Just because a child is of "preschool age" doesn't necessarily mean she may be ready to attend a preschool program. "Research shows that two of the biggest skills children need to successfully transition to preschool and kindergarten are self-regulation and basic peer-related social skills like sharing, turn-taking, and refraining from hitting or other hostilities," says Derek Montgomery, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Bradley University. "A kid may know the alphabet and may be able to recite it in three languages, but if he can't sit still during class and share during free play, it's going to be a rough transition despite all that 'academic' training.”

Check out this list of skills you should help your child master in order to make the transition to preschool go smoothly.


"Children need to be able to communicate their basic needs," says Montgomery. These basic needs might include using the bathroom, getting help to open a paint jar, or having a classmate apologize when his feelings have been hurt.

What you can do: Liz Hletko, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Skokie, IL suggests that parents set up situations that might slightly frustrate their children in order to help them practice naming their emotions and expressing themselves when they become upset. Stand by during play dates or when your child plays with an older sibling so that you may prompt him to express his emotions when they come up.

Make Choices

Depending on your child's preschool program, there may be a lot of free play time where your child will have to pick activities and games on his own. "If you tell kids to just find something to do in the playroom, some can become very anxious and not know what to do," explains Hletko.

What you can do: Help your child practice making choices in play and everyday life. For example, you can step back during play time to let him pick out toys that interest him on his own so he may learn how to begin playing with them without your direction.  

Follow a Schedule

Preschool is often broken up into a specific schedule that includes activities like circle time, snack, outdoor play time, etc. Your child should be prepared to follow the schedule and have a fairly easy time transitioning from one task to the next.

What you can do: Start setting regular routines. "Routines at home should mirror routines at school," suggests Montgomery. "Have kids clean up after playing and sit and listen to stories for practice." You can also create a visual lineup of your day detailing your activities with pictures or images. This helps children become aware of all that will happen in the day and they won't be shocked when it's time to change gears.

Some Independence

Sure, your child's going to need you for years to come, but in order to attend preschool he should be able to adjust to being around new, strange adults.

What you can do: Introduce your child to new people and environments from a young age. "I'm a big fan of parents dropping their kids off in the playrooms at gyms," notes Heltko. "It exposes kids to new caregivers as well as choices for play and how to entertain themselves."

Calm Themselves

There will be times when your child gets frustrated in preschool—that's part of the learning experience, but she should be have a basic understanding of how to calm herself down.

What you can do: Teach your child calming techniques like taking what Hletko calls "birthday breaths." "Help kids to control their emotions by taking deep breaths like they're blowing out candles on a cake," suggests Hletko. "When they get anxious you can tell them 'Okay, we need a birthday breath' in order to help them figure out how to calm themselves down."

Budding Social Skills

Your child will be surrounded by kids at preschool, so he needs some basic social skills to make the adjustment easier. Kids should be able to sit quietly for a short period of time, follow simple instructions from the teacher, take turns, have some level of patience, and simply play with other children.

What you can do: Offer your child lots and lots of opportunities to be around other kids. Take treks to the park, the library, a community center or any other place where your child might have to practice taking turns or playing with other children.