Sending your child off to that first day of kindergarten is daunting for just about every parent.  By first grade, everything seems to be going all right, and parents can take a little solace in the fact that, though their child is technically “school-aged,” her life still very much revolves around the home, her siblings, and, of course, Mom and Dad.  Then suddenly – wham!  It hits.  That first grader transforms into a second grader and things are just plain different.  The big hug and kiss goodbye at the bus stop becomes a shrug and a “Bye mom, see you later!”  What happened?

Second grade marks the point where your child goes from being “your baby” to “your kid.”  According to Dr. Laurie Zelinger, Ph.D., certified school psychologist, children in this age range are “making the transition from dependence to independence and from family-centered to school-centered focus.”  Lori Landau, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Parenting Coach adds, “They have a life now, are immersed in school, activities, and relationships with their peers.”  However, this is also a time when the pressures of the outside world combined with the newly emerging dramas that come with more complex peer relationships can threaten to overwhelm a child.  Landau advises parents that one of the best ways to help your child shake off the stress of the social environment at school is to actively listen to whatever she chooses to share with you about her day.  It is important to listen and respond without judgment, as this is your child’s time to unwind, explore and seek guidance regarding grievances she may feel toward her friends or teacher.

Zelinger urges parents to remember that although children in this age range are struggling for independence they “still need emotional support from parents.  They need your encouragement and security in order to take risks.”  Second graders watch and mimic their peers, and may struggle with feelings of insecurity.  So, whether they are able to explicitly state it or not, children of this age group need parental reassurance and affirmation.

Your second grader may not always be able to adequately express herself verbally, and that is perfectly normal for this age.  “Children do not typically talk about their disappointment, however, they get angry, grab things, call names, push, tell on one another, complain, whine, etc.  But underneath all the noise is usually a disappointment that is difficult, in terms of their emotional development, to handle,” explains Landau.  She advises that parents be as patient as possible during this phase, as it does eventually pass, and that sometimes simply being with them through their trials and disappointments, and responding without derision or judgment can make all the difference.  “They will learn, eventually, to contain themselves, and through this will develop a greater sense of social ease,” says Landau.

So what’s a parent to do through these tumultuous years of expanding friendships, a budding social life, and newly formed independence?  “Keep hugging and kissing your children,” advises Dr. Zelinger, “but not in public.  They would die of embarrassment.”  As long as that big goodbye hug and kiss takes place before you step out the front door, everything should be just fine.