You’ve got a 3, 4, or 5 year old running around who only has a very limited understanding of the world and what might be different between this mysterious thing called ‘kindergarten’ and the daycare they are already getting. How much, if anything, do you share with them?
I met one parent–let’s call her “Joan”–who was distressed about a peer speaking openly about the stressful school choice process in front of the children. Her belief is that a preschooler should be shielded as much as possible from this anxiety because they don’t really know how to process it. On the other hand, I speak pretty openly to my friends about these issues in front of all of our children. Just last week I hosted a parents discussion group at a kids play center, for heaven’s sake! Partly I feel comfortable doing this because it’s when other kids are around and I know that my son in that situation is not paying attention to me–he’s in full on play mode. Joan, on the other hand, expressed to me that her daughter listens to her intently in those situations, even when not appearing to. I guess I don’t have a point here except that it probably makes sense to be aware when you are speaking about these kinds of topics in front of other parent’s children, it’s probably a good idea to ask your conversation partner about how they feel about it.
I also thought of this sitting at the Independence Charter lottery. One woman in front of me was there with her happy-looking niece. The woman explained to her what was going on, and that combined with the tense nature of the lottery itself noticeably changed the girl’s outward demeanor, especially after her aunt told her that her name was not called. It could have simply been boredom for the girl, or at some level she may have been realizing that she lost out on something.
It didn’t occur to me to bring my son to a lottery much less explain it to him. But what is the right thing to do? I’m not a child psychologist, but it is my opinion that every family has to answer that for themselves. Every families’ anxiety level around the school search is different, and, as with me and Joan, every child’s propensity to pick up on those kinds of things varies. Of course, if your school search involves an interview or interviews with your child, you have to share something, right? But beyond being forced into it for this reason, there are probably good ways to share your school search process with your child without creating anxiety in them. With my son, we shared with him that we are in the process of choosing a new kind of school for him–that kids after they turn 5 get to go to a school for bigger kids called kindergarten. I told home that mommy and daddy are looking at different schools to figure out which one he would like the most. I also told him that many of his preschool friends will be going to kindergarten next year. Some will go to the same school, others might go to a different school. He would be with some of his friends and meet new ones too. I have not taken my son on any school open houses, but it was because I didn’t want to be distracted, not because I was trying to shield him. I have not discussed any emotional topic with him, though.
What about you? What have you shared with your child? How did it work out?