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Helping Your Child Adjust to Preschool

Medically reviewed by: Kathryn Hoffses, PhD

Preschool lets kids be with peers and learn important life lessons such as how to share, take turns, and follow rules. It also can prepare them academically for kindergarten and beyond.

But going to preschool does come with some emotions, for both the parent and the child. For a child, being in a new preschool environment with unfamiliar teachers and kids can cause both anxiety and excitement. Parents might have mixed emotions about whether their child is ready for preschool.

Getting comfortable with your decision and the preschool setting can help you and your child feel ready.

Easing Your Child's Fears

Talk with your child about preschool before it starts. In the months and weeks before school, gradually introduce your child to activities that often take place in a classroom. A child who's used to scribbling with paper and crayons at home, for example, will find it comforting to know that there are crayons and paper in the preschool classroom.

Visit the preschool classroom with your child a few times before school starts. This can ease concerns about this new space. Visiting is also a chance to meet the teacher and ask questions about routines and common activities. You can introduce some of those routines and activities at home so they become familiar.

While you're in the classroom, let your child explore and observe the class and choose whether to interact with other kids. This helps familiarize kids with the room and lets them explore the new toys they'll play with when school starts.

You can also ask how the teacher handles the first tear-filled days. How will the first week be structured to make the change easier for your child?

As you support this important step your child is taking, don't focus too much on the changes it brings. This could make any anxiety worse, and even young kids can pick up on their parents' nonverbal cues. So while you might feel a little guilty or worried about leaving your child at preschool, be enthusiastic and talk about how fun it will be. 

The more calm and assured you are about your choice to send your child to preschool, the more confident your child will be.

The First Day

When you enter the classroom on the first day, calmly reintroduce the teacher to your child, then step back to allow the teacher to begin forming a relationship with your child. This will show your child that they will be happy and safe in the teacher's care.

If your child clings to you or refuses to participate in the class, don't get upset — this may only upset your child more. Always give a loving, consistent goodbye to your child, but once you do, leave promptly. Don't sneak out. As tempting as it may be, leaving without saying goodbye can make kids feel abandoned. A long farewell, on the other hand, might only reinforce a child's sense that preschool is a bad place.

A consistent and predictable farewell routine can make leaving easier. Some parents wave from outside the classroom window or make a funny goodbye face, while others have a special handshake before parting. Transitional objects — a family picture, a special doll, or a favorite blanket — can also help comfort a child. Also, keep in mind that most kids do well after their parents leave.

Whether your child is eager or reluctant to go to preschool, a school staff member should be ready to help with the transfer when you arrive. Some kids may jump right in with their classmates, while others might want a private cuddle from a caregiver before joining the group.

Many preschools begin with a daily ritual, such as circle time (when teachers and children talk about what they did the day before and the activities that are ahead for the day). Preschoolers tend to respond to this kind of predictability, and following a routine will help ease the move from home to school.

Medically reviewed by: Kathryn Hoffses, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2022