How to choose the right kindergarten?

It is January, but parents are starting to worry about kindergarten: Which one is the one for my child? Is my child ready? Is s/he too young?  Does s/he need to know how to read? Write? Do mathematics? Is private school worth the money? Is public school good enough? Is the choice of kindergarten going to be a deciding factor in the rest of my child’s life?

Here are some points to think about:

*   Entering formal school is important, but you are still the most important piece of your child’s life. Keep the sense of being connected, allow for a comfortable flow of communication, and be sensitive to your child’s growing personality without imposing your own dreams on him or her. That will build a strong basis for your relationship with your child.
*   The personality of the teacher is more important than the methodology or philosophy of the school. Meet the teacher and ask yourself: Can this teacher love the kind of child my child is? Do not expect her to change him/her to the child you want him or her to be (more cooperative, less wild, more obedient, etc.). You want the teacher to love your child and be ready to work with him or her the way s/he is right now.
*   Some schools expect a 4-year-old to be able to read/write/know-the-numbers. If your child does not have these skills yet – s/he is not a failure. S/he is just not a good match for this school. Find a place where the teacher is ready to TEACH all that. You will find out that all your child needs is curiosity and eagerness to learn.
*   In general, when money is not plentiful, private schools are not a good investment. It is better to save this money for college. With a close eye on the child, a close relationship with teachers and administrastors, I have seen many children get a wonderful education in some of the more difficult neighborhoods.
*   Some competitive parents want their child to start school as early as possible. Being the youngest in the class is never an advantage. This child will have no shot at leadership opportunities in the class. It is better to wait another year and let him or her be the most mature (in addition to being the smartest…) so he or she can take adventage of her or his briliancy. Finishing college at 20 is not an advantage in the market, but not having girls your age all along can have a strong impact on a person… And yes, this kind of challenge is most common with boys.
*   Think about the friends your child will make in school: A neighborhood school might afford the possibility of walking or riding a bike to a friend’s home. Picking a school outside your neighborhood can make social life difficult later.

I know that, along with all the advice a parent will get, there is a sense of a big transition, and even anxiety. Make sure your anxiety is kept to a minimum, or your child will start to worry about the whole thing. Starting school is a celebration, not a focal point for worries. Make it one for your child!

Child development charts

Is my child’s development OK?  When a parent ask this question, the expert will give her a chart. This is what I found on the Mayo Clinic web page, and there are many others out there:
Age 2 Age 3 Age 4 Age 5
Language skills
Links two words together Identifies most common objects Describes the uses of common objects Uses compound and complex sentences
Speaks clearly enough for parents to understand about half the words Says first name and age Speaks clearly enough for strangers to understand Says full name and address
Knows some adjectives (big, happy) Uses pronouns (I, you, we, they) and some plurals Uses verbs that end in “ing” and some irregular past tense verbs, such as ran and fell Uses future tense
Speaks about 50 words Answers simple questions Tells simple stories Understands rhyming
Social skills
Becomes aware of his or her identity as a separate individual Imitates parents and playmates Cooperates with playmates Wants to be like friends
May become defiant Takes turns Tries to solve problems Follows rules
Becomes interested in playing with other children Expresses affection openly Becomes interested in new experiences Understands gender
Separation anxiety begins to fade Easily separates from parents Becomes more independent Wants to do things alone
Cognitive skills
Begins to play make-believe Plays make-believe Becomes involved in more complex imaginary play Uses imagination to create stories
Begins to sort objects by shape and color More confidently sorts objects by shape and color Prints some capital letters and names some colors Correctly names at least four colors and counts at least 10 objects
Understands some spatial concepts (in, on) Understands more spatial concepts (over, under) Understands more complex spatial concepts (behind, next to) Distinguishes between fantasy and reality
Scribbles Copies a circle Draws a person with two to four body parts Copies a triangle and other geometric patterns
Finds hidden objects Understands the concept of two Understands the concepts of same and different Understands the concepts of time and sequential order
Physical skills
Walks alone and stands on tiptoe Walks up and down stairs, alternating feet Stands on one foot for at least five seconds Stands on one foot for at least 10 seconds
Climbs on furniture and begins to run Kicks, climbs, runs and pedals tricycle Throws ball overhand, kicks ball forward and catches bounced ball most of the time Hops, swings and somersaults
Builds a tower of four blocks or more Builds a tower of more than six blocks Dresses and undresses May learn to skip, ride a bike and swim
Empties objects from a container Manipulates small objects and turns book pages one at a time Uses scissors Brushes own teeth and cares for other personal needs

Most parents get too anxious to score their child on the chart, and they need some help in the process.

