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How to Know When Your Child is Emotionally Ready for School

How do you know if your pre-school child will cope with the pressures of school? School is a big step - who will look after him when he falls over, who will help him open his lunchbox, who will remind him to go to the toilet? Suddenly your child is in a class of 25, in a school uniform, with expectations placed upon her that may be beyond her capabilities - will the teacher know that? The issue of school readiness is one that many parents are concerned about.

Children don’t develop at the same rate and aren’t always ready by their fifth birthday to start school. For boys in particular, emotional resilience develops slowly, often at a rate considerably behind that of girls.

Pathways founder and director Paula Barrett says girls of the same age can be up to two years more advanced in their emotional and social development than boys.  Dr Barrett specialises in teaching children emotional resilience and her programs have been recognised by the UN as ideal standards for childhood development in education.

“When boys start school before they are ready, it can be disastrous,” she says. “They will struggle in many areas of development, even if they are cognitively ready for school. Boys really suffer by being placed in schools at an early age. In fact, 99% of boys are not ready to be at school at that age (just turning five), because they’re not ready to be in a ratio of one to 25 or 28. Even if they’re really bright they struggle, they need a smaller ratio,” she says. Of course, girls may also have temperaments or developmental differences that make parents concerned about school readiness.

So How Can You Tell If Your Child is Ready for School?

In assessing school readiness, Dr Barrett advises close observation of your child’s emotions:

  • Is she able to regulate her emotions?
  • Does he struggle to respond appropriately to situations that anger him or frustrate him?
  • Is she prone to ‘meltdowns’?

And for those children enrolled in Kindergarten programs, other useful questions are:

  • What does the teacher say about your child’s development?
  • Is he interacting well with others?
  • Is she capable of independent, self-directed play?
  • Does he carry out tasks when directed?

These are all important markers to help judge your child’s readiness for school.

In most states, the first year - Prep or Kindy or Kindergarten or Pre-school - is not compulsory. Children must be five by June 30 (Queensland), or July 31 (NSW) or April 30 (Victoria) to enrol. By law in the eastern states of Australia, children must be enrolled in school by their sixth birthday.

Dr Barrett believes strongly that children are often best served delaying the start of school until about six or even seven years of age, as they do in many Scandinavian countries, and Canada. However, parents should also be aware that research to the contrary has come to light suggesting by the time children reach high school, those who enrolled in kindergarten by age 4½ tend to prove to be better studiers and achieve better results. When deciding if a child is ready for school, parents should look at the legal requirements in their state of residence and then make a decision based on their child’s individual temperament and development.

If your child has started school and you feel he is struggling socially or emotionally here are some suggestions:

1. Encourage your Child’s Friendships: Invite playmates over after school, just one or two, and foster playtime between the two. Don’t let them play computer games the whole time; Dr Barrett points out that these games involve very little interaction between friends. Encourage outside play or activities done together.

2. Encourage your Child to Bond with Older Family Members: Little boys gain immeasurable guidance on ‘how to be boys’ from older male relatives such as Dad, uncles and especially Grandad. Fishing trips, visits to the park, picnics, sporting matches, any activity shared by older man and younger boy will facilitate bonding and emotional instruction. Think about how you can also create these bonding experiences for your little girl.

3. Host Family Events with other Children and Young Cousins: Help your child learn self-expression skills by putting them in situations that will draw out conversation. Talking to family is less intimidating than talking to a big party of acquaintances. You are trying to help your child connect with others and learn social skills.

4. Be Creative With Your Child: Take her to the beach and let her build things and create things. Get him in the kitchen and cook with him, teach him skills that will also help form bonds with other people. Little boys typically struggle to understand what’s expected of them in one-on-one situations. Teach them to make eye contact and speak confidently. This is best done while doing another activity, rather than sitting them down and directly telling them what to do and say.

5. Teach Empathy to Your Children: Take your children to the zoo and talk about the animals you see. How do the animals feel? What would make them feel better? Try to imagine what the animal is thinking. Animal empathy in children is a simple and enjoyable building block for later developing empathy for people.

Comments (1)

Great post and very timely

Great post and very timely for this mummy who's youngest is getting ready to start "big school" next year.

Having an elder daughter (9) who has always been quite advanced, it was very difficult for me when I used to compare where my son (5) is at developmentally and emotionally to my daughter at the same age. It seems that my son is just where he should be! So this is very reassuring for me.

Thanks so much for this info :)