As CPA begins to expand our child & adolescent services, we’re pleased to announce we’ll be periodically sharing short articles by CPA clinicians on issues addressing children, adolescents, and parents.
Many parents worry about school readiness. Some understand readiness to mean academic skills and even some preschools feel the pressure to introduce letters, numbers, and writing earlier and earlier. This is unfortunate because content knowledge can always be learned at a later time — and if it is learned by rote drill, before the child is developmentally ready, it does not necessarily “stick” nor is it very useable.
Instead, social-emotional and behavioral skills are foundational for learning, whether in our out of school. When I worked as a school psychologist, the differences between children who had been in preschool and those who had not were often obvious—not because the former could recite their ABC’s, but because they had had more practice with emotional and behavioral regulation and social interplay.
Group settings under the influence of good, knowledgeable adults are particularly good preparation for school. If your child doesn’t attend preschool, you can make sure to foster some of these experiences through other means—play groups, religious or language classes appropriate to your culture, swim lessons, story time at the library, and so on. As children get shy or sad and the teacher or coach helps identify the feelings and problem solve; as children get into conflict and the adult talks them through it; as children learn routines such as lining up, hand washing, and circle time behavior; as they learn how and when to ask for help, how to share materials, how to play with different peers, and so on, their emotional and behavioral control and social selves are maturing.
They are learning coping mechanisms for dealing with frustration and for delaying gratification; they are learning that they can look to others for help and modeling; and most importantly, they are learning that trying new things and being with peers can be enjoyable. If children come into school with a positive attitude, and with age-appropriate practice with emotional and behavioral regulation, they will be more available to learning.
These skills underlie all types of academic, creative, and athletic endeavors. What starts with learning to sit still to listen to a peer at show and tell, or waiting to eat until it’s snack time, is a first step in building the attitudes and skills required for spending two years writing a dissertation or practicing hours a day to become a great violinist or basketball player.
Riikka Melartin, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who provides individual therapy, counseling, and consultation for clients who are diverse in age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Until recently, she also worked as a school psychologist at the Lexington and then the Brookline Public Schools. Her child and family oriented training includes pre-doctoral placements at Dedham Public Schools and the therapeutic Arlington School at McLean Hospital, an APA approved doctoral internship at Beaverbrook Guidance Center, and a postdoctoral fellowship at the McLean Learning Evaluation Center.
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