3 Fears Your Preschooler Can't Articulate, But Influence Their Behavior

These common worries tend to surface in the form of sadness and tantrums, and it can be difficult to differentiate the causes of the outbursts.

The age of preschool is an emotionally confusing time for young children. Between the ages of three and five years old, children are working through a lot of insecurities and fears that they do not yet have the language skills to articulate. These common worries tend to surface in their everyday lives through sadness and tantrums, and it can be difficult to differentiate the causes of the outbursts. In an effort to better understand our sweet little ones, here are three common fears that your preschooler isn’t yet able to tell you about.

1 | The fear that their behavior determines your love for them

Young children are highly attuned to adult’s facial expressions, tone of voice, and verbal inflection. When adults respond to children’s behavior with yelling, a stern or harsh tone, or lashing out, children often become scared and feel that they are the cause of the parent’s stress. This can lead children to believe that their parent’s love for them is contingent on their good behavior.

In his book, “Unconditional Parenting,” Alfie Kohn outlines the difference between conditional and unconditional love in the following way:

[There is a distinction between] loving kids for what they do and loving them for who they are. The first sort of love is conditional, which means children must earn it by acting in ways we deem appropriate, or by performing up to our standards. The second sort of love is unconditional: it doesn’t hinge on how they act, whether they’re successful or well behaved or anything else.

Every parent wants a well-behaved, well-adjusted, and emotionally-regulated child who doesn’t act out, but the reality of the preschool years is that children will act out. It’s our mission as parents to guide our child’s behavior in such a way that she knows what’s expected of her while also knowing that she is deeply loved.

What you can do:

  • Try to remain as calm as possible when managing your child’s behavior. Remind your child that your love for her never changes, even when she misbehaves.
  • Clearly state your behavior expectations and re-affirm your confidence in her ability to do it the next time.
  • Apologize when your reaction is harsher than you intended it to be. By admitting that adults also make mistakes, children can learn that mistakes are part of learning.

2 | The fear that you will leave and not come back

Attachment to a parent is the very first survival mechanism that an infant learns when he leaves the womb. That attachment grows stronger as the child learns more about the world and how big of a place it really is. By three years old, most children are ready to venture out for short periods of time in order to explore and then return to the safety of their parents. The problem is that children have a limited ability to gauge the concept of time, so when children are away from their “safe base,” minutes can feel like hours and hours can feel like days. This leads children to fear the worst, that Mommy and Daddy aren’t coming back.

What you can do:

  • Give your child an object of yours to hold during times when you’re away. It can be anything that reminds him of you: a picture, a hair tie, or a small trinket. This gives him a physical connection, a “piece of Mommy” to hold on to until you return.
  • Tell your child what is going to happen. Give him a predictable time frame when you will be back, for example, “Daddy will be back after your nap.”
  • Try to avoid using the “Mommy is leaving” threat when trying to get your child to leave a public place. This is confusing for children and can lead to a lack of trust when there comes a time when you truly are leaving them.

3 | The fear that they aren’t good enough

Inadequacy is a huge fear of preschoolers, and it surfaces in different ways. This can be the child that cries because her picture didn’t turn out the way she wanted it to, or the child who says, “It’s too hard” and doesn’t even want to try. The fear of inadequacy becomes more prevalent in the preschool years because children are at a developmental stage where they begin to view themselves in relation to other children. Comparison makes a child question his worth in a brand new way, and these are big feelings for young children to sort out. The development of a child’s self esteem begins in these early preschool years. He begins to evaluate himself in relation to his peers in terms of how well he does certain tasks and what other children think of him.

What you can do:

  • Point out your child’s growth and praise her willingness to try new things.
  • Place more emphasis on the child’s effort on a given task than the finished product.
  • Validate children’s feelings of inadequacy and promote problem solving with phrases like, “I can see that you aren’t happy with this. What are some ideas to make this better?”
  • Build your child up: help bring to light all of her very best qualities and how those qualities mean more to you than her performance.

10 Reasons to Consider Preschool if You're on the Fence

As the proud mother of four young girls I think it’s safe to say that I have been around the old preschool block a time or two. My oldest girls (now ages 10 and seven) went to daycare centers as babies so the transition to preschool was kind of a no-brainer. I had to work, they were there anyways – might as well do the preschool thing.
The twins on the other hand have been a different story. They are my teeny-tiny-stay-at-home-absolutely-positively last babies ever. When they turned three years old this past year I found myself second guessing the decision to send them off into the big, bad world. Would they be ready for preschool? Would I be ready for preschool? Why not just keep them home for one (or two) more years with their best and most favorite teacher: me
Well, here is why:

Early intervention services

If you suspect your little guy might need a bit of extra assistance in his academic journey then you most definitely want to get him into a preschool program. Whether it’s fine motor skills, speech and language needs, or a bit of occupational therapy, preschool can give your tot a head start in areas of deficit. Under IDEA, or the Individuals With Disabilities Act, once a child turns three they are guaranteed special education services by the state agency. A lot of parents have no clue that this service is even available to them and often wait until kindergarten to bring concerns up with educators.

Elementary school prep

If your child never attends any sort of school setting before entering kindergarten he may be in for a very rude awakening. When five-year-olds come into elementary school, so much is expected of them. It is bound to be overwhelming even for the most prepared students. Where traditional kindergarten used to be a half day program, it is now full time in most places. Children are expected to sit, listen, wait their turn, and show growth in the areas of academics, social awareness, and emotional maturity. That is one heck of a tall order for a little guy. Preschool does a lot of this heavy lifting for them.

