Surmountable Challenges

My daughter doesn’t seem to want to try anything new. She whines and cries if I try to leave her anywhere. I’m worried that she won’t be ready when she is supposed to start kindergarten in the fall. Should I keep her home for another year?

When my youngest son was four years old, his father was the at-home parent while I went to work. We decided that our son would benefit from attending preschool. However, when his dad took him to preschool, the little boy whined and cried and didn’t want to enter the preschool. For a couple of weeks his dad stayed at the school with him each day and eventually took him home early, thinking the child must not be ready to separate in this way. Eventually the preschool gave us a deadline to decide, and our son was left there for an afternoon. He loved it! He was happy to socialize with the other kids and learn the new tasks the preschool provided. If his dad had continued to give in to his anxiety, he would never have learned that he could handle this new surmountable challenge.

While a healthy, secure attachment is very important for a child’s emotional health and self-esteem, it is important for parents to help their child to venture out and explore. Sometimes parents who themselves had insecure or anxious attachments to their own parents transfer their anxiety on to their children and try to keep them close when the children should be moving out into the world with confidence, facing surmountable challenges.

A surmountable challenge is one that stretches the child a little and forces him to grow up and learn new skills, but is still manageable rather than overwhelming. If we protect our children from such challenges when they balk or whine, they will not learn self-confidence. A child will not learn to protect himself in the world if we are continually there to do it for him. We cannot protect our child from every possible situation that comes up. Children need information and skills in order to protect themselves. Children who are overprotected have very little confidence in their ability to make a choice. They will often look to others (peers or adults) to make decisions for them. Children need to face stressful situations and work through them, and not be protected from them if the risks involved are reasonable. Of course it would be neglectful to allow our children too much responsibility too soon. We need to find the balance.

Keep on exposing your daughter to new situations which are manageable, like playdates, swimming lessons, or part-time daycare. If she has a shy or slow-to-warm-up temperament, she may balk at first. Don’t give in to her whining by changing your mind, but don’t just dump her there. Remain present at first and give her encouragement by saying you know she will be able to handle it. As she learns she can handle these shorter separations and new challenges it will be easier for her to make the transition to kindergarten, and she will develop into a confident adult rather than a fearful one.

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