Older Kids: My Third Kid Hates Kindergarten Too!

Remember this guy? This sweet, cuddly, awesome 4-year-old? Well, now he's a big 5-year-old, and he's been in kindergarten for about 7 weeks. He started out with an enthusiastic bang, but now we're dealing with tears and major foot-dragging when it comes to going to school.


I know, I know -- I shouldn't be surprised. "Help! My Kindergartener Hates School All of a Sudden!" is one of my most popular posts -- and a very common parenting dilemma. Fact is, young children are totally different animals than "school aged" kids -- and by that, I mean 8-year-olds and up. Little kids are still developmentally more like preschoolers. And that means they're likely to change their minds about -- well, just about everything. So, starting off kindergarten all excited -- then losing steam after a few weeks -- isn't a surprise. Check out my post (and the growing comment section, with my additional suggestions) for coping ideas.

And hang in there, if you've got a balking kindergartener. Usually, if you can support your child through this tricky developmental stage, the protests wind down by Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, Happy Halloween!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

"Cutoff" Birthdays & Kindergarten Readiness: How to Decide?

Dear Dr. Heather,

My daughter turns 5 right before the “cutoff” age for kindergarten – so she’ll be able to attend, but I’m not sure she’s ready. Should we have her start this fall, or wait another year?

Sam in Philly

Dear Sam,

All over the country, parents are going through the same dilemma. For many, like those with “early born” kids, the decision is easy. For others who have “late-borns” (like yours, and my fourth child -- an October baby) -- or for those who’s kids are a tad behind, developmentally -- it’s a tough call. There’s no “magic” test for readiness, and no single developmental accomplishment that means your child is 100% ready.

Here is my basic Kindergarten Readiness Checklist of the areas I consider essential to success in the fall:

  • Enthusiasm about learning
  • The ability to speak understandably
  • The ability to listen and follow instructions
  • The desire to be independent
  • Playing well with others (most of the time)
  • Willingness to separate from parents
  • Basic letter and number recognition

Here are 3 steps to help you make your decision:

  1. Have a basic “Kindergarten Readiness” test administered at your intended school. There are many such tests available.
  2. Discuss the results -- plus the above readiness checklist -- with the important adults in your child’s life, including prospective teachers. Your pediatrician can help too.
  3. Revisit your decision over the summer. A child who’s not ready in the spring might quickly become ready in the summer.

Consider YOUR child’s readiness, and make the decision independent of the “trends” in your neighborhood. Ignore the tendency to “go along with the Joneses” – whether to “hold back” or “push ahead”. Whether your kiddo starts kindergarten this year or next is irrelevant compared to the fantastic developments that he’s gone through in the past 4 or 5 years. Remember that tiny newborn bundle they handed you that day 4 or 5 years ago? Look at your baby now! Good work, Mom and Dad!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Is It Bullying Or Not?

As a psychologist and Parent Coach, I’ve noticed that we’re constantly bombarded with negative messages about our children. It seems that every new headline gives us another reason to worry about our kids. But often, our kids are doing great – it’s we as parents who need a little attitude adjustment! That’s why I’m happy to be a part of the Positive Parenting Network’s Spring Fling – to help get out the message about positive parenting approaches. Because sometimes, our fears get the best of us. It reminds me of a recent situation when a parent stopped me, worried about a 6-year-old “bully”. The child in question — in my observation — wasn’t a bully, but rather a fairly typical little girl, testing out her advanced verbal (and not-so-advanced social) skills. Did she hurt her friends’ feelings? Probably. And did her friends reciprocate by saying something mean right back? They sure did. The parent was very upset about the impact of this “bully” in the classroom — and wanted to know what could be done to stop her. But was this truly “bullying?” No, it wasn’t. And I worry about the little girl being labeled “bully”, because the word has such negative connotations. So, what IS the definition of bullying?

Bullying is being intentionally, repeatedly cruel and belittling to smaller or otherwise less powerful kids. 6-year-old girls telling each other “you can’t come to my birthday party”, or “you don’t get to talk!” don’t qualify as bullying. And defining normal social “sparring” as “bullying” does everyone a disservice. Bullying has been getting some much-deserved attention in the media, and as a shrink I can attest to the terrible damage that TRUE bullying does to kids. But as an Early Childhood specialist, I know that little kids — especially girls — “practice” their social skills quite a lot with their classmates, and those skills get quite a bit of needed refining in 1st and 2nd grades. Teachers in those grades know that this is common behavior, and gives the kids the opportunity to do some social “practicing” in a fairly safe situation. Do they need limits, structure, and guidance in the process? You bet. But labeling them “bullies” is a major overreaction.

If you have a kid in these grades (as I do) — here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Kids need to “try out” their peer-to-peer social skills. Like lion cubs, they need to practice — but they don’t really mean any harm.
  • "Victims” at this age tend to shrug off the insults with no problem. Don’t jump in to protect your cub until you see she’s truly struggling.
  • Talk early — and often — about the little social struggles among your kids’ friends. Make it a point to ask about all the details, not to get anyone into trouble — but to help your cub think through the next incarnation of the battle. We’re building “social muscle” here.
  • Role-play regular situations that crop up. Cutting in line, saying “mean” things, and “who is best friends with whom” are typical arguments. Walk through these issues with your child frequently to try out new approaches and solutions. Ask, “What might you say instead next time?”
  • Be interested, open, and empathic — and try to hold back your parental protectiveness, unless there’s something more serious going on.

And of course, if your child is truly being bullied — or is, in fact, the bully — please step in immediately to involve the teachers and other parents. This is an age where this kind of behavior can — and should be — nipped in the bud. The Mom in question arranged a Parent Coaching session with me – via a conference call, so we could also include her husband – and we discussed strategies especially for their daughter. After a brief follow-up session, they’re now confident their daughter is gaining in confidence and blossoming in the classroom. It’s wonderful how one or two short sessions can relieve parents’ guilt, worry, and stress – and guide the whole family forward, in a positive way. With some practice (and a little luck), you’re setting the stage for your child to come to you with social problems in adolescence and beyond — for help and support in solving ever-more complex social dramas and situations.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Please check out the other experts at PositiveParentingNetwork.com to read some of the other great advice!

Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?

Child I started BabyShrink when this cute guy had just turned 2. And now look at him -- he's the "big boy" in his pre-kindergarten class.  It was easy to decide that he'll start this fall -- he's a January-born guy, so he's already 5. And as the third child of four he's been waiting to be like "the big kids" his whole life. His baby sister might be different, though -- as October-born, we may eventually decide to hold her over for the next year. We'll see. So, how do you know if kindergarten is in the cards for your 4 or 5-year old? Despite the official-sounding "readiness tests" used, there's really no sure-fire way to know. But ask yourself if your "baby" has these skills as we move through kindergarten application season:

  • The ability to speak and be understood
  • Enthusiasm about learning
  • The ability to listen and follow directions
  • The desire to be independent, and a willingness to separate from parents
  • Playing cooperatively (much of the time). Can he handle sharing, playing, and taking turns?
  • Basic letter and number recognition

Having these skills makes it far more likely that he'll be ready in the fall. And if he's not -- that's OK too. He'll get there!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

1st and 2nd Graders: Is It Bullying Or Not?


Recently, a parent stopped me, worried about a 6-year-old "bully". The child in question -- in my opinion -- wasn't a bully, but rather a fairly typical little girl, testing out her pretty advanced verbal skills in more complex ways. Did she hurt her friends' feelings? Probably. And did the friend reciprocate by saying something mean right back? She sure did. The parent was very upset about the impact of this "bully" in the classroom -- and wanted to know what could be done to stop her. But was this truly "bullying?"

No, it wasn't. And I worry about the little girl being labeled "bully", because the word has such negative connotations. So, what IS the definition of bullying? There are many definitions, but all involve the bully being intentionally, repeatedly cruel and belittling to smaller or otherwise less powerful kids. 6-year-old girls telling each other "you can't come to my birthday party", or saying "you don't get to talk!" don't qualify as bullying. And defining normal social "sparring" as "bullying" does everyone a disservice.

Bullying has been getting some much-deserved attention in the media, and as a shrink I can attest to the terrible damage that TRUE bullying does to kids. But as an Early Childhood specialist, I know that little kids -- especially girls -- "practice" their social skills quite a lot with their classmates, and those skills need quite a bit of refining -- in 1st and 2nd grades. Teachers in those grades know that this is pretty common behavior, and gives the kids the opportunity to do some social "sparring" in a fairly safe situation. Do they need limits, structure, and guidance in the process? You bet. But labeling them "bullies" is a major overreaction.

If you have a kid in these grades (as I do -- with 4 kids, it seems someone is always going through this) -- here's what to keep in mind:

  • Kids this age need to "try out" their peer-to-peer social skills. Like lion cubs, they need to practice -- but they don't really mean any harm.
  • "Victims" at this age tend to shrug off the insults with no problem. Don't jump in to protect your cub until you see she's truly struggling.
  • Talk early -- and often -- about the little social struggles among your kids' friends. Make it a point to ask about all the details, not to get anyone into trouble -- but to help your cub think through the next incarnation of the battle. We're building "social muscle" here.
  • Role-play regular situations that crop up. Cutting in line, saying "mean" things, and "who is best friends with whom" are typical arguments. Walk through these issues with your child frequently to try out new approaches and solutions. Ask, "What might you say instead next time?"
  • Be interested, open, and empathic -- and try to hold back your parental protectiveness, unless there's something more serious going on.
  • And of course, if your child is truly being bullied -- or is, in fact, the bully -- please step in immediately to involve the teachers and other parents. This is an age where this kind of behavior can -- and should be -- nipped in the bud.

With some practice (and a little luck), you're setting the stage for your child to come to you with social problems in adolescence and beyond -- for help and support in solving ever-more complex social dramas and situations.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Psychological Development: Why Your 6-Year-Old Is So Awesome

I recently wrote about 4-year-olds, and why they're so awesome. No longer toddlers, but not yet "big kids", they still snuggle like the baby you miss, but have enough independence that they're fun to hang out with.

Not to dis on the 5-year-olds, but SIX is an amazing age. I learned this when our oldest child's first grade teacher turned me on to a classic, fabulous book about early childhood development -- with an educational focus. It's a little technical and geeky, but if you like this stuff you'll LOVE this book. The upshot is this: Something magical happens in first grade. At some point during the year, each kid will go through an amazing transformation. She'll start out like a kindergartener -- still a little clingy and whiny, and living in the magic world of imagination -- ponies, princesses, and fairies. But she'll end up the year like a KID -- an honest-to-goodness Grade School Kid -- who can be swayed by logic, her peers, and the rules of the world.

Schools in many European countries understand this developmental fact, and that's why they don't do serious academic work until age 7.  But their outcomes are much better than ours -- because they're working WITH development, not AGAINST it. You can use this to your advantage by not falling for the ubiquitous pressure to force younger and younger children to do "academics".  Having realistic expectations for the behavior and learning of your preschooler and kindergartener will potentially save you a lot of worry when you're told they're not performing up to "standards". The "standards" of most school systems weren't created with normal development in mind. But that's another big topic for another day.

Read this lovely description of the 6-year-old mind here, and promise me you'll come back to read another article I've written about first graders -- and why yours probably doesn't have ADD, too.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Psychological Milestones: Why Your 4-Year-Old Is So Awesome

I'm really enjoying our 4-year-old. He's sort of an "Entry-Level Kid" -- no longer a squirelly toddler, he can join in the group for some fun, manage his feelings pretty well, and tells silly stories that have us rolling.

Common parenting wisdom has remedies for the "Terrible Twos." But they leave out the "Terrible THREES," which can be mighty tough.