Here are some suggestions:

It’s easy to look at such a chart and become anxious because your child is 3 and not yet taking turns, for example. But the fact is, there is not really a specific age for any stage. This is simply a general guideline. Researchers are more sure about the ORDER of what comes first, but cannot say that any stage should happen at a particular age.

Is the child growing? Just as the weight gain of an infant is a general growth indicator, you can look at others. Do you notice more vocabulary words? More understanding? Does curiosity move the child forward? Your child is growing.

Language is important. In the past, we gave time for language development to manifest itself. Recent research sends parent to speech therapists at a younger age now. There is an important reason: Speech is the key for both social and emotional development. Without language, a child is more vulnerable to frustrations and temper tantrums, and will experience a harder time in moving from solitary play to cooperative play without becoming aggressive.

Language specialists now have many tools to aid a child’s language development, but I recommend that you see the process as facilitating a natural process and not fixing something that is broken. Your child would have picked up the language on his or her own; we just want to protect him or her from the side effects of delays. Your child is FINE!
Do not look for information that causes you to worry–but do not ignore your gut feeling that something is wrong. If you do feel something is wrong–talk to your pediatrician, child-care provider, family member. But above all, trust your child, accept him or her as s/he is, and take delight in every step of development–even it is behind your best friend’s child’s.

Your child’s development is nurtured by you witnessing it. So, go ahead, become your child’s cheerleader!

Your child’s crying – your crying

The first crying of a baby, the one to which the mother responds so powerfully, is the basis of the mother-child bond. Mother–and father, too–will always jump to help their crying child. The “alarm bell rings,’ and help is on the way. This bond can be described as hormonal/physical, emotional, and spiritual. We are connected. We are one.

As the child grows, and the parents perceive him or her as a more-aware partner in the relationship, it becomes harder for the parents to listen to the crying. If it is obvious to the parent the the child is not in imminent danger, than why does s/he cry? Parents’ thoughts and feelings start to swirl around: Why does s/he do that to me? Why doesn’t s/he listen to me?

And judging start to take place: What a selfish kid! S/he just want to show s/he can get his or her way, to show me s/he is the boss. Many negative thoughts and feelings come to the foreground. The normally loving and supportive parent becomes an angry, frustrated, and negative individual. It is almost like this individual needs to cry, too.

Fact: This parent does need a shoulder to cry on. Our children’s feelings resonate with us, bringing our own feelings to the surface. We have found ways to ignore those feelings, bury them, deny them, invalidate them–but they are there. And spending a long time with young children who cannot cope with negative feelings yet reminds us of times we were just as vulnerable. And we, too, need to find our way out of these negative feelings.

What is a parent to do? If you do feel your negative feelings coming to the surface, do not take it out on your child. Find a safe place, a friend, a journal, a coach or a counselor, to unload your pain, your crying. That will help you to be calm, present, and positive, so that your child will be able to unload his or her feelings safely, and move on.

Child development: Crying

When my first child was born, I was surprised at how strong she was: She cried so loud, it MADE me know what to do and go and do it.
As an infant, it was simple, totally hormonal: I fed her. I also held her, changed her, talked to her, cuddled with her.

This new experience of knowing what this baby is saying when she cries overrode all other experiences. Her crying did not annoy me, it did not frustrate me, it actually empowered me: I felt I understood my baby. She “talked” to me, I knew what she said, and I knew what she needed and what I needed to do.

As she grew, she started to use other forms of communication: She smiled, she made cooing sounds, she closed her eyes and lips when she did not welcome a new food. I expected that as her vocabulary grew, I would be able to understand in more detail, to get more information about what she wants. I expected everything to become much easier.

