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Is My Child Ready for Preschool?

Experts agree that preschool helps kids socialize, begin to share, and interact with other children and adults.

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Socialization is the best indicator of whether a child is ready for preschool, Hoffman tells WebMD. "If he or she really loves to be with other kids, has the capacity to socialize and separate from Mom, your child may well be ready."

The Pitfalls of Preschool

Readiness is key because starting preschool too soon can be stressful for a child. "If your child feels anxious about being away from you, the benefit is not going to outweigh any acute symptoms," says Hoffman. "If your child is uncomfortable separating from you at age two or three, you should not force the child to attend preschool."

Saltz agrees. "If your child is not ready for separation, preschool will backfire," she says. "As parents, you know when your child has a lot of separation anxiety because you can't leave, and when you do, your child gets distressed and stays distressed." In this case, Saltz says, "Preschool is going to be very stressful."

Another telltale sign that your child isn't ready is if he or she isn't toilet-trained, Saltz says. "In my opinion, it creates anxiety for kids, because other kids aren't in diapers -- and teachers don't want to change diapers."

Children who are uncomfortable with high levels of stimulation may also be a little put-off by preschool, Saltz says. "If you have an easily overwhelmed kid who is uncomfortable with music, laughing, and transitioning from one thing to the next, you just might want to put them in some classes -- and not have it be an all-day experience like preschool."

If your child isn't ready for preschool as soon as you'd like, don't let it worry you, Saltz says. "It's not so crucial. It can be a nice thing and a fun thing, but it's not like if a kid doesn't go to preschool, he or she won't be able to socialize, read, or write."

Getting Prepped for Preschool

When you think it's time for your child to try preschool, experts recommend doing plenty of research to find the best atmosphere to provide the benefits. "Talk to the director and the teachers, and see what the preschool's goals are for children that age," says Hays. "Look at the classroom and facilities, and briefly observe how comfortable the children seem to be."

Get your child ready for preschool by building anticipation instead of anxiety, Hays says. "Introduce them to the idea of preschool because when kids know what to expect, they feel more secure," she says.

Specifically, in the year leading up to preschool, visit the classroom. "It's best if the child can see the classroom, meet the teacher -- and if you can, seek out children who will be in the classroom," she says.

"I advise parents to talk to their kids about what will happen in preschool, what they will do, how much fun it will be, and how many friends they will make," she says. "It's about getting your child to have a positive attitude about preschool."

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