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Kindergarten Readiness: Your Child's Emotions

Can he handle being separated from me?

Your child will likely have an easier transition to kindergarten if he is comfortable away from you for several hours at a time. Some children can handle the separation easily, while others may be overly clingy or tearful as the first day of school approaches. Here are several ways you can help your child deal with his anxieties:

  • Notice how he typically reacts to new and different situations. Encourage him to put his feelings into words. He may be reassured with such statements as "I know you miss me when you're at school. I miss you, too, and when you come home, we'll have a snack and read a story."
  • Know yourself and your own family pattern. Are you a worrier? Do you tend to overreact and overprotect? If so, this could give him the subtle message that he can't really be independent.
  • Practice before school starts. For example, leave him with a baby-sitter or with a friend for a play date. Gradually increase the amount of time you are away from him.
  • Tour the classroom together and meet his teacher and principal in the days before school starts. Call ahead to make sure they are available to visit with you.
  • On the "big day," make your good-bye firm when the teacher indicates that it is time for you to leave. If you linger, he may feel that he can't handle this new experience without you. Give him a big hug and kiss, and tell him how proud you are of him.

How Can I Help Him Manage His Own Behavior?

Learning self-discipline requires a childhood filled with patience, love and limits provided by adults consistently and repeatedly. Your child is more likely to be successful in kindergarten if he knows how to follow certain rules, obeys authority figures, treats objects and people with care, and understands that it is never okay to hurt anyone on the inside or the outside.

His self-management skills will continue to grow throughout the year; for example, he will improve his ability to express his emotions in an appropriate way, listen to a story without interrupting, and stay calm even when he is frustrated or disappointed.

Good behavior provides more opportunities for learning. You can help your child understand that he must obey certain rules and respect authority figures by modeling the behavior you wish to see from him. Do not allow him to boss you or talk disrespectfully to you. This is important if he is to understand, accept, and respect authority figures at school.

Becoming Independent and Self-Confident

Children generally learn best when they are allowed to do things themselves, so the gift of confidence is one of the most valuable things we can give them. Notice the efforts your child is making. Remarks such as "I like the way you picked up your toys without being told" or "You did a good job dressing yourself" go a long way toward helping him feel capable.

Dressing himself — buttoning his coat, zipping his pants, etc. — is one area where your child should feel extra confident. He may also be learning to tie his shoes, but until he masters this skill, look for shoes with hook-and-loop closures.

Many children this age do need guidance in choosing clothing that is appropriate for certain situations. You may want to divide his closet into different sections for school clothes, play clothes, and special occasion clothes. Or, color code his drawers for easy recognition and let him pick anything he wants from the designated drawer.

Practicing Good Manners

A well-mannered child tends to get the most from school. He is also likely to have more friends. Here's how you can promote good manners:

  • Be a good role model. When your child hears you saying "please," "thank you," and "excuse me," he will pick up on your good manners.
  • Require basic table manners, such as remaining at the table until everyone is finished and asking politely for things to be passed.
  • Point out good examples. If you see another child who has done something nice, remark that it was a polite thing to do. Prompt your child to respond politely if he doesn't do it on his own.
  • To help the habit "stick," always commend your child when he has used good manners.

Accepting Others Regardless of Their Differences

Help your child understand that people in the world represent a variety of shapes, sizes, abilities, races, and beliefs. Acceptance means understanding the variety — how we are alike and how we are different—and treating all people in a kind and fair manner. It is a learned behavior that becomes a common practice when he observes the important people in his life treating others with respect.

Other Signs of Emotional Readiness

Children learn social skills best by modeling, repetition, and practice. "Catch" your child being good by complimenting him when he responds appropriately in a given situation. And remember that his teacher will help him develop many traits, such as:

  • coping with changes in routine
  • sticking with an activity until it is complete
  • anticipating the next activity with enthusiasm
  • demonstrating increased responsibility
  • communicating what he does and does not understand and asking for help
  • talking with other children and interacting with them when they play
  • taking turns and sharing
  • imitating adult roles in pretend play
  • recognizing that other people besides himself have needs
  • caring for his own belongings and respecting the property of others.

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