Three-year-olds are really just glorified toddlers who still need a lot of special attention, and are prone to frequent meltdowns, tantrums, and making wacky demands.  But the difference between three and four is huge -- and hugely fun.


Here are some of the major emotional developments that come along with being four. Your 4-year-old can:

  • smoothly enter into new play situations without much help from you
  • start to be responsible for small, regular chores like carrying his laundry to the laundry room
  • take turns and share (most of the time)
  • create elaborate, vivid play scenarios, and stick with them for longer
  • be goofy beyond belief, and play around with silly words and "jokes"
  • boast and brag with the best of them
  • "use his words" more often than resorting to violence
  • start to follow rules (and even insist others do so)
  • enjoy family outings and trips more than ever

But it's not always rosy. Some 4-year-old challenges include:

  • tattling, name-calling and complaining
  • resorting to whining and tantrums when tired, sick, or overwhelmed
  • trying to change the rules mid-way through games
  • "lies" -- still can't understand the difference between "truth" and "fiction" -- and won't, until age 6+

No matter the challenges, it's a special time -- and I'm making the most out of it. Soon, he'll be starting school, and sometime in 1st grade his focus will shift away from family -- and towards school and peers. It's really our last chance to enjoy the special, intense, close parent-child bond before he starts launching into the wider world. (Sniff! I'm going off to have a little cry now -- for my awesome boy who won't be little forever.)


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Kindergarten Haters And Dumb Potty Training Rules in Preschool

Very Common Problems. We bloggers check our blog traffic to see how many "hits" we're getting. My software also tells me how you got to me -- what you entered into the search or URL line to get to BabyShrink -- and this is where it gets interesting. This time of year, I get a lot of searches that look like this:



MY+KINDERGARTENER+HATES+SCHOOL+WHAT+SHOULD+I+DO? The demand is so strong for these topics that I'm re-running these 2 posts together. So without further ado, here's my post on potty training rules in daycare and preschool - you'll see that I have some pretty strong opinions.

And here's my post on what to do if your poor little kindergartener decides that they would rather NOT be a big boy or girl anymore and stay home after all.

I've been there more than once myself, so I can sympathize. Check out those posts and let me know what you think!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Parent Tip: Advice For Easing School Pickups

Today is the first in my series of quick parent tips designed to make your life easier. As a shrink and parent of 4 young kids, I feel your pain -- and I've worked out some of the wrinkles along the way. I hope you enjoy these -- and comment below if you have a question you'd like me to tackle. Today, I'm picking up my 2 big kids from school, with a baby and preschooler in tow. Sibling rivalry is a common problem, especially after school when everyone is jockeying for your attention. The energy of the house totally changes once the big kids are in the mix. PREVENTION is the key to a smooth afternoon. Try this:

Greet each kid separately, even if it's just for a few seconds. Get down on his level for a sincere smile, hug, and as much of a discussion as you can.

RE-GREET the little ones so they don't feel left out of the special attention given to the big kids. Yeah, I know they've had more of you during the day, but it's still hard to let go and share with the big kids. Give a special few seconds as you strap them back into their car seats.

Music and other media in the car make it tough to decompress and talk after a busy day. Turn it off to bring everyone's stress level down.

When you get home, limit your computer and phone use to a different time of day. Your kids will ratchet up the activity and noise level when they notice you aren't "present". Give them this time with you and your sanity will improve.

Give big praise when siblings get along, and let them know you LOVE when they talk and play nicely after school together. Try to ignore negative behavior...practice the Deep Breath and Look Away approach for copious use. The less attention you give to their antics, and the more you give them props for their good behavior, the better it will get.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Body Awareness & Sexuality: Advice On Dealing With Preschool Fears

Dear Dr. Heather,

I am worried about my 3-year-old daughter, who has made 2 comments about her "bottom" in the last 2 weeks. She didn't want me to look at her bottom when I was putting a pull-up on her. When I asked her why, she said "I don't know." And visiting her grandparents' house, she was getting dressed for the day and told her grandma that she didn't want grandpa to see her bottom. I know that her grandpa would NEVER EVER do anything inappropriate...as a matter of fact, he has never even changed her diaper when she was younger. There is nobody else who she is in contact with who would EVER do anything inappropriate either. But I am concerned. I have never used the word "bottom". I do not leave my girls alone with men or even just grandpas or other children (like playing in their room by themselves). They have to play where I can see them.

What I want to know is this: Do preschoolers develop a self-awareness of their body to a point where they don't want certain people seeing them in their undies, or in the bathtub....at what age and is this normal? What should I be doing at this point? My number one priority is protecting my young daughters.


Anonymous -- and Fearful -- Mom

Dear Fearful Mom,

Sometimes it's hard to see our babies venture into territory like this. Body awareness, along with a sense of "private parts", is a first step in a child's developing sexuality. This can trigger strong feelings in us as parents, especially for those who have lingering issues over sexuality, or perhaps have experienced some sort of sexual abuse or inappropriateness in our own pasts. The natural response is to hypervigilant about any possible danger, and to protect your child at any cost. But this can get in the way of your child's growing -- and normal -- awareness of his or her own body.

So YES, children do start to develop a beginning sense of body awareness -- and privacy -- by age 3. It's not a fully-formed sense yet, but preschoolers do start to pick up on the fact that some areas of the body are "private". It's a complicated idea and so at first they can get confused. They might not totally understand whom you DO and DON'T show your private parts to....it would not be unusual for a 3-year-old to act shy about her "bottom", even with a parent. Then there may be other times where she will run around naked, with no inhibitions. They're trying to figure out the "rules" about who can view which body parts. It's a long process that takes at least a couple of years to really come to grips with what is a complicated -- and "loaded" -- concept.