But what happened instead is that she learned how to say “NO.. And she cried really loud when she did not get what she wanted. As you can see, this too was crying, but it was different.
The difference between the crying of the infant and the crying of the toddler is its urgency and its purpose. The child does not know the difference. For a toddler to get what s/he wants is as important as food for the infant. It is the adult’s judgement call to decide when “urgent” is urgent, and how to let the child experience delay without losing trust in us.
This is part of what we mean by “child development”–but we rarely consider the “parent development” part. The parent needs to be ready to make this change, to realize that the child can wait, that not to fulfill his or her need right now is ok.

The child trusts the confidence of the parent that s/he will be ok. S/he does not know it, yet. That is what needs to change in the next stage of development.

Parent: time for weaning

Weaning a baby from anything is a difficult process. It is hard for the baby – he cries, she gives all kinds of distress signals , but it is equally hard on the mom, if not more. That is why the process of weaning has to address both sides.

If Mom has decided to listen to some authority and stop nursing, stop using the bottle, move the child out of the family bed, stop using the pacifier or lose the blanky–if she is not sure at the very bottom of her instincts that it is the right thing to do, and that the baby is going to be OK, and that the baby IS OK despite the crying , it is going to be a complicated process. The reason: The baby can read Mom, and depends on her feeling secure in the process. If she is not secure–he or she will not be secure, and will not be OK.

This is the danger in listening to someone else without Mom having respect for her own feelings. She can decide her feelings are in the way. She can decide she would like to learn to act and feel differently about her baby, but she needs to deal with her inner feelings first, before she puts her baby on a difficult emotional journey.

Some parents feel they do not want to expose their baby to this precess, ever. This is very understandable position: To find a “non-violent way” of weaning. I am not sure such a way exists. A baby who has never faced a “no” will always be challenged by limits. And will always cry!

Some theorize that there is a magic age for weaning. What a mother needs to know is that any research or theory is true for some abstract average child, and her child most probably does not match that ideal. I recommend Mom ask herself what she feels about her child, and trust this as her guideline. If you think your baby is going to be OK–it is the right time for weaning.

Holiday safety

Winter holidays are a lot of fun, and hold a lot of beauty: the lights, the colors, the smells, the music. There are visits and visitors, crowds in the mall, and so much more. But also: There is the hectic kitchen, the hot oil on the stove, and the candles and electic wires, the noise, the wild schedule, and everyone’s stress that comes from trying to make it the perfect holiday.

Both these extremes do not affect the very young child in positive ways. The child’s routine is disturbed, the house has new rules, parents the parents’ attention is stretched to the breaking point

Children do not need the perfect holiday. They will have other opportunities to make it more of a grown-up event. To make the holiday a child-centered one, it must be stress-free. Even if it means not so many decorations, not so many runs to the mall, not so much shopping, and not so many cookies. Just as long as the child is not fussy, and does not cause the parents to feel the baby is interering with it all.

If you are disappointed because you dreamt of more involvement for your child in the holiday spirit, just remember that there is next year, when the child will be able to join in and handle more, and more years to follow.

And in the meantime, you can enjoy the holiday from your young child’s point of view!

Visiting grandma

Many families go to visit parents or other relatives during the holidays, or grandma and grandpa come to see them. Sometimes parents have fantasies about their child connecting with their parents instantly, although they may not have seen them for a whole year. And for a 4-year-old, one year is 25% of their life! No wonder sometimes there is disappointment in these meetings, on all sides.

The trick is not to hang on to this fantasy. Grandma cannot take charge of the young child and give you the long-awaited weekend alone that you so longed for.  You must facilitate the connection between your child and these strangers, first.

I know I was disappointed it did not happened instantaneously with my kids and their grandparents. But once I took my time and the children did not feel pushed at these strangers, once they saw how I am connected to them, trust them, smf love them–they created their own relationships with them.

So do not expect your mom to take over your kids for the holiday. Your restful weekend might not take place during this visit, but other, more important things, will.

