Parenting Q & A

Ellen Barrett, a parent educator at Family Connections (formerly known as Heights Parent Center) for the last 12 years, fields questions about the daily ups and downs of parenting. The same issues impact many parents. If you have questions for Barrett, e-mail her at

Q. My son just started kindergarten and all of a sudden I feel like I am living with a toddler again. He was so excited for the school year to begin. Over the summer, we had a few play dates with future classmates and participated in several kindergarten-like activities, hoping to ensure the transition would go well. At first it was great. Now, a few weeks into the school year, he has reverted back to many behaviors that I thought he had outgrown. Temper tantrums have resumed, he wakes up in the middle of the night, and he is often grumpy.  I am worried he doesn’t like school, and I dread the next 12 years. What can I do to help him adjust?

A. Kindergarten is a big deal for many kids. In the excitement of the first few days, adrenaline and a sense of adventure carried him along. By now, your son has experienced several weeks filled with days and hours of listening, cooperating, concentrating and sharing. Essentially, he is exhausted. The good news is this is not an indicator of whether or not your child will be successful in school or enjoy school in the future. It is just a matter of readjusting and regrouping a bit. Here are a few ideas on how to do that:

* First, slow down. Don’t ask much of your son when he gets home from school. Have a snack ready, then find activities that don’t require him to take turns or wait. Let him play quietly, read to him or even let him watch a short video. Be OK with him just “vegging out.”

* Lower your expectations around anything not school related. If you’ve signed him up for soccer or piano lessons, consider whether those activities may ask too much of him right now. If you normally require him to do a few chores around the house, ease up on those demands until you see him coping better.  

* Try to eliminate the need for him to make decisions, because you might find that there is no “right” decision. Although kindergarteners, like toddlers, have the desire to control their world, his ability to handle decisions will be diminished. Try going back to simple strategies such as offering limited choices—“I have a snack ready for you; would you like milk or juice to drink with it?”

* Find noncompetitive ways for him to release pent-up energy, and get exercise and fresh air. A few minutes on the playground after school, or a walk around the block at home will allow him to shift gears and feel refreshed.

* Move his bedtime up. When a child starts school, his sleep needs increase with the demands of his busy day. If you are putting him to bed at his regular bedtime, you might actually be missing his “sleep window.” An overtired child has more difficulty falling asleep than a well-rested one. Also, be sure to eliminate overstimulating activities after dinner, including video games, TV and computer use. Those “screen time” activities stimulate the brain in ways that make falling asleep difficult.

It is common for kids of all ages to need an adjustment period after school begins, and kindergarteners need it even more. Be patient. Before long you’ll see your child bloom into one ready to take on his next new adventure.

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Volume 4, Issue 10, Posted 3:14 PM, 10.07.2011