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Letting go for preschool — Good Parenting

Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Headshot2011Letting go for preschool — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I think this is more my problem than my son’s. We attend a twice-a-week program for preschoolers and their parent or other adult. It’s set up much like a preschool with areas to explore and group activities. I wanted him to have the social experience of preschool without having to force a separation between us. He is 3 years old and I don’t need child care. Occasionally my mother sits with him so my husband and I can go out. Otherwise, we’re together all day every day.

I wonder if he needs to be in a real nursery school – without me – before kindergarten.

Securely Attached

Don’t miss last week’s column on The Gimmies

Dear Securely Attached,

Most preschoolers are ready for a few hours away from Mom every day. While your son has the option to have you by his side, statistically speaking your family does not represent the norm. More than half of the children entering kindergarten have experience in a group program (without a parent) before they arrive.

That being said, he would only be at a disadvantage for a few weeks, after which it would be hard to pick him out from the children who have been in full-time child care for three or more years.

There are good reasons for choosing a preschool program where separating from a parent is not a requirement. Is he the timid type? As he gains trust in himself, he’ll gravitate toward another quiet child for play time. He may prefer smaller, quieter social activity the rest of his life.

Another year in a parent-child play group is perfect for him. There are options at kindergarten time, too: the smaller class size of a private school, or home schooling. Is he “behind” in skills? An experienced early childhood teacher can help you decide if an assessment by Child Find is warranted, or if he is well within the wide range of normal development. Private school and homeschooling are good options for learning differences, too. Boys, for your information, are generally about six months behind girls for verbal and social-emotional skills at this age, so he may be as ready for kindergarten as the other boys are by then.

Or is your hesitation to put him in a program without you due to your insecurities? If so, you are better off where you are, perhaps with some counseling/coaching to help you be more confident of his growing ability to take care of himself in your absence. And to help you connect with other roles you could be playing in your life right now. Unless your son has some yet undiagnosed learning disability or psychological disorder, your “hovering” around him doesn’t benefit him, and could possibly cause him to doubt his abilities as well.

To help get you started, I’ll offer a few skill areas to be focusing on which should help ease your mind


  • Is your son learning self-help skills? These include managing his jacket, being independent with toileting, and helping himself to toys and materials without the assistance of an adult. Toilet accidents happen, but you can teach him how to clean himself up and change his own clothes.
  • Is your son enjoying being around other children? At age 3, he should be able to play “nicely” for periods of about half an hour, although an adult should be available to guide children through conflicts with an eye toward teaching them conflict resolution skills.
  • Does he manage his emotions? He should be able to count on a teacher for a reassuring word, a hug or a lap. He should be getting better and better at using language to express his feelings, and better and better at being respectful of others’ feelings.

The rest of what children gain from preschool — motor skills for cutting, drawing, managing a cup, etc., and intellectual skills including creative thinking, new vocabulary, hands-on science experiences, etc. — can easily be obtained through time spent just with you.

Parenting a preschooler is a stage of development itself — between the non-stop nurturing of infancy and the clanging shut of the school door between you. As in all the stages of parenting, you should find someone with whom you can discuss this phase to help you be more comfortable with the amount of togetherness and separation each of you needs.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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