Emotional and social growth

A lot of the early educational years are spent focusing on child-to-child interactions. By nature young children are egocentric and it can be difficult for them to learn to share, work out their problems with their words, and voice their needs and concerns to adults. Preschool programs allow children as young as two-and-a-half to fine tune their social and emotional growth to prepare them for kindergarten. After sending my three-year-old twins to school for one week I noticed that they were more in tune with each other’s emotional needs. They started to show empathy and apologize for their actions more often than before. At the same time their social development skyrocketed and they began to interact with kids on the playground and seek out friendships more fluidly. It was amazing!

Preschool provides academic instruction that they will need in the future

Let’s face it, kindergarten has drastically changed over the last 20 years. What we adults remember as being a whole lot of coloring, playtime, and learning our Letter People is now an eight hour day of academically rigorous lessons. Kindergartners are tested like never before and in a lot of ways expected to know far more than we did when we entered primary school.

Balance of choice and structure

Preschool does a phenomenal job of providing your child plenty of choices while giving them the structure that they need to feel safe and secure in their environment. Kids need to have some sense of control over their worlds and allowing them to choose the colors of paint to use in a project or allowing them to select a free choice activity at school is a great way to do that. In balance with the choices comes a heavy dose of structure. Preschooler learn that there are rules and hard lines in the sand when they attend learning-based programs. Three-year-olds learn to hang up their backpacks, clean up their messes, and sit on rugs while teachers read to them. They line up for recess, wait their turn to swing, and take turns using the bathroom, all at the age of three.

Mad independence skills

It is insane how much more independent my children became after I sent them off to school. Within weeks they were dressing themselves, pulling up their own pants, and wiping their own tiny butts. Children need to feel capable and preschool provides the independence skills for just that. I wonder if I should send my husband back to preschool and see if he can pick up some independence skills as well. That guy still tosses his dirty clothes on the floor.

New and exciting experiences for your child

I will be blunt. This summer my kids got bored of me. I tried to create exciting days and experiences for them but we basically needed to break up. Sending them to preschool for three hours a day did the trick. Our relationship was saved! Programs these days infuse your little one’s day with a whole new world of interesting activities. They play in spaces that are new to them and use toys and tools which they may never have seen before. At preschool there is a whole new world full of people to connect with and enjoy. The bonus is they miss you and you miss them and when they come home at lunch time everyone is refreshed and ready to spend quality time together.

Your child will build trust and connections with other people

Many of us did the tot-and-mom play dates at the park and story time at the library, but these events are almost always under the guidance and watchful eye of mommy and daddy. Preschool is a time where young children can go into the big world and make friendships and connections with other children all on their own. They also learn to love and trust their teachers and assorted personnel in the buildings. I was really starting to believe that the twins would never connect with another adult outside of myself, my husband, and close family members. Within three days of school the girls were willingly holding their teachers’ hands and asking if they could come home with us.

Create routine in your child’s life … and yours

When your offspring are young the days are long, but the years are short. Kids get up so freaking early and sometimes (or in my case all of the time) it’s just you and them until the moon pops up and you pass out in their toddler bed at 10 p.m. Seven hours later it starts all over again – this goes on for years.
Then bam! Preschool smacks you in the face and hands your family the gift of routine. Most people function better on some sort of routine and my children and I are no different. We now get up at a certain time, get dressed, eat breakfast, and it’s off to school. The kids come home tired, we eat and play, and then the big girls come home. A few more hours and dinner happens, then bath time and bed. The kids have tuckered themselves out with all of that playing and brain work that school provided them with and my day is no longer one continuous flow of everyone screaming, “Mooooooooom.”

You can go to Target by yourself

So you did it. You bit the bullet and sent your babies to preschool armed with tiny backpacks and an extra pair of undies and pants. It isn’t always easy and a lot of time there are tears from little ones and big ones alike as you and your babies experience some separation from each other. There is only one thing left to do and that is to drive up to the local Target store and shop by yourself! I promise you that by the time you get to the home goods aisle you will see that this really was the best decision you could have ever made

6 Reasons to Have the Sex Talk With Your 3-Year-Old Instead of Your 13-Year-Old

If you have a little one you should be thinking now about how and when you want to introduce the topic of sex to your child.

One of a parent’s greatest responsibilities is to teach their child about life’s big stuff. In the very early days of parenthood parents teach their children that their needs will be met by responding to their cues and cries. As they grow, parents teach them to identify shapes, colors, letters, and numbers – the things that help them make sense of the world around them. As they mature into their teen years parents help their offspring begin to understand the gray between all the black and white and how to define the beliefs and values they want to incorporate into their lives.
Somewhere along the way they’ll also teach them about sex. While most parents are excited to see their kids acquire new knowledge as they grow, many are squeamish or apprehensive when it comes to teaching their kids about where babies come from and how bodies work. Whether it’s a desire to keep kids “innocence” intact, a discomfort on the parents’ part, or a general feeling that it’s not the right time, many parents put a hold on the sex talk far longer than is in the best interest of their kids.
If you have a little one you should be thinking now about how and when you want to introduce the topic of sex to your child. Check out the six reasons below that starting the conversation with your child when they’re young is far better than starting when their older.

