Preschool Perspective: Girls have long hair and boys have short hair, right?

Concerned mom submitted the following question to Peace At Home:

Feeling super disappointed as I write this… It’s the first week of Pre-K for my almost 5-year-old, and at drop off today, the teacher pulled Todd aside to let him know that our son was being mean to a little boy in his class yesterday. This particular boy has very long hair that he wears in a ponytail. Our son was telling him that he was a girl because he has long hair.

I am feeling so sad about this because we are trying hard to raise our boys to be accepting of others, even if they are different from them. I’m also feeling pretty angry that my kid was being mean. I feel that there is a difference between being curious about differences – which I would think would be a normal thing that is going on at this age – and making fun of those differences.

Cora Megan, MA, Peace At Home teacher offers a response:

Until about age of 6 or 7, children base gender perceptions entirely on broad assumptions of appearance. For example, anyone with short hair must be a boy and anyone with long hair must be a girl. Much of the conversation that happens around these topics in a Pre-K classroom revolve around simply trying to sort this stuff out, while learning how their words influence others.

I would not make a big deal out of this at home. I would focus on the facts: “Your teacher mentioned that you told your classmate with a ponytail that he was a girl. Tell me more about that.” Your child might respond something really innocent like “Yeah, because he has long hair and girls have long hair.” This opens up the opportunity for you to have a conversation about that. “Sometimes girls have short hair and boys have long hair. Sometimes boys wear pink and girls wear blue. It’s OK to be different. Next time you could ask, “are you a boy or a girl?”

You could also pose to your child, “When you said he was a girl, how do you think that made him feel?” This is an opportunity to encourage empathy and explore the cause and effect of your child’s words.

We (parents and teachers) have a tendency to project our own adult emotions and perceptions onto very simple child interactions, when the best response is usually to stay unemotional and matter-of-fact. Be careful not to jump to conclusion that your child was being mean, and assume that he was being a typical 4 year old, trying to figure out how this very interesting world works!

Join Cora Megan in our upcoming interactive, online class “Positive Discipline for Toddlers and Preschoolers: Challenging Behaviors and Setting Limits” coming up at 8:15 PM on Monday, 9/23/19.

6 Steps to Successful Lunchtime: Help Your Kindergartener Get Ready for School

Your child is already (or finally) off to kindergarten. Did you go back to school shopping? Maybe purchase a new lunch box? If this is your child’s first time with lunch away from home, help her get ready in both practical and social ways. I’ve borrowed a few ideas and added a few more I learned along the way.

Practice opening everything. Everything. Containers, lunchboxes, water bottles, juice boxes. If they can’t open it, don’t send it. There are not enough teachers on duty to open things, and really we want teachers focused on other things anyway—like eating their own lunch and helping kids navigate the chaos.

Speaking of chaos, most elementary school students don’t have much time to eat and a lot is happening in a short amount of time. Practice with a timer (about 15 minutes!) so your child has a sense of how much time they have to eat. This will also give you a sense of how much they can eat so you don’t over pack or under pack.
Practice eating at the table. If you have gotten in the habit of distractions while eating, like tablets or books, it’s time to put them away. Practice the expectation of staying in the seat with bottoms on the chair. This is very hard for many kids, so do gentle reminders of what the expectation is. This is hard for me too. Can someone come remind me to stay sitting while I eat? Set the expectation that school lunches are not chatty lunches. I 100% disagree with the punishment of silent lunch, but I do understand that the kids are so tempted to spend their lunchtime talking instead of eating. Recess may come before or after lunch, so they will have time to get in some socializing.If they can open their containers, eat their food, and stay focused long enough to get the job done, that might seem like enough. However, there are a few things you can do to help them be the best elementary citizens they can be.
Introduce your child to new foods and cultures. This might only be in theory if he eats 6 things. That’s ok. The main thing is openness to the idea that a classmate might have a different lunch and like it. One of my favorite books about this is “The Sandwich Swap” by Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdullah. In case you are all running to the same libraries, I will include a list of other books at the end of this post for more options.

Introduce your child to the concept of food allergies. If they havenever come across a food allergy, the idea that some foods are safe for him or herbut not a friend, it will be mind blowing. It will helps children understand if they can’t bring certain foods to school or swap foods. Sometimes a friend will have to have a different treat when someone brings in food, and knowing ahead of time prevents some of the jealousy. It will also help any food allergy kiddos out if you ask your child to direct questions to the teacher or you. They will thank you for not having to field another set of, “Don’t you wonder what peanuts taste like?” questions.

That is enough to get your little one started. You might find yourself having other conversations down the road, perhaps around food insecurity, why some kids have hot lunch, why so-and-so can bring x and your child can’t, and more.

And double check that lids are on. Take it from someone who has made this mistake too many times.

Books for Starting the Conversation about School Lunch

“The Sandwich Swap” by Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdullah
“Everybody Cooks Rice” by Nora Dooley
“Everybody Bakes Bread” by Nora Dooley
“All Are Welcome” by Alexandra Penfold
“A Bad Case of Stripes” by David Shannon
“A Normal Pig” by K-Fai Steele
“On the Day You Begin” by Jacqueline Woodson

Becca Limberg lives in North Carolina with her husband and two girls, ages 9 and 6. Her kids have been in public school, and now one is in private school and one is homeschooled. She is a stay-at-home mom, part-time student, and apparently now a 6U soccer coach. She worked for Barnes and Noble for 10 years, so if you ask her, she will probably give you a book recommendation.

Want to get some ideas for helping your kids thrive in school, check out Peace At Home recorded class “School Success: Inspire Motivation” for parents of children in Kindergarten through 8th grade.