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How to Prepare Your Toddler (and Yourself!) for the First Day of Preschool

Attending the first day of preschool is a major rite of passage for little ones. It is often even more of a major rite of passage for parents — especially stay-at-home parents who are used to being with their baby or toddler all day.

As the fall back-to-school season approaches, it’s important for parents
to prepare their kids, and themselves, for that big first day. My family has now survived this process twice with our two children and I have a few tips to make the preschool transition a success for everyone in the family.

Practice Separation

If your child has not attended day care or had babysitter on a regular basis, leaving Mom and Dad can be a recipe for separation anxiety. If you have the chance to practice separation on a smaller scale before the school year starts, seize it. Hire a sitter or have friend watch your child for an hour to see how it goes. Some children may surprise you and be totally ready to separate, especially when presented with the chance to play with other children or new toys. If you have a little one who is extra-attached, however, then you can take extra steps to prepare yourself for a potentially more challenging first day drop-off.

Talk and Read about Preschool — or Even Visit

Children do better with transitions when they know what to expect. Talk a lot about what preschool is and what your child can expect on his or her first day — the classroom, the teachers, the toys, snacks, and more. Reading books about preschool together can also help your child prepare for his or her own experience by visualizing other children in the same situation. Consider driving by your preschool to show your child the building. If available, definitely take advantage of any open house opportunities for children to go inside before the first official day.

Celebrate with Something New

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Another step that you can take to help to prepare your child for preschool is to celebrate being a “big kid” with something new to mark the achievement. Shop for a school backpack or lunchbox together. Pick out a first-day-of-school outfit that you save for the special day. Even something small can really help a toddler feel excited about what is to come.

Make Sure Your Child is Well-Rested and Well-Fed

On the first day of school, prepare your child for success by removing common problems that might cause a preschool meltdown: being tired or being hungry. If you’ve been on a late bedtime schedule during the summer months, start moving bedtime earlier about a week before school starts. That way, your little one will be able to fall asleep earlier before the first day and get a full night’s rest. Plan for plenty of extra time in the morning for breakfast that will last your child until snack time.

Put On a Brave Face

Leaving kids at preschool for the first time is often harder on parents than it is on the children. Your baby is growing up! But no matter how you feel, it’s important to put on a cheerful and brave face to help your child with the transition. If parents start crying or acting anxious, children often internalize it too. Have a strategy for drop off, including bringing your child in, how long you will linger, and how to give hugs and kisses when it is time to leave.

Listen to Teacher Recommendations

If you do have a child who has a hard time in the first days of preschool, enlist the help of your school’s teachers. Often they are a source of great advice. They have truly seen and experienced it all when it comes to children’s reactions to a new environment and separation. Coming up with a plan together is usually best for helping ease the pain of transition and making the separation anxiety period shorter.

Plan for the Unexpected

As with all things involving toddlers, just when you think you’ve figured it all out, they will change it up on you! A child may settle into a preschool routine only to have another challenge a few months down the road. Other life changes can definitely throw them off. My son, for example, had no trouble with separation in his first several months of preschool, but suddenly began regressing with separation tears mid-year. He went right back to his usual happy self after about a week and a half. Having the right tools to deal with this new challenge, however, made weathering this tough period much easier.

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