You mention that you're worried about where she heard the word "bottom", since you don't use it in your family. You might think about where else she might have picked it up. Does she go to preschool? Or have friends that use the word "bottom"? Those are possibilities. She could have even overheard a mother talking to her child about it at the grocery store, for instance, "Sit on your bottom when you are in the shopping cart." Of course I can't know, but I'm just thinking of how often you hear parents talking to toddlers and preschoolers about stuff like that in public. Maybe that's where she heard it.

Now, it sounds as if you are afraid something inappropriate might have happened. Of course I cannot say one way or another if that is the case; I'm not evaluating your daughter, only giving you some parenting information. But I can tell you that, usually, children who have been sexually abused show MANY signs of disturbance and regression including sleep, appetite, behavioral, and other problems. Simply using an unfamiliar word -- by itself -- would not necessarily concern me. I would look at her OVERALL behavior over a period of time. Of course if you have reasonable suspicion, you should report those suspicions to her doctor and the authorities. But hopefully this is just part of the normal process of your daughter learning about "public" and "private" body parts -- a task that all preschoolers do work on at this age.

You might also want to check out another article of mine on the normal development of sexual sensations in preschoolers. Click here for it. I hope that helps. Let me know if you need more help.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Post updated 12/2/2010

Developmental Issues: Why Your First Grader Probably Doesn't Have ADD or ADHD

One of my pet peeves is the tremendous pressure that schools have been putting on our young children to "perform". Over the past several years, schools have been ratcheting up their demands for the performance of academic tasks on younger and younger children. But the developmental realities of young children don't change just because No Child Left Behind wants "results". Young children aren't yet capable, cognitively or psychologically, to tackle heavy-duty academic work -- without paying a price. And I worry about those children, like Linda's daughter below, who may be unfairly flagged as having "problems with focus", or even labeled ADD/ADHD, at such a young age.

Read on for Linda's question, and my answer below:

Hi Dr Heather,

My six-year-old daughter is in first grade. Her teacher says she has "focus" issues, and is worried. While this is a small class in a private school, she is there for about 10 hours every day. That's a long day. I think she just gets tired in the afternoon…at that age the best thing would be for her to be at the house at 3p I think. However we both work full time so it's not an option.

I asked the principal about holding her back. However because she is so smart, there is a chance she would be bored and the principal says in her experience (30 years) holding back children due to focus issues rarely solves the issue at hand. She was tested at age three with a district program that checks for ADD and other issues, and the assessor saw no warning flags.

I think she is just a kinesthetic learner who is dreamy and in her head..and should probably be in school for a shorter day. Am I missing something? Can you really say "ADD" for sure at age six? I am worried that this could just be normal range of behavior for this age, and the requirements of schools these days are just the stress trigger, making her hard to work with.



Hi Linda,

In general, I do agree with you that our educators are expecting WAY too much of our children these days, when it comes to "performance" at an early age.

First grade is an interesting age. Teachers will tell you that they typically witness a huge change in children as the year progresses. Most kids will make the transition from what I see as more of a "preschool" sort of mentality, to more of a "grade school kid" sort of mentality. It's a big step that's made sometime during the year, and many issues of the kind you describe are sorted out in the process. That's why standardized tests are viewed (at least by testing specialists) as being NOT super-valid until SECOND grade. There are too many variables up through the first grade. That's also why we typically don't diagnose a child with ADD/ADHD until at least age 7.

Our own daughter was "flagged" in first grade for variable performance on standardized tests that year. It made me crazy that they made the first graders sit for standardized tests at all -- they're worthless at that age! By the time they had a specialist test her (at the END of the year), all the issues they were concerned about had "vanished". She is now doing beautifully in third grade.

Now of course I can't directly evaluate your daughter, but I do think the questions you are asking are valid, developmentally. Asking a 6-year-old to focus for 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, is pretty unrealistic. But of course you want to make sure to take any legitimate concerns seriously.

You might consider asking the teacher to reinforce "on task" behavior, instead of simply worry about "off-task" behavior. You and she can collaboratively set up a plan whereby your daughter is rewarded (with something simple, like stickers or checkmarks, to trade in for small prizes) on a chart for demonstrating a few minutes at a time of "on-task" behavior. You want to set it up so that the goals are ACHIEVABLE -- not something diffuse like "having a good day". You will get much farther with rewarding her for focusing, than by making a federal case out of her being "off-task". You also want to avoid giving her undue attention for NEGATIVE behavior, especially at this age. Kids have a way of absorbing the negative attention directed at them, and can internalize the idea that they "have a problem". You're much better off by reinforcing -- and praising her -- for doing what you'd like her to do more of. You can also tie her performance at school to things you want her to do at home -- listen, complete chores, etc. If reinforcement and praise are coordinated between home and school, you have a better chance of improving things in both places.

See where this gets you, and let us know how it goes.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Development: What to Do if a 2-Year-Old Isn't Talking

Hi Dr Heather, My 2 year old son isn't talking yet. He socializes at daycare, we read books, and try to encourage him by pointing at objects and saying their name. He will ramble on in his own language & expect us to understand it & sometimes gets frustrated when we don't. He communicates with us mainly with body language when he wants something, but he's also so laid back, and almost feels like he doesn't think he needs to speak. Every now & then he'll come out with a word here & there & we acknowledge it with praise, and other times when we try to get him to say a word, he gets really frustrated. He understands what we say & he follows directions very well. Do you have any tips? We're running out of ideas.

Thanks, Carrie

Hi Carrie,

I often get this referral question in the clinic where I consult. Parents and clinicians frequently worry about slow-to-develop speech; luckily, there is often nothing "wrong". In general, what we're most concerned about at this age is COMPREHENSION. If a 1 or 2-year-old has good comprehension, then overall language skills are usually fine. Kids DO talk at much more variable rates, and it often has nothing to do with later speech and language proficiency. Our third child was the latest to develop speech, yet now at nearly 4 he has, by far, the best diction and vocabulary of all our kids at that age.

