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Starting a preschool

Transitioning to a New Preschool

by Jen Klein
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Starting preschool is an exciting time for both you and your child. It's a big step, and for some kids the transition is seamless. But for others, it's a little bumpier. Since you never quite know how your child will respond to a transition, it's best to be prepared for anything.

In your excitement for the wonderful new experiences your child will have (and the increase in free time for you), it can be easy to minimize or dismiss anxiety your child may be feeling about the change. Remember that your child's foundation of experience on which to base expectations is dramatically smaller than yours. Preschool is a big unknown to your child, and he or she may act out or regress because of insecurity about facing the unknown. You know that it's all going to be okay and will, in fact, be a lot of fun—but your child doesn't.

Preparing for the First Day of School

Preschools deal with first-time students all the time, and they likely have suggestions to help make the transition as smooth as possible for you and your child. They may even have a transitional school schedule or introductory program that begins a few days before the start of the school year, and is designed to ease children into the idea of attending school every day.

Start gearing up for the big change by making the transition at home, over several weeks if possible. Talk about preschool with your child (but not to the exclusion of other topics). Read books about starting school, and offer your own happy memories from preschool—fuzzy as they may be!

Next, be sure that your child is getting enough sleep. Determine how much sleep your child typically needs, and calculate the timing of the evening bedtime routine to allow for sufficient sleep based on the necessary morning rise time. Make sure your child's morning routine, including dressing and eating, meshes with what time you will need to leave the house for preschool. Practice the routine of getting out the door at the appropriate time each day. Develop a firm but flexible morning ritual that works for you and your child.

Acknowledge Your Child's Feelings About Preschool

If your child starts to express anxiety or insecurity about starting school, don't dismiss it. Try not to say things like, "Don't be silly, it's going to be fine," even if that's what you're feeling. Using age-appropriate language, acknowledge that your child is nervous, and ask what, specifically, he or she is anxious about. Is it about making friends? Is it about being separated from a favorite toy? Is it being separated from you? Is it concern about whether there's even a toilet there for him or her to use?

For every concern, even those that seem small or most obvious to us, there is an answer; your child just doesn't know it yet. For example, if he's worried about friends, it could be that he thinks a new school means he can't be friends with his old playground buddies, or he's concerned that it will be hard to make new friends. You can facilitate friendships with new classmates and help him maintain old friendships by setting up playdates and otherwise encouraging relationships on both sides of the transition.

If your child has a favorite toy, the preschool may allow her to bring it and keep it in her cubby for naptime or show-and-tell. If your child is concerned about being away from you, you can reassure him or her that the separation is only temporary, and that you will always, always, always come back. If your child's concern is logistical, you can ask the preschool for a tour prior to the start of school to show your child exactly where that toilet or other facilities are located. Whatever the concern of your child, you likely can address it.

Be Prepared for Regressions Prior to Starting Preschool

Occasionally a child will present a full-on regression in the face of a transition. The logic, to a child, is simple and straightforward: if he or she cannot display "big kid" behavior, they don't have to go to the "big kid" school. For example, even if your child has been comfortably potty trained for months, for example, transition stress may prompt your child to have accident after icky accident.

Again, a certain level of reassurance is in order, and you may have to return to the rituals you used when you were initially potty training. Gentle but firm reminders that using the potty appropriately has to happen no matter where he attends school (or not), and reassurance that he is still your child and you will always be there for him, will help him through this transition.

If continued regressions become an issue, a discussion with your child's pediatrician may be in order. In extreme cases, a little short-term talk therapy may be appropriate, but more often than not, the issue can be addressed with reassurance and sticker charts for rewarding good behavior.

Ask for Help with the Transition to Preschool

During the transition, ask for help from the preschool staff, family, and friends. The staff of the preschool in particular wants your child to succeed and enjoy the preschool experience. They can offer ideas and reassurance that what your child is experiencing is not unusual or unexpected. Some suggestions may be ones you have heard before, and others may be new. Remember that they truly have seen it all! And remember that you both want your child to be happy and thrive in this new school environment.

Preschool is a wonderful, exciting first structured learning experience for a child. Change, however, can be a challenge at any age. Acknowledging the uncertainty of change, and working with your child and the preschool to affect a positive transition, can help ensure a terrific preschool experience for all of you.  
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Meet Our Expert
Jen Klein
Writer, "The Mommy Files" and SheKnows.com
Jen Klein is a mother of two sons, ages 14 and 10, and a daughter, 6. She is a contributor to SheKnows.com, the author of SheKnows.com Presents The Mommy Files: Secrets Every New Mom Should Know (that no one else will tell you), and a technical writer. In addition to writing and hanging out with her family, Ms. Klein, a graduate of Wellesley College with a degree in art history and studio art, enjoys printmaking, cooking, gardening, sitting on the beach in the sun, and volunteering in her community. She currenly lives near Boston.
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