- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2007

My sixth-grade son sometimes plays with a neighbor’s boy who is nearly four years younger and in second grade. When they were younger, they played almost daily, sometimes along with my 8-year-old daughter. I have been feeling increasingly uneasy about the relationship. Wouldn’t it be better for them to play with children their own ages? Should I step in, or should I let the children make the decision?

A: I don’t believe it is necessarily inappropriate or risky for a pre-adolescent child to have a play relationship with a child three or four years younger, especially when the friendship is several years in the making. Relationships of this nature should be judged individually, not on the basis of the age difference alone. The likelihood is that these two boys will begin to drift apart over the next few years. In the meantime, I encourage you to be watchful but to leave well enough alone.

Q: Despite the fact that our 5-year-old daughter has an end-of-July birthday, my husband and I decided she was ready for kindergarten. The first week went great. She happily skipped to school. By the end of the second week, however, she was crying in the morning, showing much anxiety about school and insisting that I walk her into her classroom. At her request, I also am having lunch with her. At lunch she seems fine, and her teacher says she is doing just fine. How do I handle this morning behavior? Should I not promise to come for lunch?

A: It would seem that as is the case with most children who are apprehensive about going to school in the morning, your daughter’s anxiety quickly disappears as soon as she is in the classroom. The problem is not school, but the transition between home and school. As soon as she’s in the security of the classroom, with an adult she trusts, she’s fine. In that light, I would recommend that you arrange to have the teacher meet you at the car and escort your daughter from there.

I would predict that within a few weeks your daughter again will be skipping happily into school on her own. As regards lunch, I would tell her that you and the teacher have decided that you can come one or two days a week but not every day. Decide what days those will be at the beginning of the week.

By the way, I don’t think your daughter’s anxiety is an indication that you made a mistake sending her to kindergarten this year. The research is clear that late-birthday boys have much more difficulty in school than late-birthday girls.

Q: The other day, a large moving van was parked at the entrance to the school my two children attend. The people unloading the van were inmates from the county jail, and the person supervising them was not armed. Am I just being overprotective, or am I right to be shocked and concerned?

A: First, the statistics indicate children are more likely to be harmed by someone they know and trust — a kindly neighbor — than a stranger. Second, there is no evidence that the average criminal is sent into a frenzy at the sight of young children. Third, the rare person is in jail because of child molestation; most inmates are in the slammer for things like stealing cars or dealing drugs. Fourth, I’d be reasonably certain that your county law enforcement people would have more sense than to put a child molester in close proximity to children. So, yes, I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Feel better now?

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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