1 | Nothing sounds weird when you’re a kid

In many ways, kids are blank slates. In the first few years of their life they accumulate a vast well of knowledge about the world around them. When they’re very young, before formal schooling, much of this knowledge acquisition is passive – they watch you use a comb and a tooth brush each day and, by a few months past their first birthday they’re using those objects as you do. To kids, what they see, and what they hear and learn just is. It’s not weird or awkward or unbelievable. So, in the same way you explain electricity or rainbows or butterflies to your kid (which are all kind of unbelievable when you think about it) when you explain sex at a young age they typically take it at face value without any of the awkwardness that adults often place on it.

2 | It’s not just one talk

Sometimes, when parents think about the “sex talk,” they imagine it as one comprehensive conversation that covers everything from biology to gender identity to pleasure. Not only does this really up the pressure to get it right, it also makes it feel like it’s probably way too much for a preschooler to take in. In reality, talking about sex with your kids should be an ongoing conversation that starts in toddlerhood, when first questions arise, and grows with them as encounter new ideas or find themselves in new social situations.

3 | It’s actually pretty simple

While the topic of human sexuality is rich and deep, the biological basics are actually pretty simple. Many parents shy away from talking about sex with their young children because they don’t want to discuss the details. The good news is that when you’re talking to kids they don’t have a desire or need for the kinds of details that make most parents squeamish. In preschool, most kids will begin to ask questions about where babies come from – by answering the questions that kids ask, no more and no less, parents will be providing the simple answers that help their kids understand the basics.

4 | You’ll actually be the first one to give them the information they need

Many parents who wait to introduce the topic of sex with their kids do so because they want to “keep their kids young” or “preserve their innocence.” While this is problematic for a number of reasons, these parents would be disappointed to learn that their kids are not living in a bubble of innocence. The reality is that kids are talking about sex and, if you want your kids to have accurate information that resonates with your family’s values, you’ll have to introduce the topic early.

5 | It will keep them safe

In order to keep themselves safe in the world, kids need to know the basics of their body. When parents provide their kids with proper terminology and help them begin to understand the concept of consent, they’re giving them important tools that will help them stay safe.

6 | It sets the tone for a lifetime of openness

Every time you answer your child’s questions openly and honestly, you’re showing them that you’re someone whom they can trust. If you want your big kids to come to you with their big questions, make sure you’re available to answer their questions when they’re little.

Just Who Needs Comforting on the First Day of School?

16 pairs of weepy eyes stare at me as I stand before my pre-K class on the first day of school. Lingering sobs and sniffles echo around the room.

16 pairs of weepy eyes stare at me as I stand before my pre-K class for the first day of school. Lingering sobs and controlled sniffles, feet tapping their own discordant rhythms along with fingers drumming desks like Buddy Rich proteges – this is my view as I hold my trusty frog puppet to introduce myself.
“Hi everybody! I’m Miss Lisa and this is my very special friend Keeper! He’s so happy you’re here today.”
Keeper leans on my shoulder to try and hide his face.
“I forgot to tell you that Keeper is a little shy and he gets nervous when he’s meeting new friends for the first time. But I bet you can all help him feel so much better. Will you try with me?”
Slow nodding.
“I think if you start clapping your hands he might look up.”
The clapping begins tentatively at first and then gathers steam. It encourages Keeper to look up and take a quick peek before retreating to my shoulder. The clapping continues along with some “Come on Keeper” coaxing.
Keeper does his best imitation of “my shyness is slowly vanishing” act. He plays to the crowd. The classmates grow wild with excitement. Before long puppet and teacher have an engaged audience.
“You guys did such an awesome job! Can we tell Keeper he did a great job too?”
A cacophony of praise comes flooding out. Keeper whispers something in my ear. I smile.
“Keeper says you are all his new special friends and he wants to give each of you a big high-five! Can you line up by the wall so he can come and meet you?”
Moving along the squirmy wormy-shaped line there are high-fives and squishy hugs for Keeper and more than a few for the teacher.
“Can everyone please go find their seats?”
A few grumpy sounds accompany the short walk as Keeper and Teacher escort everyone back. A little more conspiratorial whispering and teacher and puppet have garnered attention.
“You’re right, Keeper. I forgot to tell our new friends how much you love to play the tambourine and the bells and the maracas and the drums! Everybody! Keeper wants you to play in his marching band.”
Cue my assistants who come from the back of the classroom to hand out multi-colored instruments. A few tug of wars ensue as those who get bells are less than thrilled. Drums rank high in popularity.
In the end we are ready to perform and away we go! Out the classroom door and into the hallway we bang and shake with intent (with major prodding from Keeper), making sure to disrupt the organized chaos in the front offices.
Our parade is a smashing success and as we head back to class I thank all our band members for their solid musical contributions. Keeper’s mission was to replace sobs and sniffles with smiles and giggles. He is triumphant. More so are those sitting before me.
“Before we break does anyone have a question for Miss Lisa?”
A hand shoots up. I point to a mom in the back row.
“It’s not a question. It’s a thank you. I feel much better than I did an hour ago.”
And with that I dismiss the parents and special grownups and head over to my other classroom to begin their very first day of school.
I realized long ago that I have two sets of students. One group I consider scholarly as they are the best resources around when it comes to knowing and shedding light on the children I teach. If I listen well to their insights I create what I call growing paths.
It’s reciprocal. I need these parents to trust me and work with me and believe in my efforts. Without them on my team it’s hard to rack up points in the winning column.
I take a gulp of Gatorade and a bite of cereal bar and open the classroom door.
“Hi everybody! I’m Miss Lisa and this is my very special friend Keeper!”

