DAY CARE CONCERNS; AND A TEASING PROBLEM

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
DAY CARE CONCERNS; AND A TEASING PROBLEM
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

DAY CARE CONCERNS

Q. I am working in Dubai. My daughter is 15 months old and living with my family in India. Day care and kindergarten aren’t available near my family. Can you give me some idea about what is taught in day care and kindergarten? Are they really important? Will they really help my child’s education?

A. How tough for all of you to have to be apart! For so many families, scarce work opportunities force a parent to leave spouse and young children for employment in a foreign country. It would mean so much for your family to know that even at such a distance you are thinking about how to make the best life you can for your baby girl. We hope they read this too!

Day care is a solution for working families where there is no community or extended family to take up the slack with the child. Since she is in India and with your family, you may be able to comfort yourself with the oft-quoted but still true statement, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

She can learn a great deal from the adults around her: about herself, her emotions and those of others, and all the complexities of language and — even before she speaks — nonverbal communication. In her interactions with those who take care of her she is already learning to pay attention, calm herself down when she gets upset, try again when she fails, and so many other basic skills that any child needs to become a successful learner.

These will give her a firm base when she does get a chance to enter a school situation, hopefully by the time she is 4, if kindergarten is available where your family lives. (In the United States we often forget how many children around the world still don’t have access to primary education!)

Children 3 and 4 years old need to have an opportunity to learn how to get along with other children, how to share and take turns, to understand themselves and care about each other. These are also important early steps for children to be ready to learn. We have a term, “emotional learning,” that expresses how important the child’s social and emotional development is as a base for cognitive learning.

Can you trust your family and the community they live in to give her these? Then she won’t miss out on these important experiences if she can’t be in day care or in preschool.

A TEASING PROBLEM

Q. I have a 3-year-old son. We carpool to his preschool with a neighborhood boy the same age. One afternoon a week, the boys have an after-school play date. My son used to look forward to seeing the other boy. Recently, however, the other boy started telling my son he doesn’t like him. It doesn’t occur during a heated exchange, but rather just in ordinary situations, like while they are eating lunch. It has gotten to the point where my son will ask him, “Do you like me today?” The boy always says, “No”.

My son’s feelings are obviously hurt, but I think he handles it fairly well. Some mornings he doesn’t want to ride to school with the other boy. I tell him that he just needs to be himself and others will like him — and that what matters is that he likes himself.

Is this normal 3-year-old behavior? Or is it a situation I should remove my son from?

A. Some teasing can be destructive, but other teasing is normal, a child’s way to work on understanding language, behavior, feelings, other people, relationships — so much to learn! This does seem like pretty normal teasing for 3 year olds — figuring out themselves and each other.

At 3, a child is working very hard to figure out what “liking someone else” even means! You might just ask your child what he thinks, and what he thinks the other boy is thinking when he says those words. If you take the teasing too seriously it may make your child feel that the boy’s statements are more powerful than they are, and may make him more vulnerable and less able to handle them.

It seems as if the other child is trying to test out the possibility of dominating him. If your boy gets upset, he accepts the domination. Instead, you could encourage him to say, “I don’t care, I don’t like you either. I want friends who like me. I don’t need friends who don’t.”

The two boys may get over this rough patch in their relationship. If they don’t, they’ll still need to put up with each other in the car! In the meantime, you can try to find other children with whom he can feel liked.

If a child can learn to stand up for himself at this age, he is less likely to be vulnerable to the more serious teasing and bullying that may lie ahead in the school years to come. Bullies look for children who give the impression that they expect to be victimized. This is an early opportunity for you to help your child learn to make it clear that he does not.

You are absolutely right in wanting him to like himself. Congratulate him on not being upset by the other child’s attempt to dominate him. So far, so good! (See our book “Mastering Anger and Aggression: the Brazelton Way” (Da Capo 2005) for more suggestions on how to handle teasing.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Before Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.