Teacher offers tips for calming jittery preschoolers and parents

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Children aren't the only ones who anxiously await the first day of preschool. For every 3-year-old clutching a "Pocahontas" lunchbox, there is at least one parent sweating a little under the business suit or blue jeans, wondering if this is a good thing.

Even parents who have been this route before — the ones who can find the water fountain and the bathrooms, who know where to sign in and how to fill a cubby — can feel a little queasy when meeting a new preschool teacher.

How do you let the teacher know that your little one is a teensy bit nervous around 30 strangers? Will she or he figure out that your darling won't eat the crusts on sandwiches? Do they realize the child is surgically attached to that filthy rag otherwise known as a "blankie"?

Consider these tips from a preschool teacher, Jan Morante.

*Say goodbye to your child and leave.

Prolonging the morning separation scene can be agony. A kiss and a hug and off you go with a smile. If your child does the glue number and sticks to your legs, ask the teacher to gently pry your child off.

"The child recovers in two or three minutes," says Morante. "The parent is usually a mess for hours, so if you are still concerned once you get home or to work, give [the] teacher a call. Too many parents turn this into a big ordeal, and it doesn't have to be."

*Dressing for success in preschool means leaving the fancy outfits and patent-leather shoes at home.

Put girls and boys in shorts or jeans and save the good clothes for special occasions.

"We've had parents ask us not to let their children get dirty because they're going out somewhere later in the day," says Morante. "That's ridiculous. Bring a change of clothes and let your kid be a kid."

*"Try not to believe everything your child says about us, and we promise we won't believe everything they say about you!" Morante cautions.

Just as kids can come into school full of information on Mommy and Daddy's fight last night and how Daddy slept on the couch, kids can also go home with stories about school that may not be entirely accurate.

Parents' dialogues with teachers should be more extensive than the "hi" and "`bye" routine at the start and end of every day if they want to know what really goes on, advises Morante.

*Don't sneak out the door.

This may sound confusing, but it really doesn't contradict the first rule.

"This can really devastate a child," she says. "Sometimes parents don't want a scene, so they run out the door when their child isn't looking and it takes the child all morning to recover. Tell your child you are leaving and remind them what time you will pick them up."

*Allow a few extra minutes to give your child a good breakfast.

Some preschools will allow children to bring in breakfast, but they don't want your child to start the day with soda and Twinkies.

*If your child is sick, keep him at home.

"It's not fair to us — or to them," says Morante. "Some parents will dose their children with Tylenol in the parking lot and shove them in the door. When the medicine wears off and we see the child is sick, we're going to call [and make you come and pick him or her up]," she warns.

*Getting used to preschool takes time.

"The more consistent the time in school, the easier it will be for your child to adjust," Morante says.

That's not to say that parents must leave their children in preschool for five full days to get them used to the routine. But she believes a five-day, half-time schedule is easier on a child than two full days every week, because the child will learn the routines quicker and make friends faster.

*Get involved.

Volunteer to go along on a field trip. Or, if you can't leave work, send along something for the trip, like snacks or drinks.

If you can't find the time to work in the classroom, ask the teacher if there are projects you can do at home.

*Let your child be a child; engineering can come later.

"I've had parents ask why their children aren't bringing home work sheets," says Morante. "I tell them their children are learning to be independent, to think for themselves, to take responsibility and to learn some social skills. Those are the basics of preschool."

*Remember, you know your child best.

If you believe a particular teacher isn't good for your child, follow through. Morante suggests you talk to the teacher and to the supervisor and, if need be, change teachers.

*Praise teachers who do a good job.

If you know the teacher is a good fit with your child, working hard to help him or her learn basic skills, let the teacher know with a word, a letter or a smile.