Professional Potty Trainers and Two Other Early Parenting Coaches You Can Totally Hire

Though pricey, these services can make a world of difference for families struggling through early parenting milestones.

You’re two or three weeks postpartum and, despite all your good intentions and the mountain of breastfeeding literature you read during your pregnancy, your little one is not nursing well. Your pediatrician recommends a lactation consultant and after one visit and another week of practice he’s latching on with gusto.
That’s just one of the many ways a personal trainer can help parents through their most difficult moments. Although the prices are more than many families would initially feel comfortable with, these services can make a world of difference for families struggling through these milestones.

Professional potty trainer

If you’re a parent on social media, you probably don’t go a day without seeing a story about potty training. It might be the parent who is boasting about training junior at nine months. It might be the parent lamenting the child deliberately defecating on the furniture. Or it might be the so-crazy-it-might-just-work advice from parents with a sample size of one kid. There’s also the much saner adage that all kids will figure it out by kindergarten, but that often goes ignored due to preschool potty-training requirements.
Parents staring down a preschool start date might start with the over 2,000 potty-training titles available on Amazon. Those looking for more personalized help can choose from a range of options, from group classes to potty training camps to private online forums to phone consultations to live-in help. The most common approach is the one-hour phone consultation, during which the potty trainer and parent discuss the child’s potty training progress and work together to develop a comprehensive plan for success. Some consultation packages include e-mail or text follow-ups in case parents need help sticking to their plans.
These consultations aren’t cheap. An individualized plan plus 60-minute potty training phone consult with Oh Crap! Potty Training in Chicago will run you $180. A similar package at The Potty Whisperer runs $450. NYC Potty Training’s phone consult will set you back $600. Potty training companies charge thousands of dollars for two-day live-in sessions (roughly $40 per hour, considering that the trainer is effectively working 48 straight hours).
Before you write off the ridiculous things that monied people will buy, it’s worth considering who can benefit from these services. For parents of children with disabilities, professional potty training can be a lifesaver. Ashley Hickey of Successful Potty Training specializes in potty training children with Autism spectrum disorder, but has expanded her practice to work with children with disabilities. What can initially seem like a ridiculous business model built on parents’ laziness is actually an amazing service for parents of children with special needs. These coaches can give previously untrained kids a magical gift of independence.
Even if your child is developmentally typical, you might find that $250 for a single potty-training session is less money than you’re spending on various enticing toilet seats, potty training books, bribes, and cleaning supplies.

Certified sleep consultant

If your social media feeds aren’t full of parents complaining about potty training, that’s probably just because they’re crowded out by parents discussing their babies’ sleep schedules.
Parents struggling to sleep train their children have a range of options, among them e-mail and phone consultations, in-home visits, group parties, and even expectant parent workshops for parents trying to get a leg up on future sleep disturbances.
Like potty training coaches, sleep consultants charge high prices for their services. Quiet Nights in Phoenix charges $528 for an in-home consultation, video library access, and follow up phone calls and e-mails. Blissful Baby in Houston charges $590 for a two-hour home consultation plus phone and e-mail support. At Dream Team in New York, parents can choose from phone consultations and in-home round-the-clock help. A single overnight stay is $1,950 if you’re local and $2,300 if you’re more than 45 minutes away.
Those prices seem absolutely outrageous to parents. But considering how much the parenting landscape has changed in the past few decades, that may be money well spent.
Sleep training is not a difficult physical problem to solve. It is, however, a complex philosophical one, because parents often don’t see eye-to-eye about how to help their babies sleep. Parents have certainly disagreed about exactly how to parent before. But at least two large changes have made it more difficult to settle those disagreements. Today’s parents are confronted with tens of thousands of books and websites competing for our attention by fueling debates about the “right” way to raise children. All of that expertise makes it difficult to choose a sleep training method and stick to it.
Furthermore, as men are expected to be more equal co-parents, they may be offering more opinions about childrearing, increasing the opportunities for disagreement. If the parents are not completely in sync with their approach, or they apply their approach inconsistently, sleep training generally fails.
The key to sleep training – any kind of baby training, really – is in being a unified front. What you’re buying with a sleep coach is, first and foremost, time to talk with your partner about how you want to put your child to sleep.
Researchers have found that overall happiness levels drop after the birth of a child, perhaps in part because parents are so sleep-deprived. Paying for a baby sleep consultant could help those parents save their sleep and their sanity. A sleep-trained child might even help save the parents the cost of future marital counseling sessions.

