6 First Day of Preschool Tips to Nix Those Jitters and Get Out the Door on Time

first day of preschool tips cat

The start of a new school year is always exciting but if you’ve got a rising preschooler at home, it’s a particularly momentous occasion. And by momentous, we mean nerve-wracking—a sentiment shared by parents and future preschoolers alike. But it doesn’t have to be! Take a deep breath, friends, and read on for a few first day of preschool tips from clinical psychologist (and mother-of-two) Dr. Bethany Cook so that you and your kid can start the school year with a bang. 

1. Keep Your Feelings In Check

Your kid’s first day of preschool is a major milestone—and a bittersweet one, at that—so it’s natural to have all kinds of feelings about the event. That said, it’s best to maintain a calm demeanor at drop-off. Per the expert, “children read and understand energy and vibes much more than words. If you’re a hot mess internally and feeling [insert negative emotion here] your child will feel this, too, no matter what your words are expressing.” 

But if you really can’t hold back the tears, don’t fret. Dr. Cook says it’s totally OK to shed a tear or two—provided you’ve given your child a heads up that you sometimes cry happy tears, and they have nothing to be worried about. (And by all means, feel free to take a few moments to sit in your car and ugly cry all you want once you’ve watched them walk through the gates.)

2. Tour the School Together

Much of the first day anxiety your kid experiences has to do with a fear of the unknown. Fortunately, school tours are a common option, and a valuable one at that. “The opportunity to see a new learning environment prior to the official start date is a wonderful way to decrease anxiety and allows [kids] to mentally prep and prime their brain for all the ‘new’ that comes with starting school,” says Dr. Cook. While visiting, encourage your child to make observations about the new surroundings (“Is there anything in here that you want to play with?”). And if it’s not possible to tour the school, you can still go check out the building and surrounding area with your kid beforehand, so that it’s not all brand new on the first day.

3. Fine-tune Your Morning Routine

Getting a preschooler ready and out the door on time is no small task, and kids who aren’t used to the morning hustle might find the experience particularly chaotic and stressful. Feeling frazzled is no fun for anyone, which is why it’s a good idea to practice and tweak your morning routine in the days leading up to the start of school. This will allow your child to adjust to the new wake-up time, and help her get used to the idea of proceeding efficiently from task to task first thing in the AM.

Dr. Cook also wants parents to remember that “empowering children with choices and a sense of control increases the likelihood that they will follow through with tasks.” And this kernel of wisdom might just be the difference between smooth sailing and power struggles in the morning. As such, consider asking your kid to make small decisions (“do you want waffles or eggs for breakfast?”) and look for positive ways to encourage participation, like asking for their help packing lunch or picking out school supplies.

4. Read Books About Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is likely to make an appearance on the first day of preschool, even for kids who have been to daycare and had some practice with goodbyes. That said, separation anxiety will feel far less daunting if your kid isn’t completely blindsided by it. Enter: One of these carefully-chosen reads about separation anxiety. “It’s easier for children to talk about someone else’s experiences than their own, often because they don’t even have the words to express how they are feeling…but when you get them to talk about a character, they are processing their own feelings at the same time and it’s a win-win,” the expert tells us. 

5. Send Your Kid Off with a Comfort Item

Your child survived the wave of separation anxiety that hit when it came time to say goodbye, but those feelings may very well resurface throughout the day…and your leg will no longer be available to cling to. That’s when a treasured item from home will come in handy. Whether it’s a small stuffed animal, a T-shirt that smells like home, or a handwritten note from you, be sure your kid has something in his backpack that he can reach for when a little comfort is needed to get through the day.

6. Keep the Goodbye Short but Sweet

Different schools have different protocols for the first day. In some cases, parents might be encouraged to stay and observe for a little bit, while other schools prefer a more business-like approach that involves saying goodbye at the door. Regardless, the goodbye is bound to happen at some point…and the goal is to make it as painless as possible.

This doesn’t mean you should sneak off, though, since this betrays trust and communicates that it’s too hard for you to see them upset. (And if you can’t tolerate their feelings, why should they?) Instead, offer a purposeful goodbye consisting of a big hug and a quick word of encouragement before making yourself scarce. The ideal goodbye routine is warm and affectionate, but brief—namely because lingering only makes it more difficult for your child to separate and for the teacher to take over and do their job.

65 Simple, Delicious School Lunch Ideas That Even the Pickiest Eaters Will Love

purewow author

Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...