Kindergarten Emotional Development

Making the jump to kindergarten is a huge milestone for children. They are well aware that they are growing up, and they're eager to learn new things and take on new responsibilities. But while their school lives are moving faster than ever, they are still at an early stage of emotional development, which can make kindergarten a complicated, confusing time—for you and your kid. Learn what emotional characteristics you can expect, and get a few tips on what you can do about them.

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They want to please adults.

A kindergartener’s parents are the center of her world, and many kindergarteners have an intense desire to please adults. They want to know the rules, and they usually follow them closely. They use parents’ and teachers’ approval of them to feel good about themselves.

What you should do: Clearly state rules to your child and tell her how you’d like her to act. Don’t be shocked when your child has trouble following rules, and help her accept her failures.

They want independence.

Kindergarteners are consumed with the idea of growing up, even as they passionately rely on parents to guide them. They look forward to impressing others with new skills and more mature behavior, and they want to do things for themselves.

What you should do: Be selective in providing occasional opportunities to allow your child to be independent. Be patient if your child takes a long time to make decisions or makes illogical ones.

They break rules and don’t know why.

Children this age generally want and need rules, but they also break them from time to time. They rarely know why they do it. Sometimes, they are actively confirming that the rule exists. Other times, they simply try to follow rules and fail.

What you should do: Be firm and matter-of-fact when setting rules. Don’t punish your child if you think she broke a rule accidentally. Don’t take for granted when your child does follow rules, and compliment her.

They lie and put the blame on others.

Kindergarteners often resort to lying and blaming others for their own wrongdoings. They don’t realize how easy it is for adults to detect lies. They don’t yet have the ability—the security, the confidence or the language skills—to accept blame.

What you should do: As strange as it sounds, you don’t need to be a stickler about lying at this stage of your child’s life. Be aware that a child most often lies because she’s afraid of disappointing an adult, and teach her how to accept blame.

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They have irrational fears.

While many children this age are past their old fears, it’s common for kindergarteners to be afraid of the dark, dogs and falling. Some develop a new fear of “bad people.” Children this age may also be afraid of getting lost, their parents never coming home or being left at school with no way home.

What you should do: Don’t dismiss your child’s fears as irrational or unimportant, and never scold your child for her fears.

They are easily embarrassed.

Kids this age are very much aware of a right and wrong way to do things, and they are embarrassed when they find that their actions aren’t in line with the correct ways. This can include the most basic tasks, such as putting a backpack in the correct spot or using eating utensils correctly.

What you should do: Help your child avoid doing embarrassing things. Be active about answering your child’s questions about how to act, in and out of school. Go so far as to role-play at home to make your child more comfortable when she goes to school.

They have physical reactions to emotions, nervousness and stress.

Kindergarteners who don’t like being at school may feel nauseous and vomit. When nervous or upset, they bite their nails, sniffle, have runny noses and suck their thumbs.

What you should do: Don’t panic. It’s normal for kids to have trouble adjusting to their newest milestone in life. Try to focus on helping your child find comfort and fun activities at school rather than fixing particular nervous habits.

Separation anxiety can affect a child for the first few days of school, and possibly weeks and months. Click here for a helpful article on helping your child deal with separation anxiety.

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