How can I best prepare my child for beginning preschool or family day care?

Beginning preschool or family day care are major steps for every child, and each of us worries that our child may be the one facing a rocky transition. I have been there, seen this scenario first hand. When my daughter Kyle started her first year of preschool, the three 20-year veteran teachers Rita, Kay, and Irene assured us parents that they had the transition down pat. They ushered us into a separate classroom, welcomed us to hot coffee and donuts, and asked us to stay and chat for a half hour to get to know each other. They reassured us that over the past decade they never have had to come up and get a parent. That was, never until that morning. Kay popped her head into the parent coffee clatch well underway and asked in a soft voice, “Is Kyle’s Mom here?”

All parental eyes turned with a mixture of relief and pity upon me as I said hesitantly, “Yes. That’s me.” Kay said simply, “We need you in the classroom.”

Trailing behind Kay, I found Kyle, her hair in adorable braids, weeping on the red bench and brushing aside any outreach efforts by teachers or curious questions by the other kids. If she could have wrapped herself around my legs that moment, I am sure we could have hobbled to the car intertwined. Smiling, I reassured Kyle, beckoning her to the sand table or the finger-painting easels or the costume dress-up corner. All to no avail…and thus began a four-week transition by the end of which Kyle informed me that I should not even bother to walk her down the hallway into the classroom to drop her off. Music to my ears.

Along the way as a parenting author, Moms have shared some great tips to ease this transition. Here are some of my favorites from The Mom Book: 4,278 Tips for Moms.

  • Make up a goodbye ritual. Don’t unintentionally make separating more difficult for your child. Don’t ask for your child’s permission to leave, return after you’ve left if you hear her cry, or bribe your child into letting you leave. Also, don’t sneak away, even if you’re tempted to avoid a big teary scene. Give a hug, a kiss, and a warm but firm goodbye. Your child may cry at first, which is normal. Usually the tears last for a brief time, five to twenty minutes. Check on your child by phone later.
  • Tuck a small surprise in her pocket for after you go, whether a sticker or a Hershey’s kiss!
  • Do not show your unhappiness or indecision when your child is slow to adjust, as it will make her more upset.
  • Encourage your child to bring with her a favorite toy, tape, or book to share so she will have a familiar object with her and can also show her expertise about a particular item, such as a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, and a family picture for her cubby or locker.
  • To ease your child’s separation anxiety, make her a simple picture book of your family. Take photographs of your daily routine. Include scenes of you dropping off your child at day care, working, eating lunch, and returning to pick up your child. Mount the pictures on small pieces of cardboard and bind them like a “book” or attach them to a large key ring. Then let your child take it to day care so she feels connected to you during the day and is reminded that you are coming back.
  • Sometimes a child adjusts right away, and then after several weeks, she begins crying when you leave. By this time, the novelty has worn off and it becomes more difficult to spend the day without you.

So if you find yourself with a child like my Kyle who has trepidation at the start of a preschool or daycare experience, give her or him your warmest smile, words of encouragement, and the knowledge that this too will (eventually) pass!

About the Author:

A dynamic national speaker, consultant, corporate spokesperson, and writer, Stacy DeBroff is President and founder of Mom Central, Inc., a company devoted to providing pragmatic tips and advice to strengthen busy families and enhance the home environment. Stacy has written several best-selling books on household and family organization including The Mom Book Goes to School; The Mom Book: 4,278 Tips for Moms; Sign Me Up! The Parent's Complete Guide to Sports, Activities, and Extracurriculars; and Mom Central: The Ultimate Family Organizer.

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