With that said, however, 2 is quite late, overall, for speech to emerge. I suggest having him evaluated by your local Early Intervention team; your pediatrician can usually guide you to a group with a good recommendation. Even if there's nothing amiss, the evaluators often can give you some great suggestions on how to further encourage speech use by your little guy. If he does qualify for speech and language therapy, definitely go for it. These services are usually provided by very well-trained and dedicated professionals who can make the sessions fun and exciting for little ones. The good therapists closely involve parents in the sessions too.

Good luck and let us know how it turns out!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Advice for a preschooler who HUGS too much

Dear Dr. Heather, My 3-year-old son started nursery school a few weeks ago. Everything is fine except that he hugs the other kids too much! They do not want him to hug them and they wind up hitting him or running from his approach. The teachers have tried to talk to him about it and asked me to please try again tonight. Today he came home with 2 more scratches on his face. I don't know what to tell him to make him understand, and I want him to have a good experience at school. Help!

London Dad

Dear London Dad,

Even though it may seem like your son is the only one with difficulties in transition to school, believe me, he's not. They all have their little variations on the theme. I myself have just now returned from dropping off my 3-year-old at his new preschool. He's not a "hugger", but he is a "clingy whiner". Another of the kids there gets upset when the teacher pays attention to other children, and another strips down to her undies when she misses her parents! This is a difficult time of year in terms of transitions to new things for our little ones. Usually, a few weeks max is all it takes to get used to a new school. But those weeks can feel punishingly, guiltily LONG for us parents!

Your little guy is so young and new to the preschool setting. He really can't be expected to get all the social niceties completely worked out yet. Ideally, you want him with a teacher who can help him to transition and learn how to interact with the other kids so that they all have fun together. This should not be a "scolding" thing, but rather a "fun/learning" thing.

As I said, there are other kids there who are struggling as well with the transition, but in different ways. It's normal; we can't expect a 3-year-old to transition to such a new setting without some bumps and wrinkles. So don't feel too bad about it, and try to convey a positive attitude to him. You can practice with him how to greet friends -- lots of "high fives" and "good morning!" greetings. Give him lots of praise when he seems to improve and "get it". Help him greet his friends once he arrives at school -- stay with him 1-1 down on his level until he says hello to everyone. Don't make it a chore, but simply help him do it in a good way, and again -- give lots of praise. And when he gets home, reinforce the positive steps he took during school that day, and practice "how we say hello" to others at school.

Please talk with the teacher(s) about the issue and ask for their help and guidance and suggestions. Good teachers will have come across this before (many times!) and will not be put off by it or scold him for it. And be happy that he's a sociable little guy!

Hang in there and let us know how it goes.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Discipline: Is My Little Kid a Controlling Bully?

Hi Dr. Heather, My almost-4-year-old is extremely controlling. She tries to control everything, including telling us to stop whistling or singing, and trying to control the other children at her preschool. She has always had an outgoing personality, and is very determined. We have tried ignoring the situation when she tries to control us, which has significantly helped. After weeks of us reacting the same way to a particular controlling behavior, she will subside. Now, the problem is when she tries to control the other kids in her school.

Is there anything we can do at home that will change her controlling behavior toward others when we aren't around to handle the situation? She is also a very sweet and affectionate little girl who loves to laugh. It is her mix of control and determination that is concerning us.

Thank You,


Hi Jenelle,

We've got a 5-year-old who tries to do the same kind of stuff. It is annoying, to be sure! We've done what you have; ignoring the behavior. Eventually, it works (even though it can take WEEKS, as you experienced!)

But when it comes to school behavior, it is a different story. First, arrange a meeting with her teacher to talk about it. Find out how frequently your daughter tries to be "bossy" at school. Ask if it's impacting her ability to make (and keep) friends. See if it's interfering with the teacher's lesson plans. The degree of your response will depend on the answers to those questions.

If it is a significant problem at school, you want to coordinate your approach with her teachers. Make sure everyone (including teachers' aids, enrichment teachers, etc.) is involved in creating the plan, and everyone responds similarly. The more everyone is "on the same page", the faster the offending behavior will decrease. You know your daughter responds to the "ignoring" approach, so use what works, just expanding it into the school setting. Then get at-least weekly updates as to how the plan is going.

You can also engage in some play-acting of the scenarios she encounters at school; ask her teacher to give you some examples of what tends to happen. Don't scold her, but rather wait until you have some time together. Tell her you heard from her teacher that there was a problem between her and another kid, and you want to learn what happened, and how to try to make it different next time. Then start a "pretend" scenario, asking her to play it out with you. Switch roles so that she has the opportunity to be the "boss-ee". Talk about how it feels to be bossed around. Play-act different ways of responding to similar situations, then ask how THAT felt. Again, try to keep any scolding tone out of your voice; she won't listen as well if she feels defensive. Sum it up with a quick rehearsal of how she can "ask people nicely", or "wait her turn", or "let people try things their way", or whatever the issue is.

And no, I'm not necessarily concerned about a determined and "head-strong" 4-year-old. She's at an age where you have the ability to characterize her attitude in either a positive (or negative) way -- and your attribution will "stick", over time. So look for the positive side of her personality. This dedication and intensity will help her be a leader and a hard worker. And look at it this way; you won't be worrying about your daughter getting bullied at school!

Try these suggestions on for size, and let us know how it goes.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Parenting Tips: What Should We Do If My Kindergartener Hates School?

This year, one of our sons is starting kindergarten. Being a second-born, he was "raring to go" to school; he talked about it incessantly over the last few months. When asked if he likes school, he replies, "I don't LIKE school. I LOVE it!" But the J-Man already knew his teacher before school started; she was his older sister's teacher two years ago. J-Man also had been going along for school pickups and drop-offs for the past couple of years; he'd had the chance to slowly get used to the school environment. It helped a lot. But his older sister was more tentative, when she started school. She had to learn the routine from scratch, and didn't have an older sibling on campus to help make her feel more at home. It took her quite awhile to get into the swing of things. For awhile, we fretted that perhaps we had chosen the wrong school, or she wasn't in the right classroom, despite the fact that her teacher was a gem.