Parenting coach

Maybe you’re not worried about all of your parenting and not just a specific issue like potty training. You might feel overwhelmed by the messes in your home, discipline issues with your child, fighting among siblings, or a frayed relationship with your partner.
If you hire a potty trainer or baby sleep consultant, your child is likely to notice another person in the room. But many parenting coaches will never even meet your child. That’s by design, because in this case the coach is not helping your child reach a milestone. The coach is helping you reach your own parenting milestones.
Many parenting coaches offer phone or Skype consultations, as well as in-office meetings. Because many parents are looking to retool their entire approach to parenting, parent coaches often recommend 10-12 recurring sessions so that parents can learn and practice over the course of multiple months.
Parent coaching is predominantly charged like a therapist’s hour (50-minute sessions). Rates vary greatly depending on the expertise and/or certification of the coach. The Parenting Coach charges $225 for two sessions, while Positive Parenting Solutions charges $225 per session. Some parenting coaches receive credentials from organizations like the Parent Coaching Institute (PCI), which also features a list of certified coaches by state.
The PCI’s website insists that parenting coaching isn’t just for those who feel they’re doing it “wrong.” In fact, they argue, “people who hire coaches are already doing their best.” They group parents among musicians, athletes, and any talented people who “embrace opportunities to do better.” Parent coaching is for any parent who wants to be a better parent.
All of these coaches, whether they’re teaching potty training, sleep, or parenting in general, reflect a bigger phenomenon. When we read about how some kid potty trained at nine months, or how some other kid always sleeps for 12 hours, or how some parent is always feeling #blessed with her kids while we’re feeling terrorized by our own, we look at other parents and feel like we’re not measuring up.
On top of these stresses, we increasingly find ourselves moving for work and living apart from large family networks, making it harder for us to get help through the occasional daily drudgery of parenting. Professional potty trainers, sleep consultants, and parenting coaches can fill a role that was previously filled by siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Although that extra time can come at a price, it may in some cases be worth months of more relaxed and satisfying time with our families.

The Swedish Preschool Practice That Makes Kids More Successful

New research into practices at some Swedish preschools suggests that a gender-neutral environment has far reaching benefits for children.

How important is a gender-neutral approach in kindergarten? Does it really matter if boys are dissuaded from playing with dolls and domestic toys, or girls are expected to love hair and beauty? New research into practices at some Swedish preschools suggests that a gender-neutral environment has far reaching benefits for children.
A study into the effects of different preschool teaching practices, carried out by the Uppsala Child and Baby Lab in collaboration with researchers from UK and US universities and published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, indicates that gender-neutral preschools turn out children who are more likely to succeed.
When researchers compared children who attended kindergartens with gender-neutral practice to children from other pre-schools, they found that those who had attended gender-neutral preschools had a reduced tendency to gender-stereotype and gender-segregate, which researchers say could widen the opportunities available to them.
Compared to children from other preschools, children from gender-neutral preschool were:

  • more likely to be interested in playing with children of the opposite gender
  • equally likely to notice another person’s gender
  • less likely to make stereotypical assumptions based on gender

 
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Researcher Ben Kenward told the Quartz website that children from gender-neutral preschools, “seem more open to certain experiences than children from more typical schools. Given that children develop through play and through interactions with peers, and that many play activities (like playing with blocks) that promote development are traditionally gendered, then it would be reasonable to assume that this is likely to improve these children’s development and future success.”
There are often misconceptions around the term “gender-neutral” but in this context it refers to an awareness of how cultural norms around gender are created and reinforced. Gender-neutral kindergartens are inclusive. They don’t divide children by gender. Words like “people,” “children,” or “friends” are used in place of “girls” or “boys” and, in Sweden, the pronoun “Hen” is used instead of “He” or “She.
In gender-neutral preschools, toys are not segregated into typical boy/girl sections, children can take part in any activity they like without being told that some activities are more suited to one gender, and teachers are trained to avoid any behavior that would be seen as gender specific, such as complimenting girls on pretty clothes, or referring to “big strong boys.”
The Upssala research is a relatively small study, because gender-neutral schools are rare, even in Sweden. Eighty children aged three to six were interviewed; 30 of them were enrolled at a gender-neutral school, while the other 50 attended two other typical preschools.
Although the sample size was small, researchers say they have statistical confidence in the effects’ existence. One issue that was raised was whether differences in family background caused the effects, but when parents who reported choosing their preschools based on gender-related teaching methods were removed from the sample, the effects remained.
A wealth of previous research, books, articles, and websites on the topic of gender stereotyping in childhood support the conclusion that gender stereotypes negatively impact on all children, regardless of gender. Previous research from the The National Association for the Education of Young Children showed that access to a wide range of toys helps children to develop different skills. A 2010 paper published in Child Development said that children were less likely to play with children who were not their own gender when their teachers took pains to highlight differences between girls and boys. Finally, 2013 research from the University of Kent revealed that negative stereotypes about boys hinders their academic achievement.
It might not be easy to find a preschool that overtly markets itself as gender-neutral, but a few prepared questions about gender issues on visits to prospective kindergartens should give parents an idea of how inclusive the practice is, as well as highlight the fact that many parents want to see gender stereotypes challenged. Gender-neutral practice in preschools aims to reduce differences in the opportunities available to children of different genders and from the evidence so far, it seems to work.

There's More Than One Reason to Red Shirt

Certain demands are placed upon our school-aged children. Sometimes giving your kid an extra year to mature is the best approach.

