Some preschoolers who have only been exposed to in-home caregivers (parents, nannies, and sitters) have difficulty making the adjustment to organized day care. First of all, it means separating from you or other day-to-day caregivers for several hours. But it also means getting used to other adults feeding her, helping her in the bathroom, and changing her if she has an accident.
So before you place your child in preschool or day care for the first time, ask yourself these questions:
Don't start your child in preschool just before or just after the arrival of a baby brother or sister. Your child will feel replaced and rejected if you push her out of the home just as the new baby arrives.
A transition object (a blanket, a favorite stuffed animal, a photograph of you, and so on) can ease your preschooler's adjustment and help her feel more secure. She probably doesn't even need to hold it all the time. Try stowing it away in her cubby where it can be retrieved whenever necessary.
- Can she bear to be without you for more than a minute?
- Is she terribly shy?
- Can she talk freely to other adults or does she still depend on you to translate for her?
- Does she show interest in other children and what they are doing (in the park, in the library, and so on)?
The answers to these questions will help you judge if your child is ready for this radically new experience.
If preschool is a brand-new experience for your child—the first extended care that she's ever had outside of the home—you will probably need to ease her into it.
- Arrange to stay with your child for the first few sessions. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to stay all that time, but have the time available in case your child needs you to stay.
- Each day, let your child know in advance how long you intend to stay and then stick to it.
- During the sessions that you attend with your child, avoid being an overly active participant. Feel free to get out a toy or two to help your child get settled, but for the most part pretend you're not there. (Remember, eventually, you won't be.)
- Don't let your child avoid other children (and other adults) by taking refuge in your company. If your child keeps coming to you for help, steer her toward the teacher. Play dumb. Say things like, "I'm not sure where the bathroom is. Why don't you ask Therese?"
- At first, avoid making a big push to have your child "make friends" with other children (a concept totally foreign to your rookie preschooler). Focus on getting her to form a bond with the day-care provider or teacher first. After your child gets used to the same adult warmly welcoming her every day and helping her get settled, then she can move on to getting to know the other children.
- After a few days in preschool with your child, remind her that parents stay only with the new kids in the group and that she's no longer a new kid. Then turn her over directly to the adult in charge. That way, your child will know that an adult will be taking care of her every minute.