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Health & Parenting

Is My Child Ready for Preschool?

Experts agree that preschool helps kids socialize, begin to share, and interact with other children and adults.
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Psychoanalyst Leon Hoffman, MD, agrees. "Some of the most important benefits of preschool are helping kids to socialize and begin to share and interact with other children and adults," says Hoffman, the executive director of the Bernard L. Pacella, MD, Parent Child Center in New York. "Certainly by age three most kids are in a place where they can start spending more and more time with groups of peers, and if they have the ability to spend more time away from their parents, preschool can be beneficial."

Socialization is the best indicator of whether a child is ready for preschool, Hoffman tells WebMD. "If he or she really loves to be with other kids, has the capacity to socialize and separate from Mom, your child may well be ready."

The Pitfalls of Preschool

Readiness is key because starting preschool too soon can be stressful for a child. "If your child feels anxious about being away from you, the benefit is not going to outweigh any acute symptoms," says Hoffman. "If your child is uncomfortable separating from you at age two or three, you should not force the child to attend preschool."

Saltz agrees. "If your child is not ready for separation, preschool will backfire," she says. "As parents, you know when your child has a lot of separation anxiety because you can't leave, and when you do, your child gets distressed and stays distressed." In this case, Saltz says, "Preschool is going to be very stressful."

Another telltale sign that your child isn't ready is if he or she isn't toilet-trained, Saltz says. "In my opinion, it creates anxiety for kids, because other kids aren't in diapers -- and teachers don't want to change diapers."

Children who are uncomfortable with high levels of stimulation may also be a little put-off by preschool, Saltz says. "If you have an easily overwhelmed kid who is uncomfortable with music, laughing, and transitioning from one thing to the next, you just might want to put them in some classes -- and not have it be an all-day experience like preschool."

If your child isn't ready for preschool as soon as you'd like, don't let it worry you, Saltz says. "It's not so crucial. It can be a nice thing and a fun thing, but it's not like if a kid doesn't go to preschool, he or she won't be able to socialize, read, or write."

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