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Let Kids Be Kids

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Dear Dr. Yael:

I now see why so many children are insecure.

I have been a day-care provider for many years. When parents initially consider day care they want a small group so their children will not be neglected. But problems arise when their children turn two, and nursery or playgroup becomes an option. All of a sudden a group of 20-25 children is not a problem because it is much cheaper. I refer to two-two and a half year olds, whose parents feel that they need to exclusively be with children their own age.

These children nap for a good two hours; being in a disciplined environment is not really a must at this age. I have witnessed many playgroup settings where “let’s go, you have to come with us,” or “you have to… etc.” are the prevalent phrases.

Here’s my question: Why can’t these children enjoy being toddlers? In daycare we play, read stories, paint, etc. But if a child does not want to join and would rather play with his cars or trains, what’s the harm? I respect and welcome your opinion.

Morah Deena

Note to readers: The following reply was written by Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist:

Dear Morah Deena:

Younger children definitely need more attention than older ones and, while it is good to teach children, as they get older, to be more independent, two-year-olds are definitely too young to advocate for themselves when they are in group of 20-25 other children. Of course every child is different, some being more mature than others. However, a study completed by two Harvard Medical School researchers, Michael L. Commons and Patrice M. Miller, found that America’s “let them cry” attitude toward children can lead to more fears and insecurities among adults.

The researchers further found that physical contact and reassurance will make children more secure and better able to form adult relationships when they finally make their own way in life. Many playgroups are aware that children need much love and attention, and ensure that they receive an abundance of it. But some nurseries have too many children and thus cannot guarantee that the children’s emotional needs are being met. These places should certainly be avoided, even if they have a monetary lure.

The money that will be saved by sending your precious children to a place that may not feed their emotional requirements will surely be used later on in life to help him or her regain self-esteem. To build up that self-esteem now, it is imperative that you give your children your time and love when they are with you. And when they’re in school, it is also very important to ensure that they receive love and attention in order to feel secure in your absence.

Self-esteem is one of the greatest gifts parents can give their children. When children feel secure, they can make better life choices regarding friends, schoolwork, and eventually a spouse. Conversely, insecure children often have various social and academic problems that can permeate their lives. If parents try hard to imbue their children with self-esteem, why would they allow them to be neglected in school?

As children mature and gain more independence, they are expected to function in a classroom with 20-25 children. While all children surely benefit from some one-on-one attention, it is important that they learn to become more independent and to wait for their needs to be met.

As with everything else, children need a balance between attention and independence. They need us to fill their lives with love and positive energy, but as they grow older they also need to learn that they are not the center of everyone’s universe and that they will sometimes have to wait for their needs to be met. This is why we usually encourage parents to give children some sort of pre-school experience. In addition to the excellent social skills that children learn from attending school, they also learn how to function within a group setting along with the basic give-and-take of a micro-society.

Thus I agree that younger children (i.e. 2-3 year olds) benefit from a smaller-size daycare or playgroup surrounding. It would be ideal for a parent to find a small playgroup (5-7 children) with a morah that is loving and laid back. It is beneficial for all children, whatever the age, to have structure. At the same time, young children need the freedom to follow their own will – within certain parameters.

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