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Barbara F. Meltz writes the Globe's Child Caring column. She is author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes, Understanding How Your Children See the World," and a frequent speaker to parent groups. Join her chat on the first and third Monday of the month at noon.
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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Countdown to kindergarten

kindergarten1 jpg.jpg

With September closing in, the kindergarten count-down is in full swing. Chances are, you're more focused on this than your child. You are sending off your baby to the BIG school, after all. What issues are on your mind? Email me and I'll post them, and of course, try to be helpful.

Nancy of Carlisle writes:

"My daughter starts early next month, and she will be a
very young kindergartener -- she turned 5 last week. It's not a matter
of whether to send her, as that decision has been made; I'm just
looking for advice on easing the transition.

"She has done two years of preschool, will be among lots of friends and
familiar faces at kindergarten, and will be in a relatively familiar
environment (she's familiar with the school since her older brother
attends it). So she's not worried about a thing...and yet I feel like
there's been a lot of emotional regression in the past couple of weeks
and it probably has to do with apprehension. On the other hand, I also
wonder if I'm just starting to second-guess myself as far as whether
she's really ready!"

Nancy, I would assume that any regressive behavior is a way for a child to voice this subconscious thought: "If I'm grown up enough to go to kindergarten, will mom and dad still take care of me?"

The best way to answer that is to drop this thought into conversaton: "You know, some kids worry that when they go to kindergarten, they are so grown up, their mommy and daddy won't take care of them. No matter how big you get, we'll always be here to take care of you."

Some other suggestions:

Instead of talking excitedly about all the "new" things in kindergarten, talk about all the things that will stay the same. That's much more reassuring to a child; it enables her to feel confident and say to herself, 'Oh, I know about that, I can do this!" For instance: "There's a block corner in kindergarten, just like in preschool." "There's snack time, just like in preschool." "When you're in kindergarten, we'll still read a story at bedtime every single night, like always."

Anxiety is contagious. I don't mean your child's, I mean yours. If you're anxious about anything, from transportation to allergen control, it will rub off on your child who is likely to internalize it to something like this: "Mom doesn't think I'm ready for k. Maybe I'm not!" My advice is not to stiff-upper-lip it. Get the support you need. Acknowledge your feelings (denial is a big problem here, especially for dads who assume this is No Big Deal and then feel like they've been hit by a ton of bricks) and get accurate information. Call the principal! It's OK to ask your questions, even the ones that seem dumb. It's also OK to ask to have the teacher call you. The sooner you address your anxiety, the better it is for you and your child.

Part of what gets kids anxious is pressure kids feel. Some of it comes from unexpected places, like the mail carrier who says, "Hey, you're a big girl now, aren't you! You're starting kindergarten." And part of it comes unwittingly from us. While it's important to read to your child every day, just because she's starting kindergarten does not mean you should turn your reading time into grill and drill. ("What letter does this word start with?" "Can you find the word, cat?" Concentrate instead of making your reading time pleasurable, so there continues to be a warm association with books, with reading, and with you.

On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with being playful about language if your child enjoys it: "Do you see anything on the dinner table that starts with the ssss sound?" If she doesn't, you can say, "Oh, I see ssssalt." As long as you keep it playful and fun, and as long as there isn't a right or wrong answer, you're building confidence, not undermining it.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 11:04 AM
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