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Is My Child Ready for Preschool?


My son, who just turned three in November, is having some adjustment problems with listening and following directions in various play classes and at home. I am a part - time stay at home mom, with my son spending my 2 1/2 work days per week, in his grandparents care. Therefore most of his time, except for 3 classes per week is spent with adults. Even though my son is unusually large for his age, he has always been developmentally slightly behind his peers. For example, he started walking at 18 months.
I do not currently have my son enrolled in preschool, due to maturity and he is still in diapers. But I am planning to enroll him in preschool for two part-time days a week in the Fall, of which I hope he will be ready.
My question is in regards to non-preschool classes or short play classes. Now, that my son is three most classes require that parents do not attend. So my son has been attending various classes, with mixed results. He has made some progress, in terms of staying in the class and crying less for his parents. But, is having many problems joining in and following the teacher's directions. He has a tendency to do his own thing, and only participate when he is interested or understands. The teachers so far have been giving us mixed reactions. One teacher, thinks he is doing great and eventually will join in when he is ready. Yet another teacher has questioned my discipline policy and wants me to attend class, to ensure that he follows along. Honestly, I never thought this was a discipline problem but rather a maturity problem. At home, my son does have some difficulty with following directions, but again I though it was his maturity. I feel that these classes are important for his socialization, and I want to keep taking him.
How can I help him prepare for play classes and preschool? Is this maturity, discipline, structure, and/or something more? Should I be thinking about enrolling him in part-time daycare/preschool now, rather the part-time preschool only in the Fall, to help him mature, develop, and be around more children?


My name is Cheryl Erwin; I am the co-author of several of the Positive Discipline books and a marriage and family therapist who often works with the families of young children and with early childhood educators. Your son’s difficulties in adjusting to preschool and classes are not unusual for a boy his age. Boys are often a bit slower than girls to develop social and emotional skills and often have a harder time being separated from parents than do girls the same age; it may also be harder for boys to learn to calm themselves down when they are upset, what we call “self-soothing”. It’s great that you want to offer him the opportunity to be with other children and to play and learn in a group, but not all children are ready for this experience at the same time.
I’m curious about your son’s development—which contributes so much to children’s “behavior” in the early years. You mention that he didn’t walk until 18 months and is not yet toilet trained (which isn’t at all unusual, by the way). You don’t mention his speech and language abilities, however, and I’m wondering how well he can both understand others’ instructions and suggestions and communicate his own needs and feelings, what speech therapists call “receptive” and “expressive” language. Speech issues can be tied to ear infections and to hearing difficulties, too. Services for young children and their families differ from community to community, but you might want to investigate the possibility of having your son evaluated for speech and language and/or hearing issues. Here in my state (Nevada), evaluation and treatment is available free of charge to all families with children younger than three through a state clinic. You might check with your son’s pediatrician to see if such an evaluation would be helpful for your son and where you might be able to receive one.
If you can rule out developmental delays and challenges, then you can feel confident that your son will develop social and emotional skills and confidence on his own timetable. Remember, preschool and “enrichment” groups and classes are not necessary for a child to grow and learn. Your son may do just as well, if not better, with solid connection, play, and learning in your own home. You can read to him, let him guide and direct your play together, and introduce him to other children as he becomes ready. You can learn more about social and emotional skills development in Positive Discipline for Preschoolers by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Duffy. You should be able to find the book at your local library or bookseller.
Your son is fortunate to have such a caring and encouraging mom.
Warm wishes,
Cheryl L. Erwin, MA, MFT
Certified Positive Discipline Associate/Lead Trainer

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