The Question of Sending a Toddler to School – Part 2

It probably seems ironic for me to write this since I did pack my two and half year old toddler off to preschool, but nevertheless, I think it must be said. Despite the fact that I did send him to school, I have been questioning myself whether I did the right thing. I have also been wondering whether I should consider removing him from school.

What I can’t understand is why so many people think it is critical for a child to attend school so young. I’m not talking about the desire of some current day parents who want to make sure they do everything to keep their child ahead of the pack. These comments about sending children to school have also coming from the grandparents. The funny thing is that we (the parents of this generation) didn’t attend school until kindergarten and that was usually about the age of 4 or 5 years old. There was never any concern back then about the development of our social skills so why is it such a concern now?

Social skills aren’t just about whether a child can play with another child his age. It is also about the child’s ability to interact with people in general – people of all ages. Besides, if the desire is to help improve the social skills of a child, then it appears that sending a toddler to preschool might actually be achieving the opposite effect.

According to the article “The Dark Side of Preschool” attending preschool appears to hinder the rate at which young children develop social skills. We’re not talking about a small study of children from a single preschool either. This is a massive study observing over 14000 children from diverse backgrounds, and the results are the same:

  • attendance to preschool, even for short periods of time hinders the rate at which young children develop social skills and display the motivation to engage classroom tasks.
  • the problem occurs regardless of the quality of preschool.
  • there were increased behavioural problems if a child attended at least 15 hours of preschool a week (which includes my son who is currently attending 20 hours of preschool a week).
  • the effect is dosage dependent, so the longer the child spends in preschool, the worse the behaviour becomes.

“Problems included defiance–like talking back, throwing temper tantrums, and refusing to cooperate. They also included aggressive behaviors–being cruel, destroying toys and other objects, and getting into physical fights.”
The critical time period appears to be the first 4.5 years of life where the ideal place for a child is to be under maternal care (or similar care, such as by nannies or grandparents).

The underlying problem appears to be due to the extended peer contact time. Increased negative behaviour is also believed to be associated with increased cortisol levels related to stress experienced by toddlers due to preschool which can lead to health and developmental problems. The increase in stress levels is believed to be due to social stress.

So what exactly is the problem with peer socialisation?

While the assumption is correct that we need to expose children to other people in order for them to develop, it appears the key lies in who you expose your child to.  Evidently, a bunch of other preschoolers are not necessarily the right group of people to help a toddler learn social interaction.  This is because:

“Preschoolers need to learn empathy, compassion, patience, emotional self-control, social etiquette, patience, and an upbeat, constructive attitude for dealing with social problems.

These lessons can’t be learned through peer contact alone. Preschools are populated with impulsive, socially incompetent little people who are prone to sudden fits of rage or despair. These little guys have difficulty controlling their emotions, and they are ignorant of the social niceties. They have poor insight into the minds and emotions of others.

Yes, preschoolers can offer each other important social experiences. But their developmental status makes them unreliable social tutors. A child who copies other children may pick up good habits—-but she may also pick up bad ones. And peers do not always provide each other with right kind of feedback.

When a child offers to share his toy with a caring adult, he gets rewarded with gratitude and praise. He also learns that he will eventually get his toy back. When he offers to share with a peer, he may not get rewarded at all. Without adult guidance, these experiences can undermine social development by teaching the wrong lessons.

Moreover, it’s hard to see what’s natural about herding together a bunch of children who are all the same age. From the evolutionary, historical, and cross-cultural perspectives, it’s an unusual practice.”

Thankfully preschool isn’t all doom and gloom and there are things you can do so you can still get the most out of preschool while minimising the negative effects.

So what can you do?  Let’s take a closer look at that in the next post: “How to Negate the Negative Effects of Preschool“…


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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