By Melissa Stefanec

This September my little guy will climb on the school bus for the first time and head off into a 13-year-long journey through public education.

I’m so excited for him.

He’s ready to leave daycare and thrive in a more structured environment. He already knows much of the curriculum he will learn in kindergarten, but he needs the regime and socialization only school can provide.

However, as he heads off on his journey, I hear a common refrain from many people I interact with: Have you thought about waiting until he is 6 to start him in kindergarten? You see, my son will be 5 years old this month, but he is small for his age. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in smarts, spunk, determination and charm. I know he is ready for kindergarten, but for many people, this isn’t enough.

Examining a trend

There seems to be a growing trend in which parents wait until their boys are 6 to start them in school. There are special cases where this is completely necessary, and I’m not here to debate those cases. However, some people make this decision based on some fear-driven logic. People worry about their sons being mature enough. They want their boys to be strong athletes, so they want to give them a year’s advantage. They don’t want their children being bullied, so they figure an extra year will give them a size and maturity advantage. I’m not here to argue the motives behind these arguments. Parents love their kids so much, and they do what they believe is truly best for them. I don’t think their motives should be questioned; I think their actions should.

As much as I think it’s important to protect our children from a sometimes cruel and relentless world, I think it’s equally important to arm them with kindness and strength to temper the societal ugliness they will inevitably encounter.

Reclaiming the power

I long for a society where we don’t constantly react to crises. Instead, I want to work toward solutions to prevent bad things from happening in the first place. If I hold my son back a year, I am giving power to a lot of things I don’t agree with — fear of bullying, fear of not being a top athlete, fear of my child not measuring up to his peers. I don’t want fear guiding all of my parenting decisions.

Don’t get me wrong, parenting requires a healthy amount of cynicism. I will be on high alert for bullying and other obstacles. As a parent, it’s my job to help him through these things, should he experience them. However, I think it’s important to take the power back from my personal fears and instead look at what my family can do to address the ugliness that one often associates with growing up. My family needs to focus on what sort of little person we are crafting and help him navigate the real world.

Leading by example

Children have the habit of thinking the world revolves around them. It’s likely a survival strategy — a form of self-preservation that’s hard wired. However, somewhere along the way, we have to learn individuals benefit from helping the whole; watching out for number one has to be balanced by watching out for our fellow humans.

To move a child out of their sphere of self-centeredness, we have to show kindness and empathy in our daily lives. We have to question our children when they lack empathy. We have to teach them how amazing giving and receiving kindness feels. The only true way to do that is to model kindness and empathy in our daily lives. Let them see the good in us, and they will likely try harder to be good themselves.

It’s equally important to stand strong against the wrongs we see in our lives. As adults, when we see someone being bullied, it’s our job to call attention to it and defend the victim. When we see someone being mean to another person, we can’t be complicit to protect our own position, even if it makes us unpopular among our peers. We can’t be mean to others, especially in front of kids. We need to treat people with respect, regardless of our perceived stature. Our kids are watching; don’t doubt it for a second.

Arming them for kindergarten

My son will tackle the first couple of weeks of kindergarten while he is still 4. When I help him onto the school bus, he will be carrying a lot of stuff. He will carry a backpack that is several sizes too large for him. In that backpack, there will likely be a favorite stuffed animal and a dinosaur figurine. In his heart, he will carry something that is just the right size for him, the strength to make kindergarten a kinder place.