When a child begins day care or nursery school, she and her family face the issues of separation and independence. A four-year-old will probably go without much difficulty, but many children under three have a hard time leaving their parents. Parents can make the transition from home a little easier if they talk to their child about what will be happening and patiently reassure her.
You can begin preparing a three or four-year-old just before her new program starts. If she previously went with you to visit the school or center, remind her of what she saw. “Remember the blocks and puzzles you played with there?” If she’s never seen the school, describe the building, the toys, and the activities. Let her know about snacks, lunch, and naps, and reassure her that the school has bathrooms and places for her coat and other belongings. Mention the name of someone she knows who will be in the program with her; if she doesn’t know anyone in the school, tell her there will be many other children her age there. If you know who your child’s teachers will be, tell her their names.
If your child is under two, you won’t be able fully to prepare her for nursery school or day care, because she won’t understand much of what you tell her, although you can still mention whatever you think will interest her. She’ll basically have to experience the new program and the separation firsthand. You and your child’s caretakers will have to be understanding and nurturing as she adjusts in the early weeks of school, and you may have to be flexible about your own schedule so you can take her home early if necessary.
On the first day of school, before you leave home, talk to your three or four-year-old about the separation that’s coming. “After we get to your classroom, I’ll stay for a few minutes and then say good-bye.” Tell her you’ll be coming back and what your driving arrangements will be. If she’ll be in a car pool, tell her who will drive. For the first few days of school you may want to do the driving yourself to help her adjust to her new situation.