Sooner or later every child who isn’t homeschooled has to start school. Many parents are more anxious than the child. There are many books for young children about starting school.

Some preschools allow parents to stay for a while (hours, days, weeks) and some don’t.

For many years, I directed preschools. The first day was short – usually about an hour. A parent was required to accompany the child. (In the few instances where it could not happen, someone close to the child came.)  During that time, the teacher and the class left the room for a few minutes and the parents stayed. The children were told to tell the parents that they (the parents ) would be safe, and that the children would be back soon. Before re-entering the room, the children were told that when they came into the room, they would let the parents know that they (the children) said they would be back and they ARE back.  This role reversal from what is typical helped many children with the transition.

I also advised parents to practice leaving and coming back, even if into another room in the house.

A large part of separation problems starting school is related to the young child’s understanding of object permanence. This is the notion that things are the same when we can see them and when we can’t see them. It’s a big reason that peek-a-boo is an important game for little ones. If you are there and I can’t see you, are you going to be there again when I open my hands and look again?

A related idea is relatives who leave and come back regularly. A parent who goes to work daily. An older sibling who leaves to go to school and comes back. Most parents take these things for granted. Just mentioning the idea starting a few months before school starts will help get the pattern recognized. The little one can be invited to welcome the working parent home, the school child home. Saying he/she goes to work and comes home helps get the idea across.

If the child ever goes somewhere with another parent or relative, welcoming the child back and saying “You went to ___ and you came back! I’m glad you’re home” can help as well.

I will always remember my oldest child’s first day of preschool. The families were invited in for a few minutes, the children started playing, and the parents were asked to leave. My daughter said, “Okay, Mommy, bye, see you later!” and I left.

Some of the other mommies left the room and left the building crying, and some, whose children were not their first, hurried off. I stood in the hallway a few minutes, having a good cry. I peeked in the window and saw her smiling. So I gathered myself together and left, knowing my child was in good hands. Had dinner last night with one of her two married children. How can this be? She only started nursery school yesterday, didn’t she?

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