Even if you and your child are excited about the change, there are a few things you can do to help your child get over those first day jitters.
Visit the facility or school as many times as possible before you begin. You and your child both will be more comfortable if the surroundings, sounds and staff are familiar to you. Most of the anxiety surrounding a change like this stems from your body’s response to figuring out the situation. We are designed to identify dangers, food sources and shelter when we enter a new place. In today’s environment, we may not realize what our instincts are telling us. Keep in mind that this instinct is strong with a child and they may cling to you for support.
Once you establish a familiarity with the surroundings, start to talk about the schedule with your child. Follow the schedule as closely as possible at home. Make a point of reminding your child what is coming next and at one time. Use visual aids if your child has trouble transitioning between activities. Keeping feeding and nap times the same as school will keep your child from getting too tired to deal with new things, or too hungry to care about what the class is doing.
Talk about school in a positive light, but don’t over-do it and inflate expectations. The last thing you want is for your child to expect a party and then they have to sit quietly and work. Prepare them for quiet times by reading books in a designated “quiet zone” in their room. Whisper when you work on puzzles and while you draw. Children will get into the habit of mimicking your behavior without you ever having to explain the rules.
Don’t use school as a threat. Many parents make the mistake of saying things like, “You won’t be allowed to do that at school!” or “You’d better not do that at school and embarrass me!” These statements put unrealistic expectations on a child. You cannot expect that they won’t break the rules or that they won’t test the boundaries of the teachers.
At the preschool age, determining adults’ boundaries is a developmental step that you actually need to help them get through. When all adults in charge of the child are on the same page, this phase of “testing” will not last long. If the adults are not together on their understanding of how things should go, then the stage may never end.
Finally, boost your child’s self-esteem as much as possible. Teaching them to make the adults in their life proud is a skill that will serve them well and help them to succeed. Give them new chores now that they are “so big”. Simple things, like hanging their clothes on their own baby hangers and putting away their toys before the bedtime story can help them feel important. All of these things will help your child transition more easily into a new day care or preschool class.