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Easing Into Preschool

  • What to Expect and How to React

    Expect Backsliding

    Crying jags, potty accidents, and nighttime wake-up calls  -- don't be surprised if your preschooler suddenly starts behaving like a toddler again. It's completely normal and usually lasts for only a few weeks. "There's no progression without some regression," says Carla Horwitz, director of the Calvin Hill Day Care Center and Kindergarten at Yale University.

    Regression doesn't necessarily mean that your child isn't ready for school. Pulling him out will just send the message that he's failed. Instead, it's typically a sign that he's stressed out and needs support. "Acknowledge that he's having a hard time," Horwitz says. "But tell him, 'I believe you can do this, and I'm going to help you.'"

    You may want to spend a little time at school, helping with a project or reading a story during circle time. If you can't, at least try to connect with his teacher at dropoff or pickup time  -- say hi and tell her what's going on with your child and family. Just being there and chatting a bit shows your child that you're comfortable at his school and that you want to help him master the situation.

    Also, have some extra one-on-one time together at home, even if it's 10 or 15 minutes. Let him decide what you're going to do  -- that may give him the security and sense of control he needs.

    Put on a Happy Face

    When Stacia Denkmann's son, Miles, started preschool at 3, he'd complain before they left the house. "He'd sob and say, 'I only want to be with you.' Knowing that he was so unhappy was heartbreaking," says the Carmel, Indiana, mom.

    To help her son cope, she asked his teachers at the end of each day what the kids had done and whom Miles had played with. "Then I'd ask him to tell me about the great art project or what he and his friends did when they played outside. I kept it upbeat and reminded him that he'd had a lot of fun," she says.

    Good feelings are contagious. If you're genuinely enthusiastic about your child's preschool, odds are she'll be happier about it too. It worked for Miles. After a few weeks, his complaints had stopped.

    Ideally, your child's school is run by people who genuinely care about her happiness and are willing to work with you to solve whatever problems she may have. Let the teacher know if you have concerns about your little one's transition to preschool, and ask for suggestions to help make this big change more enjoyable. The approach you take now will help to prepare her for the many changes that lie in the years ahead.