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The Competent Parent: Back to School- Letting Go


Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Letting Go for School

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My son is starting kindergarten next week. He’s the youngest of four and my only boy. I hate the thought of him being on the bus with older children, learning icky big-kids stuff, coming home with questions about what certain words mean (ugh), etc. I know it’s time for him to ‘leave the nest’ and I’m the one who’s not ready (not him; he’s excited and I’ve tried to be really positive and encouraging). Do you have any advice on holding onto the sweet innocence of a preschooler, to a mom who’s sad about letting him go?

Mama’s Boy’s Mama

Dear Mama’s Boy’s Mama,

Ahh, the bittersweet sorrow of watching our children grow up.  Babying is good for babies, but not for the blossoming independence of a five-year-old starting kindergarten.  If you think about it, the whole point of doing a good job with parenting is to render yourself unnecessary.

Up to about age five, a child largely depends upon others to keep him safe, fed, entertained, and comforted.  His family members, and eventually his friends, help him learn who he is and where he fits with others.  Gradually he becomes capable of making wise decisions for himself, albeit continuing to learn from mistakes along the way.

Now he’s about to take what you’ve given him so far and run with it.  The bus ride, as you know, tests his ability to fend for himself since the only adult on board is watching the road more than the passengers.  In kindergarten he will be one of many, operating under the expectation that bathrooming, eating, social conflicts, and school work need to be managed without much one-on-one attention from the teacher.

Since you say he is more ready than you, perhaps you can take solace in the fact that his readiness is largely because of the fine job you have done in providing for his development to this point.  Now he needs you to support this milestone of entry to the wider world of kindergarten, big school, and the bus ride, and to trust his abilities to handle things and to ask for a teacher’s help, a classmate’s help, and even your help when needed.  And yes, he is moving away from the sweet innocence of his early years.  He will pick up ideas, words, and behaviors that you will have to deal with.  Other children will serve as models and encourage him to be not-so-sweet-and-innocent. 

Take heart that your influence and control over him will still have the most powerful effect on how he behaves, as well as how he “turns out” years in the future.  As you may have found with your older three children, continued diligence is required to help them become the best possible human beings they can.  As sad as it is, your son’s precious early childhood becomes a cherished memory as you enter this next chapter of your lives.  Your special relationship will never be forgotten if you retell some sweet stories about him now and then – but only when he won’t be embarrassed by it.

Having your youngest enter “big school” is as much a milestone for you as it is for him.

Dr. 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 www.drdebbiewood.com

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

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