Monday, February 21, 2011

Is Preschool Necessary? (Part three)

part one   part two

{I’m also going to address the “over-mothering” issue (mentioned in part one) as it just seems to fit here.}

M is often on the receiving end of comments like these:  “Why are you being so shy?!”  “Come on, M!  You know these kids!”  “Stop being so shy!  You’re just being silly!”  I cringe every time I hear something like this said to him. 

Being shy is not wrong.  Being outgoing is not wrong.  They are simply different ways of being“Shy” does not automatically equal “unhappy”!  (But hearing things like the above comments can certainly affect a shy child’s happiness and inner peace.)

When I was a child I heard similar comments pretty often.  Not once did it make me feel more comfortable in the situation, or make me feel not shy.  It only made me very self-conscious, and aware that it wasn’t ok with everyone for me to just be me.

Well-meaning people have told us that preschool will “help” M overcome his shyness.  I suppose it could change his behavior, yes – but at what cost?  There is something to be said for the child who chooses to observe and understand a situation before jumping into it.  I’m not sure I want to “fix” this trait in M; it may serve him well throughout his life! 

I’ve discovered a much easier way to help him become comfortable in new situations: listen to and respect his instincts. 

In my opinion, this is how children learn to respect and value others. If we truly understand the dignity and intrinsic value of ourselves, we tend to recognize and appreciate the value of others!  This really is the basis of true respect for others. 

I have heard that you know if you are an introvert or an extrovert by how you relax and re-energize.  Does it energize you to be at a party with friends, talking and having fun?  Then you’re most likely an extrovert.  Does it energize you to spend time alone, simply being by yourself and thinking or enjoying a hobby?  Then you are probably an introvert. 

For introverted children, being in large groups, while it may be fun, can also be very stressful.  I’ve noticed that M’s “shyness” manifests itself in a variety of ways in large groups – he may be clingy, act really wild and hyperactive (definitely a sign he is feeling some stress), sometimes it even comes out as anger he can’t control.   Why would I send him into, what for him is a stressful situation, without also providing him with the emotional security he needs?  If, at 4 or 5 years old, he can’t depend on his mother for that security, to whom will he turn in order to find it?  Isn’t that, in part, what mothers are for?

I don’t believe maturity can be rushed along, and I think it’s a mistake to try.  My husband and I often comment on how kids are so different now than we were at that age.  It seems like they are growing up more quickly, but never truly maturing.  It’s my opinion that real maturity and true independence will naturally develop if the needs of children, appropriate to their development level, are met.   

I think of what I do with M in new social settings as a sort of emotional “scaffolding”.  Often, when I’m helping M learn something new, I’ll “scaffold” the activity for him, setting him up to succeed little by little until he has the skill or information mastered (I’ve talked about this in some of our preschool activity posts).  Comfort with the material, and a few rungs of success behind him, give him much more confidence than simply forcing him to do something he’s not ready for. 

For example, when we are starting a new class or activity, if he wants me to sit on the floor with him, I will.  If something I can do will make him feel secure enough that he can forget himself and really get into what is going on around him, I do it.  Eventually, his comfort in the environment and his level of confidence will increase; I can’t force this to happen, but I can create an environment in which it will happen naturally.  At the right speed for him, I slowly move into the background.  Being close to him during this time when he needs me also allows me to model correct behavior for him – listening to the leader, following directions, keeping my hands to myself (and reminding M of all this as necessary).  If I didn’t do this, the insecurity and discomfort he would feel, would be his focus, and he would not really get anything out of the class or party or whatever it is. 

Is allowing him the time to observe and get comfortable somehow smothering, giving too much attention, or coddling? Does it stem from a desire to keep him from growing up?

No.  It’s simply allowing him to be himself and letting him depend on me for the safe place he needs for the time being; this is the foundation from which he can grow into a mature and independent person.  You can’t learn and grow if you’re busy just trying to feel secure where you are.

As mothers, we don’t hesitate to take responsibility for meeting the physical and emotional needs of our infants.  There’s a temptation, though, as they grow and get past that stage of total neediness, to feel that we just can’t wait for them to grow up.  Sure, children want independence, and it’s great to teach them how to brush their own teeth, button their shirts, tie their shoes for themselves, etc.  But are we expecting them to become emotionally independent too soon?  I admit that sometimes I’ve just been tired of being needed!  But thankfully I always come back to wanting what is truly best for M, even though it may take some effort and sacrifice on my part.

A reader recently recommended a book to me: Hold Onto Your Kids, by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D.  (Thank you, Claire!)  I have just started reading it, but the basic premise of the book seems to be that children must be and need to be dependent on someone and feel emotionally attached to someone, hopefully one or both parents.  If a child does not have that relationship with his parents, he will find it somewhere else – it is just that basic of a need.  If a child has been allowed to depend on his parents to meet that need for attachment, he will not have such a strong need to find acceptance among his peers.  In other words, he’ll be secure enough to be his own person.  And yes, this is important even in early childhood. 

Emotional and psychological independence, in time, will grow naturally from a secure foundation.  It’s not something we have to rush along.

It’s not about “sheltering” or being over-protective.  It’s about helping him grow up in a way that allows him to know himself and become a healthy adult who will influence his world instead of being influenced by it.  And that is one of many wonderful things that I want for him.  

