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Preparing for the First Day of Preschool

Expert tips to help you and your child make a smooth transition

Published on: March 22, 2019

Sweet boy holding his father's hand

Editor's note: This article was sponsored by Bright Horizons.

So, the tough decision has been made: You've found the best preschool for your child and your family, and the first day is just around the corner.

There are several ways to help prepare yourself and your child for a successful transition to preschool, and the first is to start with yourself as a parent by paying attention to your own anxiety. Often, if this is your first preschool decision, it’s normal to feel nervous about your child’ comfort, happiness and safety. And then there are the logistics to consider: working out drop-offs and pick-ups, packing lunches and all those things. It’s normal to have anxiety, but you want to check in with yourself, so you’re not creating additional stress for your child — kids have unerring antennae when it comes to picking up on what’s going on with their parents.

Next, you want to help your kid develop an idea of what school is. Most schools would be happy to have you come by for visits before your child starts, so that they can see where they’ll be going. Even driving or walking by the school and pointing it out will help them develop an idea of what to expect.

Create your goodbye ritual — whether it’s 10 hugs and kisses or a high-five — and then calmly leave, trusting that your child is in the care of amazing, experienced teachers who are extremely skilled at helping kids adjust to their new environment.

Kids also love to quiz us on the logistics, so they may have questions such as: “What will I do there? Who will take me to school? Who will pick me up?” Essentially, these are expressions of the very same concerns we have, so make sure to listen and thoughtfully respond to your child’s questions.

Reading books where characters go to school is another great way to help your child develop an idea of what school is — my family enjoyed “The Night Before Preschool” by Natasha Wing (this is actually a great series that became a back-to-school ritual for us, including, “The Night Before Kindergarten” and “The Night Before First Grade”) and “Ming Goes to School” by Deirdre Sullivan.

When it comes time for school to start, be mindful of how you handle drop-offs. Many times, I see parents sticking around the classroom when their child is upset, hoping that they can get them to calm down before they leave. Or the opposite: They sneak out when their kids aren’t looking, thinking it’ll be easier for the child. Neither of these strategies works particularly well. When you stick around until you think you can get your child to a calm state, usually you’re just prolonging their distress and creating more anxiety for everyone in the situation.

When we sneak out, we play in to our child’s fears about abandonment. Instead, I recommend that parents and children collaborate on creating a goodbye ritual. The book “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn can give you some great ideas for developing a soothing separation ritual for drop-off time. Create your goodbye ritual — whether it’s 10 hugs and kisses or a high-five — and then calmly leave, trusting that your child is in the care of amazing, experienced teachers who are extremely skilled at helping kids adjust to their new environment.

Transitions can be bumpy. This move to preschool and starting a new school can bring up anxiety for parents and children alike. It’s important to remember that this is normal, so when we try and fight our emotions and make them go away, it often doesn’t help the situation. Instead, it’s okay to say to your child, “I know you might be nervous about going to preschool. I’m nervous, too.”

If you’re worried about this shift as a parent, do things to help yourself calm down, because your ability to stay peaceful and model perseverance will go a long way to helping your child do the same.

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