It’s almost time for the beginning of the school year. And for many children, it’s not “Back to School”, but “Beginning School, or preschool, or daycare” for the first time.
This is a momentous time for children and for their parents. Things are changing in everyone’s lives. Our children are moving out into the world.
There are many challenges for children as they take this big step. Separation from family members is probably the biggest, but next in line, or maybe as significant, is entering into a true group experience.
Last year I asked a little friend of mine who had just started full day kindergarten, what was different about it.
The answer was swift. “I eat lunch at school”.
And lunch was all about eating together with others, in a group.
Learning to be in a group is one of the biggest challenges in growing up, if not of life itself.
No matter our age, when we enter into a group we are faced with the questions…
How do I act?
Where do I fit?
Will they like me?
Who will play (or talk) with me?
How do I handle that challenging person?
How do I get what I want or need?
In group situations, children are pushed into learning and using new social skills. And for younger children, the major skills they are learning are sharing and cooperating.
These skills do not come naturally and take time and much practice to develop.
When we ask young children to “share”, “take turns”, “be nice” etc, they really don’t know what we are talking about. Young children are focused on their own needs and have to learn to see others’ points of view and needs. They need to be shown the details of sharing, the mechanisms of taking turns, and what behaviours constitute “being nice”.
As children get to the early school years they are more socially skilled. They begin to take others’ feelings into account and express their own needs more clearly.
Still, each child has to deal with many other children with varying levels of social skills and capacities. In the classroom and the school yard, they will have challenges and opportunities for both great exhilarating fun, and distressing conflicts. Children need skills for handling both.
As parents, it is up to us to provide our children with the skills they need to be in a group setting. We need to model how we want them to be with others. They need to see us sharing, taking turns, “being nice”, expressing our feelings sensitively, talking about others respectfully, handling conflicts and disagreements honestly, and participating in group situations as confidently as we can.
We need to recognize and acknowledge that for many children being in groups is difficult. Some children just move on in and thrive; other children are frightened and overwhelmed.
If you are seeing an increase in aggressive and negative behaviour, bed wetting and other “younger” behaviours, your children may be having a hard time with their group experiences.
If you can observe them in their group, do so. Talk with the teachers or caregivers and together you can find strategies to help your children.
Most importantly, make sure you spend lots of cozy one on one time with them. Their secure connection to you gives your children the courage to move out into the world.
(image credit: DailyHerald.com)