Our bodies are amazing. When pregnant, I’d say they are miraculous. Less than 72-hours after one romp of unprotected make-up sex, I knew I was pregnant with our second child. Highly unlikely considering I was 36 years old and it was only one time, but I knew I was pregnant. Even before the stick said “positive,” I began counting. Always a planner, I began counting the weeks and months figuring in my head an estimate of a due date. It was early December which meant only one thing: a September baby.
Like it or not, being a September baby is a thing. It became a tiny, lingering thought tucked into the back of my mind. Then I found out I was having a boy.
A September Boy. I was having a September Boy. I was already thinking way far down the road and clearly so was everyone else. As the years went by and the date grew closer, I could feel the other mothers shift uncomfortably when they would ask me the question, “What are you going to do about school?”
 
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All of the moms I spoke with who held their late boys back, all were overwhelmingly happy with the decision. Several who didn’t, and whose sons had to repeat a grade, regretted having to go through that; as the social pressure was difficult. They specifically told me that if they had to do it all over again, they would have held him back.
They all encouraged me to think about holding him back because of the advantages he will have in the future. There were many reasons to consider: fine motor skills, ability to follow directions, maturity, and more. For some, the common theme had to do with the physicality of boys. They echoed the same sentiment: he will be older, bigger, faster, and taller; which will be way better than being younger, smaller, slower, and shorter.
Full disclosure –  I am an educator. I was a classroom teacher for years and now I am at the university level preparing students to become teachers. I hold a Doctorate in Special Education, which, by the way, has proven to be utterly useless when it comes to actual mothering. I know teaching, best practices, milestones, progress, and developmental appropriateness. I also know that today, Kindergarten is the new first grade. I also know our school. I also know what will be required of my September Boy. Just because I knew all of this, didn’t mean I knew what to do.
I decided to red shirt my September Boy but not for the reasons you may think.
Our school registration process starts in January and for months leading up to that date I was in a constant state of, Should I? or Should I not? If I start him too early there could be consequences. If I start him too late there could be consequences. Some days I was hoping for a third option. I knew I would have to rely on a solid mix of my professional knowledge coupled with what my September Boy was telling me. I would ultimately let him be my guide.
My September Boy is smart and very able, and certainly could have managed through the year starting Kindergarten at 4 years old. But in the months leading up to registration day, I realized that while he certainly could manage, I wasn’t totally sure that he really had to manage.
I watched him one particular morning, in his pajamas with the side of his head planted flatly against the hard floor, investigating the structural integrity of his Lego suspension bridge. He had a laser-like focus, studying his structure, thinking and strategizing his next block. He would test his engineering prowess with a line of 13 tanker cars pulled by his favorite powerful steam engine.
In that moment, I saw it. This was no longer a decision that I had to make, instead, it was a decision that I could make. I saw that my September Boy had the gift of time, and I was determined to give it to him.
For the next year, we gave him the gift of time. He had one more glorious year to be little.
He could have started on-time and left the house every morning by 7:15am. Instead, he and I lingered in our PJs until about 8:15am and leisurely drove to preschool. (The long way, of course.) He could have started on-time and faced more seat time and less play time. Instead, he enjoyed another year of unstructured play, lots of dress-up, and most Fridays at home. He could have started on-time and figured out bathroom stalls, long hallways, and how to balance a full cafeteria tray. Instead, he enjoyed lunches and snacks delivered to his classroom and learning how to pour his own milk.
Like it or not, there are certain demands placed upon our school-aged children. These demands are exactly what made being born in September way more than just being born in September.  While I am not necessarily ready to fight the status-quo, I can certainly do what it takes to protect my child from the effects of it.
I decided to red shirt my September Boy and it was absolutely the right thing for us. As our school year is approaching the end, I see that giving him the gift of time was the best gift we could have given him. He started school when he was ready, which translated into being confident, happy, and excited about learning.
He loves school in a way that I doubt he would have felt without having had the extra time. I definitely gave him an advantage, but not one that had anything to do with his future physical abilities. I have no idea if he will be bigger, taller, or faster than the other boys in his class, and quite frankly, I’m not sure that I care. What matters to me now is that he is a happy, vibrant, little boy who adores school and I’ll take happy over fast any day.

The 95th Percentile: Tips for Parenting a Supersized Kid

Over the past four years, I’ve realized that parenting a supersized kid comes with its own set of challenges

The 95th percentile looks something like this. Height: three feet, seven inches; weight: 45 pounds; age: four.

I have a supersized kid in every way possible. My four-year-old son is larger than the average four-year-old. Hell, he’s larger than the average five-year-old and in some cases he can hold his own next to a first grader. It’s not just his height that makes him stand out. He’s loud, rambunctious, and active. He’s smart, and hilarious both on purpose and unintentionally. He’s a presence.

Over the past four years, I’ve realized that parenting a supersized kid comes with its own set of challenges, and in managing those challenges, I’ve learned a few tricks.

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Always order the class photo

This one I wasn’t prepared for. Of course I knew my son was bigger than every kid in his class, but when I saw all 12 of them lined up, smiling in their best outfits, I burst out laughing. My eyes immediately shifted to my son, standing in the back, proud to be surrounded by his classmates. He was a good head taller than every child. It looked like a first grader had snuck into his preschool class. He stuck out like a sore thumb and it was awkward in the most awesome way possible. I ordered the photo immediately.

Don’t sweat the dirty looks from strangers

This one I haven’t quite figured out yet. It happens a lot, probably more than it should. When an average-sized toddler has an age-appropriate meltdown in public, the mom usually gets looks of concern, empathy, and maybe even a helping hand from a stranger. When my son has a tantrum in a store, or grabs at all the peanut M&Ms on the shelf, or starts crying because mommy said he can’t have the aforementioned peanut M&Ms, I get those looks. You know the ones. The try to control your child look. The he’s still having tantrums? look. The stares.

