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Adjusting to Preschool


Fred Rogers understood there could be difficult times when children need to be away from their loved ones — for childcare or preschool, or even when their parents leave them in the care of a babysitter. He helped families find ways to deal with separation, while also supporting children’s developing sense of trust that parents do come back.

Children feel safe when they are with family or others they know well. So many children have a hard time if and when they start child care. Child care is a new place with new people. It’s not until the age of three that children begin to get a confident sense of their own separateness from everyone else. It’s not surprising then that during the first three years, separation from parents (the people whom a child feel closest to and even feels part of) can be very upsetting for a child.

Creating Transition Routines

Some families use rituals and routines to help smooth transitions.  Some have special ways of saying goodbye with certain “secret” family words, gestures or hugs. Many parents create a routine of taking their children into the child care setting themselves, helping them take off their coats, getting them settled and giving them a hug and a reminder that they’ll be back later in the day.  When “goodbye” gets to mean “I’ll be back later,” it becomes a much better word.

Think about what’s helped your child handle other comings and goings in the past. Even though each situation is different, the transition into child care or preschool is much like other separations your child has already experienced, like going to bed at night or having a babysitter or playing at a friend’s home.  This new separation is also much like those that will happen in the future, going off to college and leaving home much later in life. The caring way you help your child adjust to child care or preschool is strengthening the foundation for the transitions your child will be dealing with in all the years to come.

Letting Go Is Hard for Parents, Too

For many parents, child care is a necessity, but even those who put their very young children in someone else’s care by choice have many mixed feelings.  Most parents feel some guilt or are upset by the thought that they’re missing out on the joy of helping their children learn new things and watching them make the everyday discoveries that are so delightful in childhood.

There can be many reasons why it’s hard for parents to let go.  Sometimes it’s even difficult to know who’s having the greater problem saying goodbye, the child or the parent. If you talk about your concerns with your child’s caregiver, you may find out that many other parents have those same feelings. Knowing that our feelings are natural and normal helps all of us feel more confident, which in turn helps our children manage better, too.

Helpful Hints

Before the First Day of Child Care or Preschool:

  • Visit the child-care center or preschool with your child before his or her care starts, and stay there for a while with your child. Your child can feel more secure with you nearby and, therefore, more willing to get to know the people there
  • Let your child see that you’re friendly with the caregiver. If you can spend time talking and smiling with each other, then your child sees that you like and trust each other.
  • Show your child all the rooms that the class uses — especially the bathroom and the kitchen. Let your child see that in many ways, the child-care setting is similar to home. Children feel more comfortable when they see that there are familiar home-like things in a new place.

When Child Care or Preschool Starts:

  • Plan to stay with your child a while for the first few days or more. It may help if you gradually stay a bit less each day. Of course, some children need a longer time before they feel comfortable in a new place.
  • Some children like to bring along a stuffed animal, favorite toy, or their beloved “blankey.” It’s comforting to have something that’s a part of home there, even if that toy has to stay in a “cubby.”
  • While it may seem easier at first just to slip out the door with no goodbye, that may make separation more difficult. Your child will likely have a harder time trusting when you will go and when you will come back.
  • Remember that there are certain times that your child may need extra help with adjusting – after a weekend at home, holiday vacations or an illness, when there’s a substitute teacher, or when the group moves on to another room – even if it’s in the same center.
  • At the end of the day, some children need a little more time to stop playing. It helps if you can stay a little and show an interest in what your child is doing.

Produced by: Support from:
The Fred Rogers Company logo   Corporation for Public Broadcasting logo

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