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Second Thoughts About School Choice—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

How terrible is it for a child to switch schools during elementary school?

Our five-year-old is about to start kindergarten at a private school and we don’t really know if she’ll continue after this school year. All her playdates have been with a handful of girls from preschool she’s known since she was two, but they will all be going to different schools.

Our plan is to start house hunting next spring and meantime fix up our house to sell. We are considering moving to a neighborhood where she can go to the public school one of her friends will be going to. The private school decision is already forcing us to pinch pennies. We picked it because we weren’t thrilled with the local public school and it was more affordable than other private schools. It seems like we can either afford a move, and go to public school, or keep her in the private school and stay where we are.

On the bright side, the moms from preschool and I have promised to keep the playdates going.

Decisions Decisions

Dear D.D.,

It’s nice to hear that you are planning to hold onto the relationships your family has made through your daughter’s first school experience. Steady friendships through childhood are treasures. Long-term friendships with other parents are invaluable. Friends share each other’s ups and downs, provide feedback and encouragement, and readily share resources with one another. In short, we get by with a little help from our friends. (John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1967.)

While adults are better able to maintain relationships with long gaps between get-togethers (technology can help in between!), children develop key social skills through regular contact with regular playmates. In contrast to adults, a growing concern is the widespread replacement of children’s “real time” among playmates with excessive time with technology! Your plan for continued playdates is a good one.

The time and effort that parents make to support their children’s friendships will help them with social skills needed to put someone else’s needs ahead of their own, accept one another’s faults, and collaborate toward common goals. These skills are transferable to future friendships, romantic relationships, family relationships, as well as community and professional interactions. If you learn how to make and be a friend in childhood, the benefits go way beyond having people in your life that you can enjoy spending time with.

It turns out that having friends also correlates with mental health as well as physical health. Strong social networks obviously can reduce stress, bringing compassionate support during tough times, but friends also help each other maintain healthy choices for daily living.

According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH): “Social relationships—both quantity and quality—affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk. Studies show that social relationships have short- and long-term effects on health, for better and for worse, and that these effects emerge in childhood and cascade throughout life to foster cumulative advantage or disadvantage in health.” (Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy, professional journal article by Debra Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez, 2010.) 

Physiological research from NIH found that having friends gives a boost to the immune system and reduces cardiovascular disease. This helps to explain how friendship also correlates with longevity. But this is jumping way ahead.

Make your school decisions based on practical concerns such as location and cost. And of course, your daughter should enjoy going to school! Comparisons with your current group of parent friends will help you to evaluate if the private school is worth continuing. Even spending several years at a less than excellent school, a mediocre “formal” education can be easily compensated for with family activities, Girl Scouts or other extracurricular experiences, and the invaluable knowledge and skills your daughter will gain from her stable childhood friendships.

Dr. Debbie

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.

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