Teaching to be charitable

Giving to charities is a big part of the holiday spirit, and no wonder parents want their children to learn to give to the needy. Some parents get the children involved in buying gifts for donation, others ask their child to choose one of their toys to be given away. To their big surprise, sometimes the child is very upset at letting go of his or her toy, and the pressure the parent put on him might not result in a child that loves to give to the needy.

What is a parent to do? But giving to charity is such a noble act. Should a child be forced to participate?

To answer this question, it is helpful to look at the developmental stage of the child, and only then desigh an activity that will communicate our value to him: A very young child is so self-centered that forcing her or him to be considerate of others will never register in this child’s mind as an act of love. The way the child experiences it is negative: Something was taken away from him or her. The parent loves someone else more than they love the child.

We cannot expect that just because we want him or her to feel differently about it, she or he will. There is a distance for this child to go before she or he can suspend their desires and give something that they value to someone else.

All that does not mean we should exclude the young child from the gift-giving and charity-giving we value. While we do not have to provoke the child’s insecurities, we can get him or her involved in OUR giving. We can let the child witness what we do, help us, and hear us share how we feel when we give of what we have,

If we do our giving in the presence of our child, we can notice the moment the child moves to do what we do, and asks to give something of her or his own. There is no specific age at which this happens, but if you tune into this possibility, the child will tell you when he or she “gets the idea” and becomes ready to take a more active part in the act of giving.

To Christmas or not to Christmas?

Many Americans feel Christmas is an American holiday, and do not see why non-Christians should not celebrate it: the tree is so beautiful, the food is delicious, and the music divine – what’s not to like? The deeper meaning of this holiday–well, it is a matter of taste. Some like to go to church, others do not. That’s a common point of view.

In the past, Christmas was the holiday that newcomers adopted to feel they are “melting into the melting pot” of this wonderful land. But in recent decades, the idea of “melting” as an ideal for new immigrants is no longer held to be desirable. The current metaphor is more like a “fruit salad,” where we are all equal and mixed, but the ingredients are separate and identifiable. Regional, ethnic and religious minorities are asserting themselves, and people are more comfortable expressing their uniquness, including their thoughts and feelings about Christmas.

If you did not come from a Christmas-observing culture, you have a choice. Do you want to celebrate Christmas? In what ways? Talk to your spouse and to your friends about it.

In years to come, your child will ask you about this choice. If you decide you want to fit in, when your child becomes a teenager her or she will press you to “fit in” in other ways he or she will perceive as “American,” and they might not be to your liking. That does not mean you should not have a Christmas tree; just that you make your journey clear to your child regarding what you decide to adopt, and what you still hold dear and unique, regardless of where you are.

Gift-giving, gift-receiving

The more we try to give a “perfect” gift, the more we expect our effort to be appreciated. A delighted facial expression, a surprised joyful laugh, a great “thank-you,” and a big hug–that lets us know we made the right choice, and we feel rewarded.

Sometimes this puts a lot of pressure on both children and adults. In the book “Nurture Shock,” Po Bronson points out that children are expected to say “Thank you” and act happy–even when they are disappointed.

What adults fail to recognize is that young children do not take intentions as an excuse: The fact that the parents meant to make a good choice of present, but the child actually wanted something else, puts the child in a bind: If he or she says what they really feel, they will hurt their parents’ feelings. If they choose to make the parents happy, they will lie. So by demanding good manners, we are demanding lying. This is the conclusion of many research surveys, and as parents we should know this.
If you are going to coach a child to act in a sensitive way, you must take his or her age into account . In the early years, the child will understand such coaching as permission to lie. This is a very challenging fact for parents to deal with, and there is no simple answer as to what to do.
But knowing this, maybe we can take the pressure off the youngsters in the family, and give them some time to figure things out,. Perhaps for a while, we can let them feel free to express their true feelings about the gifts they receive. They might be disappointed, angry, frustrated, or just simply not excited.

Let them know you love them no matter what they feel. You know in your heart what the choice of gift was intended to communicate, and that their appreciation might not come right away. This way you give your child an opportunity to mature, under the wings of your love, and allow them to figure out the right use of “white lies” when he or she is old enough to deal with social complexity.