“He’s four,” I always say with an embarrassed chuckle. Every time, without fail, the look softens into a smile.

“You’re kidding! I thought he was six!”

My response is always the same. “Nope, four. Actually, he just turned four. It’s great to have a tall boy, just not when he’s acting like a four-year-old in public.”

More uneasy laughter.

I shouldn’t have to justify it, and I shouldn’t have to feel like I should have to justify it. But, like I said, I haven’t quite figured this one out yet.

Know when it’s time to stop picking him up

This one is getting easier as my son gets older and asks to be picked up less frequently, but like most toddlers, my son still loves being picked up. Every day is like an ironman competition in my house. There’s a reason why my biceps are very defined and it has nothing to do with a gym.

About six months ago in Target I realized the days of picking up my baby were numbered. He wanted to sit in the front of the cart and I swear it took superhuman strength to get him in there. Once he was settled and barely fitting, I pushed him around the store, relishing the moment, knowing that soon he would be walking next to me like a big boy. I stopped the cart and turned my back for half a second when I heard his sweet-but-very-loud voice.

“Mommy!”

I turned back and he was standing. In the cart. His knee was in line with my nose. He towered so high above me that my heart lurched into my throat. I was about to ask him to sit down when he got that look in his eye. Shit, I thought to myself, and braced for impact. He proceeded to hurl all forty-five pounds of himself at me, grabbing onto my shoulders and kicking the huge red cart about two feet in the opposite direction.

“Mommy!” he screamed in a fit of laughter.

It was amazing I didn’t break anything – in Target or in my body.

Being a mom to a supersized kid is one of the great joys of my life. When it comes to my son, everything is bigger. It’s like the colors are brighter, the laughter is louder, and even the ice cream is sweeter. There’s never a dull moment and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But if you see us in Target and he’s rearranging the candy aisle, just remember…he’s only four.

What Factors Make Preschool Successful? A New Report is Zeroing In

Policymakers are turning their eyes to preschool as a way to help children get off to a strong start. But what makes those years successful?

The early years of childhood are critical for development. Many factors influence these early years including family income, home environment, and parents’ education. But more and more, policymakers are turning their eyes to preschool as a way to help children get off to a strong start.

42 states and the District of Columbia currently have publicly-funded preschool programs. With the hope of improving children’s school readiness, later academic outcomes, and future employment opportunities, these states have decided that early childhood education is a worthwhile investment. But the debate over to what extent these programs are effective and how to achieve these long-term goals still continues.

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Recently, the Brookings Institution and Duke University released a consensus statement featuring areas of agreement from early childhood education researchers. So what do these leading social scientists agree on?

  • Economically disadvantaged children and dual language learners show the biggest learning gains.

While all children can benefit from a quality preschool experience, researchers agree that economically disadvantaged children and dual language learners gain the most benefits. Preschools can provide children with an environment rich in language and stimulation, which many disadvantaged children may not receive at home. Preschool also helps dual language learners improve their English language skills and, in turn, their overall academic skills.

But researchers caution this does not mean policymakers should focus solely on disadvantaged children when designing preschool programs. All children benefit from being in a classroom with peers from diverse language and economic backgrounds. Not only can children strengthen their own language skills this way, they can also learn more socially inclusive attitudes.

  • Not all preschool programs are the same. Well-implemented, evidence-based curriculum is a must.

Unfortunately not every preschool program is effective in boosting children’s development. One of the key elements of a successful program is “serve-and-return” interactions between teachers and children, as well as between classmates. This back-and-forth communication helps children organize and focus their attention, helps promote peer cooperation, and improves learning.

What kind of curricula encourage this back-and-forth interaction? The Brookings and Duke researchers point to curricula that focuses on a given skill area – like literacy or math – rather than a more “global” method of addressing all areas of development at the same time. They also emphasize that teachers need professional development and coaching, and that children benefit from organized, positive, and engaging classrooms.

  • What happens after kindergarten matters.

Critics of preschool have long pointed out that studies suggest early educational gains fade out over time. The Brookings and Duke researchers state that early gains can only be maintained if elementary school classroom experiences sustain and amplify progress.

They suggest the best way to do this is to stop viewing preschool in isolation and start looking at it as part of a child’s overall education. This way, elementary school teachers will have a better idea of what children have already learned, and what gaps remain to be covered.

  • Children who attend preschool are more ready for school than those who do not.

Studies of children who attended state-funded preschools show that they are more prepared for kindergarten than their peers who did not. Of course, being ready for kindergarten or not doesn’t determine if your child will get into an Ivy League school. But school readiness is an important part of a child’s adjustment to elementary school. Not only does it mean having the language, literacy, and numeracy skills needed to succeed, but also the willingness to follow expected behavior and have the social-emotional capacity to thrive.

  • Preschool may be beneficial in the long run, but more research is needed.

Preschool’s impact on school readiness presents a strong argument in its favor. For policymakers encouraging their states to invest more in preschool, the long-term benefits of preschool are one of the key selling points. However, the Brookings and Duke researchers warn that many of the studies that found long-term benefits use weak methods. They note that the evidence is from small-scale studies and is promising, but more research is needed.

