! Reassure them that there is much fun to be had at school, and you are so excited to see them later and hear all about it!
5. Prepare the teacher
If you think your child will have an especially difficult time detaching or getting through the day, talk to their teacher ahead of time. Perhaps they’ll have advice to help prepare your child. You can also give them tips about special activities or things that interest your child and can help cheer them up.
6. Leave quickly but not secretly
Give a warm goodbye but don’t linger and don’t sneak out (this could lead to lack of trust in when you will leave and come back). It’s terribly hard to walk away from a sobbing child (or peel them off of you), but remember that creating and sticking to a routine is key. The sooner you leave, the sooner your child can be comforted by a loving teacher and distracted by all of the fun new toys and friends at school. Little by little, saying goodbye should get easier and before you know it, they’ll be all smiles during drop-off, and possibly even begging you on the weekend to take them to school.
7. Two steps forward, one step back
The transition to starting school is not always a smooth one. Sometimes, a child may have a fantastic first few days, totally surprising you! And then, BAM - crocodile tears and a reluctance to go to school. It finally hit them that this is the new normal, not just a random day of play. Then, after they’re finally 100% adjusted and loving school, an extended illness or vacation may bring them back to what feels like square one again, with tearful drop-offs and begging to stay home. Just know this is completely normal. Encourage your child to express how they feel to you, stay positive, and stick to your routine. They’ll find their groove again!
Sarah's Recommended Books for Adjusting to Preschool:
- "The Kissing Hand" by Audrey Penn
- "You Go Away" by Dorothy Corey
- "I'll Always Come Back" by Steve Metzger
- "Llama Llama Misses Mama" by Anna Dewdny
- "I Love You All Day Long" by Francesca Rusackas
- "Maisy Goes to Preschool" by Lucy Cousins
- "The Night Before Preschool" by Natasha Wing
- "What to Expect at Preschool" by Heidi Murkoff
- "Bye Bye Time" by Elizabeth Verdick
- "Will I Have a Friend" by Miriam Cohen
- "How Do Dinosaurs Go to School?" By Jane Yolen
- "Owl Babies" by Martin Waddell
- "Wemberly Worried" by Kevin Henkes
- "Chrysanthemum" by Kevin Henkes
- "Pete the cat! Rockin' in my School Shoes" by James Dean
How did your child's first day go, or what are your concerns for when this day comes? Leave a comment or your own tips below!