I've gotten several emails lately from parents in a similar situation. "My child just started kindergarten. She acted like she was excited to go, but now that school has started, it's a real battle. Although she attended preschool with few problems, she's now clingy, whiny and tearful every morning. Her teacher says she does well after I leave, and when I pick her up, she's fine. But the next morning, all I get is crying, whining, and begging to stay home. What should I do?"

Of course it tugs at our heartstrings when our little "Big Kid" wants to stay home with us just a while longer. Their tears are surprising. We doubt ourselves, and argue over whether we made the right choice. "Maybe she's just not ready yet," we wonder.

But by and large, the protests put up for parents at the beginning of kindergarten are temporary, normal, and not cause for undue concern. We can help our kids get through the transition more easily if we remember where they are developmentally, and have reasonable expectations.

It's important to understand the developmental issues of a kindergartener. A 5 or 6-year-old still has, in many ways, a preschool mind-set. We expect a kindergartener to be a "Big Kid" and go to the "Big Kids' School", yet emotionally, they're still more similar to the squirrely preschoolers they were last year. Kindergarteners don't care much about social norms, fitting in with other kids, or achieving well academically. But our current system of education in the US asks them to do just that: act like a "Big Kid". Yet we can't realistically expect them to behave that way until sometime in 1st or 2nd grade.

So, what to do? Luckily, most kindergarteners have a rough time for a few days (or few weeks) at most. Then, they're off and running with the pack, happily ensconced in their classroom, with their teacher and new friends. Here's what to keep in mind until then:

Talk with your little one about school. Listen to her fears, and clarify any confusion she has about the day. Understanding the flow of the school schedule will help her feel like she knows what'll be happening after you leave.

Be positive, and don't entertain a discussion about possibly staying at home. Say, "I know you feel scared. But your teacher will take care of you, and I will be there to pick you up right after school. I know you can do it. You might be scared sometimes, but you'll have so much fun, too! What a big kid you're getting to be."

Rely on the teacher for advice and guidance. She (it's usually a "she") is an expert at this, and goes through this every year with several of the kids in kindergarten. She'll have suggestions for how to best handle drop-offs. Usually, this involves a cheerful goodbye, a quick kiss -- and then a purposeful exit.

Hold your own concerns in check until you've given your child (and the teacher) a few weeks to settle in. If your child is still upset about going to school, then it's time to schedule a sit-down meeting with the teacher to explore what might be going on. You'll also want to observe the classroom in process -- unobserved by your child, if at all possible. Even a few minutes watching her will help you decide if her protests are just meant to test you -- or if she's really unhappy there.

Most of the time, kindergarten fears and tears evaporate within a few weeks. By then, we're left tearfully wondering, "When did my baby get so grown up?"

What are your experiences with kids starting kindergarten? Care to share?


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Potty Training: My Child's Daycare Requires That He's Potty Trained!

Hi Dr. Heather, My son turned 3 in July and was potty trained in April of this year. Therefore he had four months before he started in a daycare that required him to be fully potty trained.

I have now been blindsided yesterday with an official letter stating they will not be able to continue providing him care. Last Thursday he had four BM accidents in one day, but this was a first. Do State regulations allow them to kick him out for this?

It’s also upsetting to me that the Director mailed a letter I got on the weekend, with no way to contact her until Tuesday.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks, Linda

Hi Linda,

In general, daycare programs have some flexibility in terms of how they interpret the rules. Often, it depends on the Director, and how she chooses to implement them.

4 accidents in one day? Sounds like your little guy might have had a touch of the "runs". Perhaps you could ask if they make any exceptions for illness. You can't know in advance if your kid is going to get the "runs"!

The other issue is whether this is the right place for your son. What is your relationship like with the Director and teachers? Ideally, you would select a daycare center where you have a strong working relationship with all the staff, including the boss. Issues like this come up all the time in daycare. You want to feel comfortable that you and the staff can easily chat with each other when things arise. The fact that you were blindsided by a letter concerns me. Why wouldn't she just stop you to mention her concerns at pickup time? Or at least give you a quick call? Would she write you a letter too if your son had gotten hurt during the day? You want to feel like the lines of communication are open. It makes me wonder if perhaps you might consider your options for other daycare.

Often, parents are told to check if a daycare center is licensed and accredited by an early childhood program, like the National Association for the Education of Young Children. While I agree that accreditation and licensing are important, it's only the beginning. You must do your own investigation of the place before you decide what's best for your child. Don't just accept the first place that has an opening for you, or go on a center's "reputation". Much of your satisfaction in a daycare will have to do with the quality and personality of the specific caregivers and teachers. There's simply no substitute for finding out about the people who will be spending hours a day with your baby.

Here's a quick rundown of things to consider in deciding on a daycare for your young child:

What do the other parents say about the center? Are they satisfied? Are their children happy to go to the daycare?

What kind of staff turnover do they have? You want a place where the caregivers like their jobs, feel supported by the Director, and stay at the center for more than just a few months. And how long has the Director been on the job, as well?

Ask the Director how they handle issues such as the one mentioned by Linda. Will they call you or chat with you, or will you have to wait for an "official" letter? You want the lines of communication to be freely open. You want to get a daily verbal report on how your child's day went, and any changes in the center.

Talk directly with the caregivers who will be responsible for your child. How long have they been at this center? Do they enjoy their work? What kinds of children do they consider challenging? What do they like most about their work? Let them know that you will be an involved parent who is willing to be a cooperative partner in caring for your child, and who also wants to know what's going on at the Center on a daily basis.

Observe your child at play at the center. You know your child best. How does she respond to the caregivers and environment? If the center won't allow parent observations....KEEP LOOKING.

