Question: Many parents in my preschool classroom are extremely concerned about their child’s academic development and behavior. One of my youngest children is only 2.5 years old and her parents expect her to know the letters of the alphabet and read simple words. Another one of my children’s parents want their son to have perfect manners—not interrupt adults, sit still for longer periods of time, etc. Do you have any suggestions for helping to quell parents’ anxiety and enabling them to accept their children at developmentally appropriate levels?

Adele Brodkin: A parents' concern about their children's future success can sometimes be a bit unrealistic. These may be well-meaning people who become anxious about their children having successful adult lives.  Does the shaky state of our economy increase parents' anxieties about their kids' futures? Whatever the source, something like the following discussion, tailored to each family's situation, is what I would suggest:

"Mr. and Mrs. Jones: I am so glad you could come in to chat with me about (child's name) today. He is a fortunate boy (she a fortunate girl) to have such committed parents. I know you want to encourage academic achievement, which is great; but we need to begin at the beginning, by developing readiness skills. The things(s)he is doing now are very important preparation for formal learning that includes such things as learning to listen and follow simple instructions, to share and get along with others, to take turns, to line up or wait their turns for snack, to play cooperatively, to listen to a story being read —a story with lots of pictures and limited in length, to respond positively to adults other than parents, to enjoy the give and take of play , etc. These are all pre-academic skills to master before the formal learning. The time you spend with your child while doing errands and household chores is also very instructive in preparation for academics. Point out why you are making a list for grocery shopping, maybe even read it aloud. Invite your child to help in folding and putting away laundry or setting up a workshop or servicing your car. Rather than giving didactic lessons, demonstrate by every day activity that color, number, and size and shape are meaningful concepts. (Ask your child to bring you all the white socks from the basket, if that is something he can do successfully; or just label the colors aloud as you fold)"

I would also recommend certain reading material or a video that demonstrates the concept of developmental appropriateness. Contact NAEYC for a list of parent materials that can be very useful in sharing what you know with parents.  In short, make it clear that the last thing you would ever want to do is hold a child back, but neither would you want to frustrate him or her by having unrealistic expectations. School and learning should start off being fun and rewarding, uplifting a child's self-esteem.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.