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Is School a Healthy Place for Your Child?

Think I’m exaggerating the scariness of these trends?

In a Wall Street Journal article a few years ago, the headline read, “Falling ‘Behind’ at Age 3.” Age 3!! Apparently elementary schools, again succumbing to pressure to do well on statewide tests, have begun giving messages to parents and pre-schools that children need to enter kindergarten with stronger academic skills. Thus, many preschool programs now market themselves as being focused on developing stronger academic foundations. Another driving force is that there is more state and federal money being invested in early education and the government wants data to prove it’s a worthwhile investment.

The article reports that many preschools are teaching very young children in groups in order to achieve higher levels of basic skills in numbers, letters, and vocabulary. Parents of some three-year-olds are being told to drill their children at home because the children are not keeping up with their peers! Do you still think I’m overstating my concerns? Have educators totally lost sight of everything we know about early childhood development?

Oh, it doesn’t help when Newsweek comes out with a cover story in August about how much more intelligent infants are at birth, how much they “learn” in the early days and months of life. Despite the inclusion of comments by leading professionals that this is not a call to overstimulate your infants, this is bound to result in companies publishing more trash to anxious parents with guarantees to raise your child’s IQ by using their new proven techniques on your week-old baby.

What everyone keeps forgetting is that children develop at different rates, in different ways, with different temperaments. There is a proven value in taking children who lack reasonable exposure to parents who talk and read to them (especially those parents who lack English language skills) and giving those children a “Head Start.” But for the rest of the children, it is much more important to create an academic track that speaks to their individual differences as well as includes a significant focus on physical, social, and emotional development.

The sad thing is that this emphasis on academic achievement, on the IQ aspects of the child, is being misplaced. Obviously it is important to provide children with solid basic academic skills as well as to challenge the mind of our more gifted children. But not at the TOTAL expense of what we have come to call “Emotional Intelligence (EQ).”

At a recent workshop, I listened to the latest data on the evolution of the concept of EQ and research results underscoring how it is EQ, not IQ, which primarily differentiates the winners from the losers in the game of life. High EQ adults have several of the following traits: emotional awareness, empathy, strong interpersonal relationships, positive self-regard, real-world problem-solving skills, flexibility, social responsibility, stress tolerance, impulse control, and the ability to enjoy life in the present and to anticipate that future life will be good. The data is beginning to demonstrate that emotional skills end up accounting for two-thirds of career success compared to only one-third being attributed to technical skills.

If this EQ data is correct, and my 35-plus years as a therapist strongly convinces me that these skills are the critical factors in creating career and personal life success, then our society needs to take a long hard look at what we are supposed to be teaching our children to best prepare them for the real world. Sadly, the academic world has such little relationship to the real world. So many poor students have successful lives and too many outstanding students never live up to their “potential.”

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Thus every small step that can be taken to reshape the focus of our schools into addressing the needs of the whole child, from yoga classes to more sleep for teens to ridding high schools of junk food to the elimination of most homework is a step in the right direction. In the end, only parents can make this happen. If you are really concerned about the best way to prepare your children for their future as adults, you will take these concerns seriously and demand healthy changes in the way we educate our children.

Is School a Healthy Place for Your Child?

Kalman Heller, PhD

Dr. Kalman Heller is a retired psychologist who ran a successful private practice. He previously wrote a monthly column for a local newspaper, and later took his "ParenTalk" column online. This article is reprinted from his online column with his permission.

APA Reference
Heller, K. (2018). Is School a Healthy Place for Your Child?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 9, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.