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Three tips for encouraging the independence your preschooler needs for big school

By Staff writer | Presented by Fisher-Price|

"Playing nicely" with others is actually a learned skill.

Starting school is a big deal C for everyone. And for first-time parents especially, it's natural to worry about whether your child can write their name or count to 10. But parenting expert and father of seven Dr Justin Coulson says what's even more important than reading and writing at this age, is your child's social readiness*.

Encouraging independence, helping them learn how to manage their emotions and teaching them kindness will far better prepare your child for the transition to "big school", he says.

You can do this by playing with them and giving them toys that teach them to how to be emotionally aware, able to listen and follow directions and how to play well with others.

Navigating conflict and tension

First-time parents may be surprised to learn that "playing nicely" with other kids doesn't happen straight away and it, too, is a learned skill. In fact, as Dr Coulson explains, conflict and tension are inevitable in friendships. This is because kids are ego centric and terrible at taking advice, and you need to teach your child how to share.

Watching your child play with characters on their own can be a good indicator of where you may need to provide guidance. Do they show their characters being kind or arguing? What kind of language are they using?

He explains that what experts call "theory of mind", which put simply is the ability to take the perspective of the other person, only kicks in at the age of 5 or 6, or even 7. So how do you teach your child to be kind and share? One way is to build their capacity for empathy.

Teach them empathy through imaginative play

Open ended toys promote creativity. (iStock)

Role play is a great way to teach your child empathy. Role playing games or toys give you the opportunity to ask questions like "How do you think that made your friend feel?" or "What do you think we could do to make that character not feel sad anymore?"

They can also practise sharing or being kind.

By giving your child toys that are open ended and can be used in a variety of ways, will promote creativity when it comes to problem solving, two very important social skills needed when it comes to starting primary school.

Tips for building independence

As your child navigates a whole new world of primary school, independence is key. Dr Coulson shares these three tips for encouraging this important skill.

  1. Let them try things their own way. It can be hard to watch them make mistakes, but being able to problem solve on their own will build both confidence and independence.
  2. Support them verbally and don't rush them. They still want to know you are there and that they have the freedom to try things their own way in their own time, but that you will be there to help if and when they ask for it.
  3. Provide them with toys that empower their creativity. Imaginative play allows your child to practise their problem-solving skills and independent thinking strategies.

There are many routes to success when it comes to getting your child ready for primary school. The important thing is tuning in to what your child needs and providing extra support where needed.

* You should always trust your gut instinct and contact your paediatrician if you are worried?about any of your child's milestones

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