Starting to attend a child care institution is a major milestone for any child. Change, any change, is stressful for children who need the comfort and feeling of safety that is provided by routine and familiar surroundings. To be separated from loving parents and the companionship of siblings is indeed difficult, and not just for the child, but for the parent too! There are actions you can take which will ease the anxiety and minimise the stress which will make sure the first few days are happy and tear-free.
Let's start with you, the parent or care-giver. Understand that your child can read your emotions much better than you realise, and if you are apprehensive or nervous about how your child will adjust to the school program, your child will pick up on that even before you are conscious of thinking about it. So you should really start preparing your child very much in advance. Even as much as a year before induction, mention it in positive and upbeat tones. Do not express any doubts, at least not to your child, and at any cost avoid apologising to him about having to be separated for what, after all is only a few hours.
Unfamiliarity is the Big Enemy here and you can help disarm this enemy by taking your child to the pre-school before the official start day. Take her by the same bus route that she will be taking on the first day, walk her up the same path and open the same door. Introduce her to the adults she will be in the care of and spend some time talking to them in friendly tones. Your child will read your confidence and comfort with that other person and at least some of that will be transferred to your child. Show her the toilets, the playground and the pantry.
Make the transition slowly by leaving your child for just an hour the first day and perhaps an hour and a half the second day. This will make it easier for her and you will probably discover that after a few days, she will wonder why she is leaving her friends early when they are obviously going to stick around for a while longer and have fun.
Another way to ease your child in gradually is to stay in the class for half and hour or so, so that she can see you haven't abandoned her. One thing to be wary of here, is that when it is time for you to leave, you must say "goodbye" and promise you will be back very soon. You can phrase it in such a way that you are going to do some errands, or buy her favourite food for lunch, but you must never sneak away while she is distracted. Doing this could really traumatize your child and erode the trust you have so carefully built up over the years.
Another effective strategy that work for many children is to give your child a familiar and comforting object such as a "blankie", favourite pillow, teddy bear or a soft toy she is attached to. These objects can anchor her to her familiar surroundings and reassure her that her world hasn't changed totally at least.
Although the "first day" will likely be memorable, to say the least, for the child (I still remember all my "first days"), if you take things gradually and put a positive spin on it, you can minimise the anxiety and quite possibly avoid all the trauma.