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Tips on Helping Your Tot (and You) Adjust to Preschool

That first day of preschool is emotional for parents and children alike, but here are some tips to help avoid the tears and tantrums.

It's that time of year again. A time that seasoned parents look forward to all summer: back to school. But, for newbie parents, preparing 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds for school can be intimidating for everyone involved.

With that first day of preschool comes tantrums and tears—and more than a few shed by parents. Preschool directors and teachers had help ease the transition with home visits and orientations, but, nontheless, first-time preschoolers (and even some preschool pros) and their parents might need additional help to make the adjustment.

The keys to a successful year, according to preschool teacher Mary Beth Goff are:

  • Don't talk about school too far in advanced. One week prior is a good time to start.
  • Don't try to get too specific about what school is like or what will happen in school.
  • Reassure children that someone specific will always pick them up at the end of the day.
  • Ensure them that school is a safe and fun place.
  • Discuss with them what you expect from them, including behaviorally and academically.

According to preschool co-op director Betsy Geiger, the best thing to do is talk. "Talk to your child in a very accepting matter-of-fact way about what to expect and then [act] out the solution you and he or she have decided is best," she said. "Some ideas are acting out the walk to school: what door they will be going into, where the playground is, what to expect—like raising your hand to go to the bathroom, etc. Talk talk talk."

For some children who might have separation anxiety, Geiger suggests giving "them something to keep in their pocket [to] touch whenever they miss you."

It is also critical for newbie parents to realize that they are teaching their children life skills by allowing them to experience school without mom and dad. By allowing young children the experience even a few hours a few times per week, parents are better preparing them for the routine of organized, structured academia. Parents must be confident that the schools they have chosen for their children best meet their needs.

Talking with both seasoned moms and classmates' moms who can share success stories can also ease anxieties. Some schools host a parent orientation with the director during the summer to help discuss any concerns or fears about curriculum and separation anxieties.

Preschools generally encourage communication between the teachers, director, and parents. Most programs send weekly newsletters to keep parents abreast of what transpired and what's to come; most also host at least one parent-teacher conference to discuss a child's progress and future education options. Goff and Geigger encourage parents to take advantage of these opportunities for communication.

And, be assured, eventually the tears will stop—from parents and children alike.

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