sealPurdue News

September 1998

Letting your child go -- to preschool, that is

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Sometimes it's difficult to decide who suffers the greater trauma when preschool starts -- the child or the parents.

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But a Purdue University expert says there are things mom or dad can do to make the adjustment easier for everyone involved

"Parents need to understand that it's normal for them to have some anxiety about putting a young one into preschool, particularly if the child has never been away from home before," says Karen Diamond, associate professor of child development and family studies and director of Purdue's Child Development Laboratory preschool. "Leaving them at school gets easier with time."

Diamond says doing some thorough research before choosing a preschool can go a long way in making all parties involved more comfortable.

"Once you've found a preschool that meets your requirements in terms of curriculum, I recommend visiting a classroom when children are present before registering your own child," Diamond explains. "Granted, all preschools are going to have some rules about visitors, but I wouldn't enroll my child in any school that didn't allow the parent of a potential student to sit in on a class session."

She also suggests talking to the parents of current or former students.

After the parents have settled on a preschool, they should start talking with the child about it well ahead of the first day of class. An advance visit to meet the teacher and see the classroom is always a good idea.

"Children need to be told what is happening and that their parents are confident that preschool is a good thing," Diamond says. "When children sense that their parents are comfortable, it puts them more at ease as well. Children will also want to know why they are going to this new place. Tell them that you think it will be a good opportunity to play with a variety of toys they don't have access to at home; it will also be a chance to make new friends and be a 'big kid.'"

Even if a child is enthusiastic about preschool, he or she may still experience some fear when actually left with the teacher the first week. Diamond recommends that parents be straightforward with their children when it comes time to drop them off.

"Hovering or sneaking out of the room when the child is distracted or engaged in another activity may actually increase distress," Diamond says. "Let your son or daughter know that you are leaving and when you'll be back. It's also a good idea to allow a little extra time to spend a few minutes in the classroom with the child during the first week. Both parents and children feel better about the transition when it's gradual."

Generally, young children will become more confident in their new environment and settle into a routine as time passes, but Diamond cautions that there could be relapses into anxiety over the parent leaving.

"Sometimes halfway through the year a child who has been enjoying preschool will stand at the window and cry for mommy," Diamond explains. "When that happens, it's just like when an adult has a bad day. Children go through phases, too."

When your child is having a bad day, a follow-up call to the preschool can be reassuring.

"Don't be afraid to call the teacher and ask how things are going," Diamond says. "You'll probably find out that your child stopped crying the minute you pulled away."

And Diamond says that just because the transition was difficult with one child, it doesn't mean parents will have the same difficulties with a younger sibling.

"Preschool is a new experience with each child," Diamond says. "Both parents and youngsters need time to adapt, establish a routine, and adjust to this new and exciting experience."

Source: Karen Diamond, (765) 494-0942; e-mail,

Writer: Sharon Bowker, (765) 494-2077; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Children at a Purdue University preschool in West Lafayette are introduced to the computer. Parents can help ease a child's anxiety about going to preschool by emphasizing all the new friends and experiences he or she will have there. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
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