If the staff don't seem to have time for your questions, or convey the feeling that you should be grateful to be accepted into the program...KEEP LOOKING. I know it can be hectic finding daycare arrangements, and parents often feel they have no choice. Don't ever accept that. I'm here to tell you that there are always options, if you're willing to look around, ask questions, and be patient. The time you take to find the right daycare will be more than worth the hassle in the long run!

Many of us have "daycare horror stories", and have learned the hard way how to find quality childcare. Can you give some other tips to Linda, and other parents out there who are struggling to find the right daycare?


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: Dealing With Finger-Sucking in Preschoolers

Dear Dr. Heather, My daughter is five-and-a-half and starts kindergarten in the fall. Though she's not developmentally delayed, she is a bit emotionally immature. The thing is -- she's a finger sucker (the 3 middle fingers on her right hand). It doesn't interfere with her play, but if her hands are not busy, her fingers are in her mouth. Even when she talks, I constantly have to say, "I can't understand you if your fingers are in your mouth." Her 3-year-old brother is a thumb-sucker himself, so that could complicate any attempt to get her to quit.

Quite frankly, this drives me BANANAS. But I don't want to make her quit just to soothe my own self-consciousness or aggravation. If I do try to help her quit, how? Help me, BabyShrink! Ellen D.

Dear Ellen, While finger and thumb-sucking tends to subside naturally by age 4 or 5, it’s not uncommon for it to linger awhile longer. We expect a kindergartener to behave like other elementary-aged kids. But ask a teacher. Kindergarteners and first graders are really closer, developmentally, to preschoolers. At this age, kids still don’t care how they appear to others. Social pressure to fit in doesn’t start until closer to age 6 or 7. That’s what will probably be more important to her over time; what her friends say about the finger sucking. Until then, there’s not much you can do to stop it, and you’ll have to Find A Way To Ignore It. Look away, take a deep breath, and do something else.

Isn’t it amazing how well our very young children have the ability to find the exact habit that makes us nuts? My current struggle is with our 2-year-old. He doesn’t suck his fingers, (which probably wouldn’t bother me much), but he very deliberately throws food from his highchair. (And he has good aim now, too.) That’s what drives ME bananas. And the more I try to make him stop, the worse it gets. I’m not saying your daughter does it on purpose to annoy you. But I am amazed at how often our kids’ behaviors push exactly the wrong button with us.

Young children have such little control in their worlds. They’re physically small. They aren’t very coordinated. They’re not allowed to do a ton of cool-looking stuff. Their bodies and minds develop so quickly from day to day, they have no idea what they can (or can’t) accomplish at any particular time. And at any moment, they’re liable to get picked up without warning and taken somewhere they don’t wanna go. Their independence is developing, and yet it’s often thwarted. You can’t blame them for trying to establish some sense of power and control in their life.

That’s why they need self-soothing strategies; funky little habits that help them feel better about the lack of control and chaos they experience in daily life. These self-soothing strategies are also selected partly to aggravate us, as parents. It’s your kid’s way of saying, You may be able to have 90% control of me, but this 10% is all about me. The fact that it annoys you may be what makes it so powerful to your daughter. It’s her way of saying, I finally have some control here! I can get Mommy really bananas about this finger sucking thing!

As a child psychologist, I’m not usually worried about the young kids who have developed weird, annoying self-soothing strategies. I DO worry about the kids who are too compliant and too easy, at this age. Their budding sense of independence needs to be appreciated and given room to grow. So my advice is this – Pick Your Battles. And only pick the ones you can WIN. This one, you won’t win. I mean, is there any strategy or technique that actually works to make a kid stop sucking their thumb or fingers? And more importantly, is that technique worth the price you will pay, psychologically?

If you look up solutions to finger and thumb sucking on the internet, you will come across sites that suggest aversive techniques such as using nasty-tasting things, or even installing dental appliances. YIKES! While these techniques may physically stop the offending behavior, I’m really alarmed at the kind of emotional and psychological damage they could inflict. What kind of message does that send to your child? Your self-soothing strategies are so offensive to me that I will pull out the big guns to make you stop. Your efforts at learning to be independent are going to be crushed. This could set the stage for a complete withdrawal of the drive for independence, resulting in a regressed, passive child. It also could simply press the “pause” button on asserting independence, and then you’ll have major power struggles later, when you can’t simply pick them up like a football anymore. I’ve seen too many difficult therapy cases of 10 and 12-year-olds who are only starting to rebel after having their spirits crushed as toddlers. And then, the rebellion is far worse.

So hang in there, with understanding for the struggles your daughter is experiencing. You should always check with your pediatrician if you have any concerns, but by and large, weird and annoying toddler/preschooler behavior is almost always transitory, and almost always normal. And enjoy this last summer before her first “real” year of school! They grow so fast! (sniff!)


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Parenting Tips: Separation Anxiety and Daycare. Can't a Dad Get a Break?

First, I want to thank you, my readers, for giving me such great suggestions. Tons of you submitted questions and ideas for posts, and I'm diligently responding, writing, (and plotting and scheming on site improvements!) Many of your questions centered around babies and infant development, so I thought Backpacking Dad's question was perfect:

Hiya Babyshrink!

The last few times I've gone to the gym I've had to turn around almost immediately and head home. My once delightful, friendly, playful, and charming 13-month-old daughter turns into a wailing ball of snotty tears when I try to drop her at the gym day care center now.

It's made me wonder if they did something there that she's afraid of (although I don't rationally believe this, it's the crazy worry that I have when faced with this inexplicable reaction).

I'd hate to stop going to the gym. And the child care there is highly recommended by parents I respect, and I personally like all of the girls who work there. I also don't want to reinforce any "if I cry he'll take me home" attitude she might have begun developing.

In talking with one mom there, who is also a pre-school teacher, she said that kids go through peaks and valleys, sometimes very comfortable with everybody, and other times, suddenly and briefly, hating being separated from mom and dad. Since this is the first time in a year that my daughter has manifested any such attitude I'm not sure if it's just a phase or if there is a problem that I need to work through with her.

