There isn't a wrong or a right way for a child to deal with being away from Mom and Dad for the first time. Different kids handle separation anxiety in different ways. The better you know your child's separation style, the more you can help him get through the first day of school.
What he's feeling: I'm sad to leave my mom and dad and be alone in a strange place.
Your response: Try not to look worried -- kids pick up on that. Remind your child how much fun school will be and that you'll be back to get him a little later. You can also reassure him that his teacher is there to help him and make him feel better.
P.S. He'll stop crying soon after you leave. If you want some reassurance of your own, ask someone at the school to call you later to tell you how he's doing.
What she's feeling: Not gonna cry, not gonna cry, not gonna cry. Not even gonna say goodbye because that'll make me cry. Just gonna knead this Play-Doh like crazy.
Your response: Don't panic if she doesn't say goodbye. She's just trying to hold it together. Say goodbye, but don't pressure her to respond. And don't talk about how you'll miss her or how sad you'll be without her -- it'll make her feel bad.
P.S. There's a chance she'll completely lose it when she sees you at the end of the day because she's been holding her feelings in. Make sure you spend some relaxing, calm bonding time together after school.
What he's feeling: I'm cool with school. I'm cool with school. Then, a few days or a few weeks later.... Wait -- where's my mommy?!
Your response: Talk to him about the things that he enjoyed so much at the beginning. Speak with his teacher so she can give him a little extra attention. Also, try to develop a quick goodbye ritual, like a handshake or a wink, that you can do as you leave.
P.S. It's not that your child suddenly decided he doesn't like school. He was just so caught up in all the new experiences that he didn't even realize he'd been away from Mom and Dad. He'll bounce back.
What she's feeling: Let me check out what's going on around here before I jump in and start playing with these kids.
Your response: Give your child time to adjust to her new environment. Then help her get used to the idea of becoming involved by reading books about school together, playing school at home, and talking about the teachers and children.
P.S. Remember that your kid is learning as she's observing. You might want to talk to her teacher about helping her find her comfort zone so she can get more involved.
Being away from home for the first time isn't easy, so send your child off with a discreet little memento to help him handle it better.
It may seem like a lot of fun and games, but your child is actually learning important lessons as he plays.
Story corner: Just by listening and watching her teacher read Go, Dog, Go! your child is becoming familiar with basic literacy concepts, like reading left to right, and what words and letters are. Sometimes, if you walk by the book corner, you'll see preschoolers "reading" by turning the pages and narrating what they see -- a great precursor to real reading.
Puzzle table: Legos, and puzzles, and beads -- oh, my! Children improve their fine motor skills, concentration, and hand-eye coordination when they play these games. Working independently also gives them practice problem solving.
Sand/water table: The tools and toys help teach science concepts like cause and effect. Since there's no right or wrong with these materials, kids feel a sense of success when they play with them.
Science projects: The class hamster is a great tool for kids to observe living things and learn what they need to grow. Other science tools like scales and magnifying glasses allow kids to examine, experiment, predict, question, and problem-solve.
Circle time: Learning to sit patiently, saying good morning, and talking about the day's events is a key part of your child's day. This preschool town meeting gives her important practice for the skills she'll need to master for kindergarten.
Art area: Crayons, markers, safety scissors, glue, and paintbrushes are all great tools for mastering fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. And children love to talk about their artwork -- it gives them practice with language and self-expression.
Block area: What isn't your child learning? She's gaining basic math skills when she counts them, identifies their shapes, and compares their sizes. Building houses, roads, and forts helps her hone spatial skills that will be helpful for geometry and physics later on.
Outdoor play: It looks like chaos, but all that activity helps kids learn what their bodies can do. Children need to move and experiment to master balance, improve coordination, and develop their muscles. Group activities on the playground also teach kids cooperation.
Sources: Debbie LeeKeenan, director, Eliot-Pearson Children's School at Tufts University, in Medford, Massachusetts; Amy Flynn, director, Bank Street Family Center at Bank Street College of Education, in New York City.
Our expert kid, Walter Goldberg, gave us the inside scoop on what scares first-time preschoolers the most. And our expert grown-ups responded.
Your child's teacher runs a classroom full of kids every day. Feel free to use her expert ideas and strategies at home.
Try to minimize any other changes going on in your child's life during the weeks leading up to school. If she's moving from a crib to a bed, giving up naps, or changing caregivers around the same time as she starts preschool, the experience could be more overwhelming than it has to be.
Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the September 2007 issue of Parents magazine.