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Preschool Success!

It's hard being Batman's mommy. In particular, it's hard to get Batman (a.k.a. my 3-year-old son, Jack) to take off his costume every morning for preschool, which has a rule against them. "But I have to fight crime!" he says, shaking his head adamantly as I try to extract him from his getup for a T-shirt and jeans.

Fortunately, 3-year-olds want to be big kids who follow the rules. With the help of Jack's teacher, I explain that nobody else gets to wear their costumes to school. And besides, sometimes his bat mask scares the younger kids.

It works. Jack agrees to the T-shirt and jeans because "those are the rules." He's pleased with himself that he doesn't scare the little kids. He also knows that the first thing he can do upon arriving home each afternoon is don his bat suit and resume the battle against crime.

For 3-year-olds, and their parents, preschool is often the first foray into the wider world. It comes with new rules and expectations, which can make the experience a challenge for everyone. Luckily, many have gone before you and lived to send their kids to kindergarten, and their wisdom can help. Ways moms handle common preschool pitfalls:

Separation Anxiety

You try to drop off your daughter at school, and she shrieks as though you're leaving her and never coming back. The teacher tells you that she'll be just fine after you go, but the thought of leaving her breaks your heart. You end up loitering the halls for half the school day.

"Say your goodbyes and leave. She'll be fine." It's the hardest sentence a parent ever has to hear. But moms and experts promise it's true. "Every time you leave your child at school and come back at the end of the day as you promised, you're helping to build her security and confidence," says Trisha Czajak, a preschool teacher in Cohasset, Massachusetts. She's been through this scenario hundreds of times with parents of wailing students, and she admits to feeling slightly irritated with moms and dads who just couldn't make a clean break.

But then her own daughter became a preschooler, and she found herself on the other side of the coin. "Maggie started crying and clinging to me when I dropped her off, and even though I knew she'd be just fine, I was almost paralyzed with emotion. I suddenly realized what all my parents had been going through."

If your child has a hard time separating from you, be loving but firm. Don't sneak out when she's not looking; that will only make her cling harder the next morning. Instead, suggests Czajak, "Tell her you're going now and that you'll be back that afternoon. You might create a goodbye ritual, such as a kiss on each cheek and then a hug. Then go."

Younger kids are often comforted by a transitional object, such as a special bear or blanket from home, though some schools have rules about this. My son's preschool asks for family photos, which are posted where the kids can see them. Robin Baroway of Huntington Beach, California, used to take off the necklace she was wearing that morning and give it to her daughter at dropoff time. "Holding on to something of mine helped reassure her that I'd be back for her in the afternoon," she says. (Stick to inexpensive jewelry!)

Contributing editor Julie Tilsner is the author of Attack of the Toddlers! (McGraw-Hill/Contemporary)