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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Preschool Pet Peeves

            I've been teaching preschool for five years now. Considering how different the personalities of each child can be, every year is surprisingly similar. The kids are always adorable and hilarious. Some days I want to lock myself in the bathroom and not come out until the parents come. And I've noticed how some kids are at a disadvantage in preschool because of things they haven't been taught or some things that they have. I love my preschool kids and my preschool parents, and I believe every parent of my students cares about and is involved in their child's life. They are supportive and nurturing. But I have a pet peeve list that's been gathering for five years now, and I finally have somewhere to air it. If any of my preschool parents are reading this, know that when you think I'm referring to your child I'm probably not. After all, this list is five years in the making.
            Pet peeve number one: parents who stay too long. Sometimes a child has been having a bad morning. Maybe they're nervous about going to a new class. They could be upset because their shoes are too tight or they didn't get enough breakfast. It could be something huge, like parents getting divorced or a death in the family or even a new little brother or sister coming home. In cases like those please give the teacher a heads up. We know it's a big deal and we can be sensitive.
            Whatever the reason, your child has no frame of reference for how big a deal whatever is bothering them should be. They take their cues from you. If your child is upset and you hug them, hold them, walk in with them, try to engage them in preschool things, and try to commiserate with them, you are telling them over, “it's okay to be upset, this is a big deal, I know this is a problem, you go ahead and keep being upset about it.” Is it hard to leave your child when they're crying? YES. It's torture. Trust me, I know. But I also know cuddling them gives them permission to continue or even escalate how upset they are. Give them a hug and a kiss at the door, and send them inside. They are stronger without you there, because they don't have to be your baby then.
            If you want to wait outside for a few minutes and listen or peek through the window without being seen, that's totally understandable. You're talking with the woman who still checks on her children every night before bed to make sure they're breathing. My eight year old can't die of SIDS, but the fear was implanted and won't go away. I understand. But don't make them more upset by staying. The longer you hang around, the longer it takes them to calm down afterward. Don't make them afraid of preschool by giving them permission to be afraid and upset when they come.
            Pet peeve number two is harder to talk about, because I don't want to make anyone feel like spending time with their child or teaching their child is ever wasted. It isn't. That being said, children who come to preschool knowing how to SPELL THEIR NAME AND WRITE IT IN ALL CAPITALS ARE AT A DISADVANTAGE. IF THEY DO THAT IN SCHOOL, THEY CAN GET IN TROUBLE. So I spend weeks, usually months re-teaching them. It is so much harder to unlearn something than to learn it correctly the first time. And how do I respond when they say, “But mommy taught me this way!” I will not devalue your parenting, so I have to equivocate. “Your mommy is very smart and taught you all the right letters in the right order. Great job! Let me show you how you need to write your name at school.”
            That conversation alone has lasted weeks. With one child it took me two months to convince them to use lower case letters at all, then another three before they could write their name correctly. That’s a lot of time lost. It isn’t all bad news, though; kids who come knowing how to write their names usually know all their letters already and have better penmanship. I do appreciate any time a parent spends with a child- just don’t teach them things that they’ll have to unlearn later.
            Pet peeve numbers three, four, and five are much less common, so I’ll only briefly touch on them. Teach your children to speak with respect. They’re kids, so it’s not going to be perfect or even very good, but I can tell every time when a child feels like they’re the ones in control at home. There is a noticeable behavioral difference. Teach them to only draw on paper, not tables or walls or on themselves. Again, they’re little, so this is going to happen and I’m cool with that. If you see it happening, don’t let it pass without comment, that’s all I’m saying. And the last one is parents who compare their child to other children. “So-and-so did such a nice job on their paper, do you think you could do a nice job like that next time?” I almost put that parent in time out immediately. Again, this is uncommon, but don’t do it. Just don’t. If you feel tempted because you’re trying to inspire them, knock it off. No one was ever inspired by being told they weren’t as good as someone else, and certainly not when they were four.
            There are great things about preschool and hard things about preschool, but I want the kids coming out of it to feel loved, important, and confident of their place in the world. We’re all friends in preschool. I try to teach every child that every feeling is valid and feeling it is a good thing, even hard feelings like being angry or sad. What you do with those feelings is up to you. I also teach the same lesson three or four times a year about being frustrated. When you feel frustrated, stop, breathe, and think. Stop what you’re doing and take a step away. Breathe in and out slowly to calm down. And then think about the problem and a different way you could approach it.
            And so to any of you parents who may be frustrated out there, stop, breathe, and think. My pet peeve list has been aired, and now you know. And remember, I’ll forgive a lot to parents who obviously love their children, just like all the parents I know. 

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