Note: I will be out of town for the next couple of weeks, then on a little break, and so won’t get to part 4 (academics in preschool) until sometime in May.  Other posts will (hopefully) be scheduled for my time away though, so keep reading! ;)

Have a beautiful day! :)











  1. Good post! I was shy as a child and went through all those things. I went to a public school K-7, and it never "cured" me of shyness. 7th grade was a tough year (and it was a new school), even though my dad was one of the teachers there. I felt very stressed and unhappy in a large group of wild 7th graders and dreaded each school day. The following year, my parents put me in a small church school, with less than 20 students of all ages. One of my former teachers told my dad he was making a mistake. How would I ever come out of my shyness if they put me in a small private school? I'm not sure what she was thinking. In fact the opposite happened, and being with a small group of students of all ages actually helped me overcome most of my shyness because I felt comfortable and accepted. I homeschool my children. One is an extrovert, one is an introvert, and the 3rd is somewhere in between. I accept that their personalities are different, and I feel happy that I can train them up to be happy and confident in who they are without having to deal with outside stress and pressure.

  2. I'm so glad you liked the book, and sorry I lead you on a wild goose chase by getting the title wrong in my first post!

    I love your take on shy children. I know I shouldn't worry about or care what other people think, but it bothers me greatly that people think my son's shy, quiet temperament as a sign of poor adjustment, low self confidence, low self-esteem, etc. Yes, being shy and timid does put him at risk for some things, and this keeps me awake many nights. But it doesn't mean that the temperament he was born with is wrong.

  3. Awesome post! I agree with you 100% and I love the premise of that book... I do admit that I am not always patient with Crumpet's shyness in groups but that is because it manifests as violence and anger most of the time. I know why it is happening but it still makes me so mad. We are both working on it..

  4. This really helped me! My oldest children are 4 year-old twins, and in social situations they tend to "hang back" and interact only with each other. It takes them a long time to warm up to people, but when they do, they are very outgoing and friendly. I sometimes feel insecure when I look at the other children in my church who are more outgoing (and also have older siblings to follow), or when people make comments about my kids not warming up right away. So thank you, again, for sharing this - it really encouraged me to allow my kids to be who they are, and give them the freedom to "check out" a situation and warm up to it.

    By the way, I'm visiting to copy your button board idea! I love it!!!

  5. Beautifully written, Nicole. I absolutely agree with each and every thing you wrote (as is so often the case!) and I thank you for taking the time to share this.

    Thanks specifically for writing the bit about large groups and how they can be stressful for some children. Very timely as I've recently been confronted with this. I run a weekly playgroup that has become popular as of late, which is to say it's become more stressful for James. He acts in all the ways you described in that paragraph. It's truly terrifying to see him behave in such a way. I had an inkling it may be because he was overwhelmed and stressed, but as he's never acted that way in a group before, I was left puzzling over his behavior. Thanks to you, I now understand what's going on. Thing is, I'm stuck bringing him to this group every week since, as I say, I run it. I do my best to give him a lot of attention during our time with the group, but I'm constantly being pulled in different directions. I dread every Wednesday as a result now.

    Anyway, sorry for venting that - it all just sort of came tumbling out! On a happier note, I had a random thought as I read this post: I'm willing to bet M and James would be good buddies if they knew one another - they seem to have very similar personalities! Too bad we no longer live in MN. :)


  6. Oh my goodness if I told you I found this post at the most perfect time it would be an understatement. My son is 3 years old and according to everyone it is the time for him to start in a part-time preschool program. We do lots of learning at home, but I started to worry about the socialization of preschool and whether it was actually necessary. Thank you so much for all of your insight on this subject. You have really helped to ease my mind about the whole preschool thing. Thank you!!! I can't wait to read your other post on this and start reading the book you mentioned.

  7. As a mother of shy toddlers/preschoolers I feel into the misconception of preschool being good for them. I had never thought of homeschooling prior to this though.

    For my eldest son he quietly went along and only shed a few little tears. Preschool was good for him and did 'bring him out of his shell'. Why we think that is important for a 4 year old I don't know.

    Then came my daughters turn and of course she had to go to preschool (we had only just begun homeschooling). Listening to others (even well meaning family members) was my mistake! This was a profoundly awful experience for both her and I. She cried for months, I mean really cried....looking back now it was one of those things I truly wished I'd never done, she simply wasn't ready for all that preschool entailed, but I can't change it now and some 2 years later I think she is finally recovering from her year at a small, church/community run 2 day a week kindy program.

    It is a very difficult decision I know and I am sure you will make the right one. I chose to not even put my baby's name on the wait list so that I don't even hear from the kindy he will not be going!

  8. My parents tried hard to cure my introversion, and it just put me in situations that were unbearable. Pure torture. Thank you for understanding that your child is just fine as he is. jan

  9. Great post. I hear a lot that we need to put our kids in preschool to "socialize" them. I read a great article about how taking your kids with you throughout the day actually "socializes" them. They watch you wave at the mailman or smile to the grocery store clerk and they pick up on those social cues and notice people they can feel comfortable with. I love how you suggested to "scaffold" your child. I know as a kid I was just "thrust" into situations to "overcome" being shy. I love your patient and encouraging approach. I have to look for that book too!


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