Kindergarten changes everything.
For five years, we’ve raised our child on our own. We taught him to walk and talk. We taught him about the world around him and how to tell right from wrong. We taught him everything he knows – and now everything is going to change.
Kindergarten, for many parents, is the first time you really hand your child off to someone else. Now, for eight hours a day, he will be surrounded by other teachers, other ideas, and other peers – influences that aren’t his parents.
It’s a terrifying thing to let go of that absolute control you have over your child. Suddenly, your child stops being the product of your parenting alone. From now on, their futures and their identities hinge on the public school system, on the teacher they get stuck with, and on the classmates who befriend them.
From here on out, kids’ friends are a bigger part of their life than ever. They’re going to change who your child is. They spend the better part of the day with your child, and they might even end up having more influence on who your child becomes than you do.
That’s a scary thought. It’s hard to let go and trust the world with your child but every parent has to do it. It helps to know that more good will come from this than you think.
When a child leaves their home and starts the first day of kindergarten, it’s almost like they're arriving in a fantasy land. They’re entering a place filled with kids, a kind of place they've never been before. They’re meeting the kids who will be their first best friends, who will experience school with them, and who will define their idea of what being a friend means.
For a parent, this can be terrifying. It’s hard not to look at these kids and worry. In the brief few moments when you get to see your child’s new classmates, the bad ones tend to stand out. It’s easy to wonder, are these kids going to ruin my perfect child?
Kids, though, pick up more positive qualities from their friends than negative qualities. When young children spend time with their friends, the good tends to rub off. They pick up extroversion, confidence, and perseverance, and the bad qualities – like anxiety and short tempers – tend not get passed on.
Kids usually gravitate toward friends that are similar to them. A child who has been raised to be meek and tame will probably make meek and tame friends. So all we can do is raise our kids to be the best we can make them and hope they end up with friends that are just like them.
Those friendships your child is developing are essential to who they become. The way your child handles friendships in the future has a lot to do with their friendships when they’re young. If your child is spending their time with friends who are good to them, they’re going to get more out of friendships later on.
When our children make friends, they’re learning how to be a friend – a skill that takes time to develop. They’re getting better at treating people well and being considerate of others' feelings, which is not something that five-year-olds are naturally good at doing. They’re learning to enjoy friendships more, and because of this experience, they’re going to take more pleasure in them in the future.
Beyond that, friendships just make kids happier in general. Early friendships have a massive impact on a child’s development. They help them feel more confident, less stressed, and more capable of handling the adjustments they’ll face throughout life.
The truth is, no parent has influence over their children forever. Sooner or later, we have to let them leave the nest and tackle life on their own.
Children change. No matter how hard we try to mold them into the people we want them to be, our kids are going to go through a whole lifetime of experiences without us. They’re going to go through school. They’re going to make friends. They’ll go to college, get married, and get jobs. All that changes who you are.
A study that ran from 1947 to 2012 tracked how peoples’ personalities changed throughout life. By adulthood, they were completely unrecognizable from who they were when they were children. Every personality characteristic that had defined them when they were young had changed by the time they were old.
That will happen to our children, too – including mine. My perfect child, who I’ve raised to be everything I want him to be, is going to change. He will make friends, and I won’t be able to choose who they are. He will become somebody new, somebody who no longer sees his Dada as the coolest thing he could possibly grow up to be.
That’s okay. There’s nothing I can do to stop that. I just have to trust I’ve started him off on the right foot – and that he’ll take it from here.