Thanks, Backpacking Dad.

Hi Backpacking Dad,

Between about 10- 18 months, there's a peak in Separation Anxiety, based on your baby's newfound independence from you. SHE can now walk away from YOU...get around the house by herself, even lose sight of you as she explores. As exciting as that is, it also scares the daylights out of her. If SHE can go away from YOU...then YOU can certainly go away from HER.....and so you do, at the gym. Did you study Ainsworth and Attachment Theory in undergrad, by chance? If not, here's a link to a classic psychological/developmental theorist who addresses just this issue.

Jakestanding_3 Now, you say that you trust the daycare people at the gym, so I would assume nothing bad happened there. It's worthwhile to ask them, though, if there was a bossy kid around her one day? Or perhaps she witnessed a tearful separation with another child and parent? Anything to give you a clue. Use the daycare people as a resource; ask them for suggestions and advice.

But the bottom line is this: Your daughter is facing a really difficult life lesson in separation and reunification.

It's important that you help her through it by being supportive, but not denying that separations will occur.

She's still not 100% sure that you WILL RETURN when you do go away from her. And there's no way to learn but through experience.

PHOTO: When they start walking, they make the scary realization that YOU can walk away from THEM, too.

Plus, as you say, you don't want to give her the message that her tears will be so powerful that she can control important adult activities.

Having supportive daycare people, plus an understanding Dad, will help her to learn this important life lesson and skill in a way that will help her deal with the issue productively in the future.

I also think it's important to model for her that you value some adult time, and your own health, by sticking to a workout schedule. You can be very understanding with her about it: Talk with her frequently about what you see as her fears. Be reassuring. Remind her that you will return. Tell her you know she might cry a little. But her teacher Ms. So-and-So will be there to help her feel better while you're exercising. And then when you return, you'll both be so happy!

Talk to the teacher first, to let her know you expect a reaction from your daughter.

Plan it out in advance. Don't try to sneak out.

Be upfront and matter-of-fact with your daughter about it. "I know you'll be sad, but you'll be fine. See you soon!" And then leave. If you must, listen by the door, or have someone check in on her after 5 minutes. I almost guarantee she'll be fine after a few minutes of tears. (She may protest an extra while at first, since her crying DID deter you from exercising in the past, so surely she'll try it out again. But stick with it.)

I know it's heartbreaking to see your baby in such distress. I know your instinct is to rush in and make it better for her. But she's a toddler now...the baby rules don't apply as much anymore. She's older and sturdier now, psychologically. She's ready to plow into this difficult life lesson. And she's so lucky to have a caring, thoughtful Dad like you to help her through it in a good way!

If you're worried that she might develop "abandonment fears" from being left at daycare, let me give you an example of how that MIGHT happen: If you took her to a gym that she'd never been to before, and where you had no knowledge of the quality of the teachers, and you didn't give her any time to "warm up" to the situation, and you just left her there for a couple of hours, without explaining that you were going, or that you would return, or providing any reassurance. Just dumped her there. THAT'S what you would NOT want to do. But you're so far away from that!

Know that this is good for Erin, AND good for you.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Post Script After a nice discussion with Backpacking Dad about this, he let me know that Erin started walking the following weekend! Surely, her developmental changes were disturbing her usual acceptance of the separation at the gym. But he and his wife kept trying, and after a few minutes of tears, his daughter settled back into her nice gym-daycare routine.  Nice going, Shawn! And check out his backpacking  "dadventures"  here at his blog!

'Truth' or Consequences, Preschool Style: How To Deal With A Child That's Telling Lies

Dear Dr. Heather,

I have a 3-year-old son who has been fibbing about his behavior at daycare. What can I do to make him understand that this is wrong? When we find out that he has told us a lie, we sit down and discuss the behavior, and give him a consequence of not being able to do something he likes, even if it's a day later.  Am I going about this all wrong?


Melissa from Texas

Hi Melissa,

I know it's rough with this age, but at 3, 4, or even 5, your little guy still doesn't REALLY know the difference between "truth" and "a lie". He's just not cognitively capable of understanding it. He's not 100% sure about the difference between dreams, TV shows, his own imagination, and "reality". That's why imaginary friends and the Easter Bunny get such good play with the preschool crowd.  So asking him about "the truth" is kind of like speaking a foreign language.

I asked my just-turned-five-year-old if the Backyardigans are real. He said "yes". (DUH, Mommy!)

"But are they made up? Like a story?"

"Yeah, a cartoon."

"So are they a lie?"

"Ummm.... I don't know!"  he said.

Your son may PRETEND he understands, because he sees it's important to you, but don't be fooled. Kids this age have yet to come to the stage of Concrete Operations, when they will start to understand the difference between the "real" truth, and what is false or imaginary.

So, make your decisions based on what YOU know to be the truth of his behavior, not what he "admits" to. If he protests that "it's not true", you can say, "Well, I know you WISH it wasn't true, but it was, so here's the consequence." Or one I used tonight, when my daughter said she already washed her hands, but I knew she hadn't: "I know you WANT to be done washing your hands, but I didn't see the scrubbing. Let's try it again, please." Don't make him feel like a "liar" or a criminal for telling stories, but let him know that YOU as his parent DO know the truth -- and will work on helping him understand what that means.

The most important issue here is to help your son think through those tough situations at school, to help him make better decisions next time. Ask him about what happened, in a curious way, without getting upset. "You got mad at the other kid and ripped his paper? How come? What happened next? Maybe next time, try and ask him to stop touching your paper, so you won't feel like you have to rip his picture."

Punishing him the day after the infraction is not likely to work, and more likely to cause a power struggle to erupt. He won't connect the punishment with the action that long after the fact. You're better off letting his teacher give the immediate consequence, if it's necessary, and then talking it over later with him.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink