Routines and reassurance help kids adjust

Sending your child to preschool for the first time can be traumatic for both of you. A little preparation goes a long way in easing both of your concerns.  Follow these steps to make sure your child's first day is a good one.

Be in the know
If you can, visit the preschool with your child a few times before school starts. Let her meet the teacher, play on the playground and mingle with the other kids. If there's a child she is drawn to, ask to arrange a play date before the first day. That way she will have a few familiar faces and maybe even a friend to welcome her at the door. Joining a preschool where friends already attend is another good option. 

Create a goodbye routine
Routines help kids feel safe and secure. You know this to be true at bedtime so why not create one before school? It can involve simple things like picking out a school outfit and laying it on the bed before breakfast or more elaborate actions as in letting him order breakfast restaurant style to celebrate that it's a school day. Maybe he also says goodbye to the family pet or a favorite toy. 

If separations tend to be hard, extend these rituals to when you arrive. Establish a special power handshake or hug, send him with a family photo or a special photo book that he can share with his teacher after you leave. If show-and-tell is a part of the routine, help him get excited to share his special item with the other kids. Remind him of the fun he will have playing with friends.

Dive in
With little ones you've likely learned that distraction is a great tactic. If your daughter feels nervous and doesn't want you to leave, suggest that you explore the different stations and interest areas in the room. If it's the book corner, have her point out ones she wants to read. If it's the art corner talk about what she could paint or draw. Keep your voice upbeat and even act jealous that she gets to stay and you have to leave.

Let him pick
Before school starts, take him shopping for a new backpack and if needed, a lunchbox. Letting him choose these fun items gives him ownership and helps him associate positive feelings with school. When packing his lunch, have him help prepare his meal and pick what goes in it. If he wants all sweets, guide him with choices, letting him know he can choose three healthy foods and one treat. To make it simple give him either-or choices as in, do you want carrots or grapes? Do you want a PB & J or a turkey pita? Let him pick out special school lunch items at the grocery store to further increase his enthusiasm.  

Read up
Before the first day, take a trip to the library and ask the librarian for books about the first day of school. Find a quiet corner and read or take them home for bedtime.  Engage in conversations with siblings or friends who can share positive stories about their preschool experiences. It goes a long way if the big kids think preschool is cool. Brag up that she's starting preschool to neighbors and grandparents to send the message that she's a lucky girl. 

Talk out her feelings
If she says she's afraid, answer in supportive way. Instead of denying her feelings by saying, "Oh, there's nothing to be afraid of," tell her it's okay to be afraid and that most kids get nervous and a little scared to start school because it's so new. Try to get to the root of her fear and then see if you can address the issue head on. If she is afraid of the kids, help her make a friend beforehand. If she is afraid to be apart from you, let her know you will pick her up in a few hours and that her teacher and other adults are there to help her with anything she might need.