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What Your Four-Year-Old REALLY Should Know

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Development & Learning

Now that summer is here, parents’ thoughts turn to next fall and the upcoming school year. In particular, parents of pre-kindergarteners wonder if their child is ready for “real school.” Will your child be a star or will she struggle?

Along with a general feeling of anxiety, you might be feeling just a bit competitive. Your child knows so much! He can do such a lot of wonderful things! As we try to reassure ourselves that our child is indeed ready for kindergarten and will indeed do well there, there’s a tendency to trumpet his abilities and even to pad his resume.

There are many websites and books eager to tell you “what your child should know.” These sites suggest your child should be able to do all sorts of things she may or may not be able to do. But even if she can do them all, is that enough? It’s easy to imagine that these lists represent the floor, not the ceiling, of pre-kindergarten accomplishment. It’s easy to feel tempted to tutor a child in the entire kindergarten and first grade curriculum, just to be sure.

This feeling is encouraged by other parents at your child’s preschool, who are quick to inform you their son or daughter can do two-digit addition, is reading Charlotte’s Web right now, and is on the way to mastering French. Naturally, you feel uneasy. How can any child compete?

Well, you can’t and you shouldn’t. Because what your four-year-old really should know isn’t something she learns, it’s something she is just certain of.  Your child must be certain of these four things:

  • She is wonderful,
  • She is smart,
  • She is capable, and
  • She is perfect in every way.

Children whose parents are constantly coaching them actually feel less confident. They understand, quite rightly, that if their parents are so worried about their abilities that they must be unable to succeed as they already are. The unspoken message worried parents send is “You’re not good enough.” Any child who receives that message will be afraid to try.

Acting-like follows believing-in. To act like a smart kid a child must first believe he’s a smart kid. Your job as a parent is to convince your child he’s smart and capable, a wonderful kid who’s perfect in every way.

You don’t do by pushing your child to learn advanced content. You don’t do that by constantly telling your child how clever she is. You do it by genuinely appreciating your child and communicating your admiration for her in everyday, ordinary ways.

It’s hard to ignore the boasting of parents who are anxious about their child’s kindergarten prospects. But if you can ignore that and if you can instead believe in your child and give him the confidence to try, your child will do well.

What your four-year-old really needs to know to be ready for kindergarten  is that you think he’s terrific.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.