Gradual, Calm, and Kind: Six Helpful Hints for Parents Navigating the First Days and Weeks of Preschool

Prepared by:

Lisa Hoffman, LCSW
Child Development Specialist
UMCNS Nursery School Consultant


We take a “gradual, calm, and kind” approach to the first few days and weeks of nursery school.

We want your child’s first experience of school to be positive—one that helps him to feel “big and confident” on the inside. We have discovered that when parents are prepared for the first few days and weeks of nursery school, they prepare their children better than anyone else.

We expect you to play a vital role in your child’s becoming a big school-boy or school-girl. One cornerstone of our nursery school philosophy is the emphasis we place on the parent-child connection. At no other time in your child’s education will your relationship, your availability, and your involvement in his or her education be as significant as it is now.

With you and your child in mind, we offer some helpful tips on what you can do to prepare your child for—and what we do to help support—a gradual, calm, and kind introduction to nursery school.


Introduce the Idea of Going to School

Shortly before school begins, have a conversation with your child about how you’ve noticed how much he or she likes doing things big boys or big girls do for themselves. Something as simple as he likes to pour themilk in his own cereal can be used as an example, or “Just the other day, I saw you put your own shoes on! You didn’t do that when you were a baby!” Tell him you think he will like having his own school, her own teachers, and school friends and school toys. Tell him that you found a school you think he is going to like, and that you are taking her to see it on Saturday.


Hint #2: Attend the Parent Orientation

You will receive plenty of advice and support for preparing your child for school on Thursday evening. Don’t miss this important event! We guarantee your attendance will help you get your child off on the right foot.


Hint #3: Attend the Parent- Child Orientation

On Saturday, you will bring your child to school to meet his teachers, and see his classroom. This experience is best kept to just mother, father, and child. Mother’s approval of the teachers, the classroom, its routines and materials is a significant factor in your child’s comfort at school. Your undivided attention to your child as he sees his classroom and meets his teachers will go a long way toward helping her to manage on the first few days. These are the important steps:

  • Introduce your child to his teachers.
  • Walk around the room with your child. Notice the different centers, and comment on the toys and materials you think she is going to like.
  • Tell him his teachers are going to tell you both about some of the things he will be doing.
  • Go over the experience step by step with your child again before school starts, saying that on Monday (or Tuesday) he is going to get to try it himself. You say very concrete things about what you experienced like, “I noticed Mrs. Waters has brown hair” or ask him, “What do you remember?”and respond by saying, “I’m going to be thinking about you when you do that on Monday!”

Please bring in a photo of you that your child can keep in the classroom for the school year.


Hint #4: The First Day, First Week. Keeping it Gradual, Calm and Kind

We will help you and your child to have a “good-bye” that is not too abrupt or too prolonged. We encourage you to be the one to bring your child to school and pick up the first few days if possible. Here are the most important things to do.

  • Walk into the classroom with your child.
  • Accompany your child to the coat area. You may go the blocks or other activity area he wishes to see something specific in the room right away. Perhaps you might help your child recognize his name in the classroom to help him indicate that he “has come to school” or simply stand by your child while the teachers greet him.


Hint #5: Responding to Separation Distress

Apprehension during the first few days of school is normal. When we ask young children to do something new and on their own for the first time, they are often not sure they really want to or why we want them to! We expect children to have “big feelings” about saying good-bye, and functioning independently. One of the ways we support them in this most important “growing up job” is to help them keep you in mind when you are not there. Your child will gradually feel bigger and more capable as the routine is mastered and separation feelings are responded to with loving care and understanding.

When we notice separation distress, we will help your child to cope. We have found that the kindest (and most effective) way to cope is to get him imagining your comforting presence. We will tell your son or daughter when we know he is thinking about you, or she is missing you, or iswanting you nearby. He or she will be encouraged to look at your picture as the teachers say, “Mommy is thinking about you, too” or “all new school boys and girls miss their moms, you will feel better once you get used to school.” This direct attention to their feelings usually helps.

If your child’s distress escalates, we will sit with him or her and write a note to you. We will say and write something like, “Mommy will want to know how much you are missing her, let’s write her a note right now and tell her!” You may collect several notes over the course of the first few weeks of school. Accept them for the treasures they are. You may want to write a note of your own that your child may keep in his pocket. He can take it out, and the teacher will read it. Your note might say something like. “Mommy wants you to feel good and happy in school. I’m thinking about you, and we will see each other after snack.” These notes are just one of the several ways we keep you in mind. Parents and children are both reassured when they know that the teachers are letting parents know what their child is experiencing.

If there are unusual circumstances where distress is not alleviated by these activities, we will call you. Some children are helped to feel more independent by having their parents attend class. If the teachers think your child will benefit by having you in class, they will invite you. You will be guided as to how to help alleviate separation distress by attending class.

Separation distress is a signal that your child loves you and needs you. We expect young children to miss their mothers or primary caretakers, especially. “Missing-You” feelings always surface when we ask a young child to do something new and unfamiliar on his ownHe wants you nearby because he is developing his confidence to navigate the world on his own. Be assured your child will be comforted, helped to understand and master his feelings, and communicate about them.

Separation distress is not always as obvious as a crying child clinging to your leg. Sometimes, a child just can’t let himself go to next step in the routine—going from hanging up his coat to circle, or from the block center to circle, or from the classroom to the music room or gym, without missing you or without wondering if he needs you or your permission to take the next step. We are trained to recognize the subtle signs and we respond to them of separation distress immediately and will let you know. Again, the meaning of separation distress is simply that your child loves and needs you.


Hint #6: Communicate with your child’s teacher

There are many ordinary life events which place stress on a nursery school child causing separation distress to flare up. When teachers know about these circumstances, they will take special care to respond to your child’s feelings. Please communicate with your child’s teacher about new babies, returning to work, changes in childcare, or stressors in your family life. Changes to your child’s routine, a prolonged absence from you, hospitalizations and medical procedures: these experiences are felt acutely by young children. Your child is a genuine barometer for your feelings. If you are stressed, your child is too. We can help when we know what is happening.