Helping Your Child Have a Great First Day of Preschool

Little girl getting ready for school

Credit: Eric Audras / ONOKY / Getty Images

You've done all the research and picked out the perfect preschool for your child. Last night, you made sure your little one got to bed early so he'd wake up ready to go. A backpack stuffed with supplies like crayons, paper, and glue sticks is waiting by the front door. That all-important first-day-of-school outfit is hanging in the closet, and the snack you've made to share with the class is wrapped and ready to go.

The first day of preschool has arrived, and it's time for your child to begin an educational journey that will last nearly two decades. How can you make this monumental first day a great one?

Get Ready to Say Goodbye on the First Day of Preschool

Saying goodbye to mom and dad, particularly if it’s the first time out of the house alone, can be difficult for many preschoolers. For some it’s old hat—they’ve been in daycare for years or just have an incredibly easy-going, go-with-the-flow personality. The key is to make sure you are ready for your child to go to preschool.

If you have any doubt or concerns, your child is going to pick up on it immediately. So, on the big day, keep a bright smile on your face and stay positive. This will set a great tone for your child and make them realize that going to preschool is something they can and should look forward to.

Managing the Tears

First, be prepared for some tears. It’s a scenario played out at preschools everywhere. A child, screaming, holding onto mom or dad’s legs for dear life, refusing to even look at the classroom, much less walk into it alone. Relax. It’s normal. Kids this age thrive on familiarity, so when they are placed in a new situation, it’s common if they panic a little bit.

For some children, they crying doesn’t start until they see other kids doing it. It’s almost like peer pressure—you can almost see the thoughts forming in your little one’s head: “If he’s crying, then there must be something I should be upset about, too.”

In any case, crying children is nothing new to a preschool teacher. Chances are they have a process in place to deal with this very situation. Follow it. In most cases, they’ll encourage you to leave. It will probably be the hardest thing you’ll have to do, but it does work.

Nine out of 10 times, the child stops crying within five minutes of the parent leaving.

You’ll return to the classroom a few hours later to find your child, happy and content with a pile of artwork they can’t wait to show you. If the preschool teacher can’t get your child to calm down, they’ll be in touch. Trust in their experience and know they have your child’s best interest at heart.

Getting Your Child Settled In

If your child has been in the classroom before, draw on that visit. Point out things they may remember, whether it was an orientation or a trip to meet the teacher. Say things like, “Hey, there are those blocks you played with the last time we were here. Remember how you built that great tower? Maybe you could do that again.”

The great thing about the first day of preschool is that there are a whole bunch of people in the room that are going through the same exact thing as you. If you work together as a team, it becomes that much easier and that much more fun.

Point out a child that your preschooler may know from another activity or the neighborhood, or, if she doesn't know anyone, help her to make her first friend. Walk up to the child and her mom and/or dad, point to your child and say, “Hi, this is Isabelle. We really like your Princess shirt. Can we sit here with you?” With a little luck, the other parent will pick up on your idea and introduce her child.

Leaving Is the Hardest Part

There are some definite no-no’s when it comes to saying goodbye that could make separating more difficult. Rule number one? Do not remove your child from the classroom. It makes it that much harder to bring him back in. Your child’s teacher will likely be right by your side offering help and assistance.

It might be tempting, but don’t sneak away if your child becomes distracted by another activity. Your child needs to learn that a school is a place she goes to without mom or dad and saying goodbye is part of the process.

Don’t ask if it’s OK for you to leave and don’t make promises like, “If you stay here at preschool, I’ll buy you some ice cream when I pick you up.” This can reinforce the behavior if she keeps getting what she wants.

A Word From Verywell

If your child does well on the first day, be prepared—you aren’t out of the woods just yet. Some children waltz right into preschool as happy as can be and everyone is content. But then, out of nowhere, a few weeks into the school year, your child may start to cry when you leave. This, too, is very common. The novelty of school has worn off, and your child realizes that she isn’t with you. Keep bringing her to school and dropping her off as per the teacher’s instructions. This too shall pass.

By Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.