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Preschool Confidential: What Teachers Want You to Know

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My job is quite entertaining: I get to spend my days with your children, and they never fail to make me laugh. Sure, there are stumbling blocks, but the hurdles with the kids are usually surmountable. It's often you -- the parent -- who presents the biggest challenge. I know it's hard navigating the demands of school (I'm a mom, too), but here are a few things I'd love to tell you. You may find some hard to believe, but I guarantee you: I have made nothing up. Who could make up a frazzled working mom juggling so much that she put the entire jar of peanut butter in the lunch box?

Empty your child's backpack. Yes, it contains a lot of glue and glitter and unidentifiable objects, but your child worked hard on those projects and is proud of them. Even if you're going to toss it all in the trash as soon as you tuck him into bed (yep, I do this, too), at least pretend to be interested enough to look at it with your child.

Now that your child is verbal, it might be a good time to get a lock for your bedroom door and use it. Your son told his friends quite a story about his nighttime wanderings -- illustrated with our career dolls -- and it's really very awkward to have those images of Ms. Banker and Mr. Plumber flashing before my eyes every time I talk to you.

Don't ask me about any other children. If I tell you that your child is doing well on something, don't ask me if Julian is doing that, too. And don't ask me if your child is the smartest in the class. I won't tell you. Teachers prefer to compare a child's progress to himself, not others: Could he draw a face this well last fall? Could he sit still this long for a story two months ago?

I'm sure your child is gifted. My three children are all gifted, too. Shall I tell you all about them? In mind-numbing detail? Wait, I think I may have a video here on my phone that you can watch -- it's only 12 minutes long.

School clothes can -- and should -- be playclothes. Our job is to keep your children happy and inspired, which often involves getting messy. No one here will judge you unkindly if your child doesn't look like she just stepped out of a Polo ad.

About goodbyes: A kiss, hug, and "Have a super day!" is all that's needed. With the exception of the beginning of the year, when your child is still getting adjusted, you shouldn't linger. If your child likes to know his schedule, one additional line about what you'll do after school ("We'll go to the park") can be helpful. And please don't sneak out. Your child will become more desperate to catch you, which ups the stress factor enormously. It's better to make a clear departure, even if he cries, because then he knows what's going on, which helps him feel more in control of the situation.

Lice can happen to anyone. You needn't be embarrassed. Just let me know so I can prevent an outbreak.

I'd appreciate it if you don't send in talking toys. Perhaps you're hoping they'll get lost, and I'm right there with you. By the way, I can't stand SpongeBob's laugh. There's nothing you can do about that -- I just needed to say it.

You do not need to give me a holiday gift. I will love your child no matter what. But if you do:

Skip the regifted Santa that swivels his hips and plays "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" every time someone walks by. If funds are a problem, a nice note is always lovely.

If you give me baked goods, please don't tell me that your child helped make them. I bake with your children, too, and I know the secret ingredients that go into their recipes.

Gift cards are not impersonal -- they're wonderful. Even in very small denominations.

I really, really don't need any more scented candles.

Understand other children as you do your own (okay, at least make an effort). When another child is having some behavioral problems, contain the smug disapproval. As a parent, you know that all kids go through difficult phases, and families sometimes experience stress that is out of their control. Besides, your child isn't perfect, either. No one's is. If the other kid is aggressive, have faith that I will keep your child safe, and know that I am doing everything I can to make things better.

Please don't ever tell your child to bite back.

Busy preschoolers often wait until the last minute to go to the potty. Belts and excess buttons may look cute, but even grown-up fingers can fumble when the pressure is on (and you know how they squirm when they really need to go). Aim for easy-on, easy-off attire.

 

Don't allow your child to come to school in plastic high-heeled shoes. Ever. Even if she screams.

I won't agree that it is deeply important for your 3-year-old to be moved up to the 4-year-old class, or that your 4-year-old is ready for kindergarten. I also won't write a letter to the school district attesting to this. Because here's the thing: Children don't always develop evenly. That means that the kid who is way ahead this month may slow down and be exactly where her peers are in six months' time. And that just because a child can already add and subtract, it doesn't mean she knows how to get along with her classmates. So putting a child with an older age group can be really stressful for her, for us, and, ultimately, for you.

If your child throws up after breakfast, chances are it's not a one-time event. Same goes for explosive diarrhea. Keep her home, and don't bother to tell me the babysitter decided to send her. I've heard that one before.

A Nutella sandwich, chocolate milk, and cookies is not a lunch. It is a small dessert buffet.

Try to trust me. If I tell you that your child could benefit from further evaluation in an area of development, realize that I would not say such a thing frivolously. (It is never easy to tell a parent that his or her child might have a problem, however minor it may be.) I see your child through the eyes of a teacher, as part of a group, and I'm not just thinking of him now, but also in elementary school. I want to make sure that if your child needs a little extra help, he gets it sooner rather than later. And it's not a big deal if he does; lots of kids get services like speech or occupational therapy. If you think I'm wrong, go see a specialist and then come back and let me know how off base I was. I'll probably be almost as relieved as you.

Please tell me the appeal of those yogurt-squirting tubes, and if you can't, then consider another way to get your child his calcium.

Read my notes home. I know they're chirpy and have way too many exclamation points (and, no, I don't talk that way to my husband). But sometimes I have important news about classroom events to share with you, and if you don't keep up, your child will suffer the consequences. There's always one child who comes to Pajama Day in regular clothes or whose parents don't show up for the class play, and we always feel sorry for her. These are not life-altering events, but they mean a lot to your preschooler.

If you're already late for pick-up, take the time to change out of your workout clothes first.

End your cell-phone call before pick-up. It's hard for your child to share the excitement of her day with you if you're on the phone. And trust me -- these joyous greetings won't last.

If you are going to chat with other moms for half an hour after school, please don't think that we are still responsible for your kids. Much as we like them, after pick-up, they are yours.

Tell me if you or your child is unhappy. Don't worry about hurting my feelings -- regularly getting asked if I met Abraham Lincoln has given me pretty thick skin. If you tell me in a reasonable way what is bothering you, I don't think I will take it the wrong way. Remember: We both want your child to be happy and love learning. And, hey, if your child happens to enjoy school, tell me that, too: I could use the ego boost!

Relish these days. Your children grow up and return to visit me with their long legs, grown-up teeth, and first-grade readers tucked under their arms, and the little kid is gone forever. Don't stress about things that will pass, like when she'll learn to tie her shoes or when he'll stop sucking his thumb. Instead, revel in the innocent, fleeting happiness that is life with a preschooler.

The author has a Ph.D. in clinical child psychology and has been working at a preschool for more than a decade.

 

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