The authors of the report emphasize that we need to continue the research into what makes a quality preschool program effective. This is especially true if, for instance, policymakers want to scale up a small program to a state level.

It’s clear that early childhood is a critical time for young children’s development. Researchers know that quality preschool can be an important way to help children reach their full developmental potential. The groundwork is promising. Researchers now need to figure out what exactly it is about a good preschool program that makes it so successful at improving children’s lives.

Ask These 5 Questions To Determine Kindergarten Readiness

As their parent, you know best.

My son turned five this spring and we just signed on for another year at our preschool. That’s a dangerous statement to make on the playground. For some reason, the age at which to send your child to kindergarten has become just as factious as our current political climate. The parties fall along two lines: send them young and get the edge or wait a bit and ease them in. Our son has special needs that are currently being well taken care of in his inclusive preschool, which puts us firmly in the “easing in” camp.
We are nice and cozy where we are and public kindergarten will still be there in a year. Many of his friends are already cruising the school supply aisles with their moms in search of the perfect first-day-of-school backpack and pencil case. I’m waiting to see if “Moana” will beat “Frozen” in the lunchbox department. If you’re on the fence about whether to go or stay, here are a few questions to ask yourself about the great kindergarten debate.

1 | Is my child physically ready?

Kindergarten means structure. Kindergarten means lesson plans and goals and homework and targeted skill sets and the first step on the path to academia. It also means sitting in place for long periods of time and short or non-existent naps. It means acting like a big kid and staying in your seat and staying quiet when the teacher is talking and everyone else is trying to learn.
All of this requires a certain level of physical maturity, of self-discipline. The Washington Post, in an article on the benefits of delaying kindergarten until age seven, reports that “many early childhood experts have expressed concern about forcing very young children to sit and do academic work, arguing that kids learn best through structured play.” Every kid has a different stillness threshold. Only you, as the parent, knows if your child is physically ready to tackle the full academic day at age five, six, or seven.

2 | Is my child mentally ready? 

Ask me this on a Monday morning and I’ll give you a different answer than I would on Friday evening before bedtime. Mental readiness is key in considering whether your child is ready for the big leap – and I don’t mean knowing his numbers and letters and first reader books. I mean attention span. I mean the ability to listen to someone talk for more than two minutes without drifting off mentally and physically.
Children and goldfish have probably the same length of concentration. Some kids just might be really attentive goldfish. In a Danish survey, “The Gift of Time: School Starting Age and Mental Health” experts found that a one-year delay in the beginning of school, “dramatically reduces inattention/hyperactivity.” You know how long your child can focus. If the focus is there, kindergarten is calling, but it’s okay if it needs to wait. Sometimes we just need to do a few more laps in the pond.

3 | Is my current schooling situation doing the priming?

Because my son is receiving physical and occupational therapies at his preschool as well as getting the peer interaction that is such a benefit of formal schooling, we are staying put a little longer. If your child is in preschool, consider the kind of preparations he or she is already receiving. Many are now laying a lot of the groundwork for you. They are practicing the patience and lengthening that attention span and teaching peer-to-peer interaction. Sharing is caring. Wait your turn. Play nice with others. All the old adages.
If your child is already used to the routine and would feel left behind when all the friends go off to school, then you know it’s time fill out that paperwork. If the backpack and thermos have already been selected, then you know what to do. The transition has to come in stages. So ask yourself, are we, at home and at preschool, already taking those small steps that will, in fact, be one giant leap for our family? If so, you’re ready to rock the kindergarten circuit.

4 | Is my kindergarten the new first grade?

Do your research. If you’re off to public school, find out what school your child is zoned for and dig like a reporter. Ask neighborhood parents. Ask your kid’s older friends. Ask your mom group or ask your Facebook group (if you dare) and get the general consensus on the school. Is it known for its vigorous academia? What is its educational philosophy?
In an article, “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?” that appeared in the American Educational Research Association, recent studies have shown that “accountability pressures have trickled down into the early elementary grades and that kindergarten today is characterized by a heightened focus on academic skills and a reduction in opportunities for play.” This means that “they devoted more time to advanced literacy and math content, teacher-directed instruction, and assessment and substantially less time to art, music, science, and child-selected activities.” So is your child’s kindergarten actually first grade in disguise? If so, refer back to question #4 and ask yourself again, is my child prepared?

5 | Am I ready to ease on out of the first round of childhood?

This one’s a question that no study, no data, no expert but you can answer. Kindergarten signifies the end of an era, the launching of those early years off into the sunset as you send your child on to newer adventures. It means bus rides and carpools and packed lunches and snow days. It means school friends and parent-teacher conferences and a new time schedule, with bells. “Extracurricular” will now take up residence in your vocabulary.
No longer will you be the parent with the kid at the park at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday. It’s a mindset shift. If you need to hug yourself a little right now, it’s okay. All good things must come to an end to make way for better things. Kindergarten will bring your child one step closer to independence, and independence is a good thing. Just think how good it felt when you crossed the potty training finish line. This is the beginning of a new race, but you’re the only one who can decide when to begin.
So, if you are tuning into the great kindergarten debate and don’t know which side to throw your votes behind, quiz yourself in these five areas, and answer honestly. Don’t be bullied by one side or the other. You are the best advocate and expert on your family. You get to play by your own rules because you made them, the people and the rules, and you will judge in the best interest of all parties.