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Ricky Choi, MD, MPH Headshot

Interview with a Kindergartener

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This summer I took my 5-year-old on a last-hurrah-before-kindergarten-daddy-daughter trip. Our flight was delayed for two hours but frankly, we didn't mind being trapped in the new traveler-friendly Terminal 2 of the San Francisco Airport -- we even peeked in the yoga room. Knowing that kindergarten was a mere two months away has filled me with thought and emotion, including coming to terms with seeing my daughter as a more independent person. So I decided to use this unscheduled break to ask for her thoughts on the matter.

We made our way back to an empty table by the sushi bar and I fired off a few questions. Her answers were fascinating. Yes, as a pediatrician who spends his day doling out parenting advice, I know that I should listen to my kid. But as a father, my assumptions about her capabilities and view of what is best for her can put me out of touch with her actual day-to-day concerns.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. You can see below the differences between how I thought she would answer and what she said:

What about kindergarten are you the most excited about?
Me: Learning new things.
Her: I get to see my friends.

What is the most important thing to remember in order to do well in kindergarten?
Me: Always do your best, be kind to others, and have a good attitude.
Her: Be smart and kind.

What are you most excited to learn about?
Me: How things work.
Her: Learning new languages and how to read. (She is attending a language immersion school.)

What do you want to be when you grow up?
Me: I will have a fulfilling career as a writer, teacher and doctor.
Her: A Korean Princess.

What will be the hardest thing about going to kindergarten?
Me: Challenging school lessons, homework, missing my family and the demands to be independent.
Her: Figuring out who will be my best friend.

What are most scared of about going to kindergarten?
Me: New teacher, new friends, high expectations and finding the bathroom.
Her: I am not scared of anything.

What advice would you give to your little sister about going to kindergarten?
Me: Do your best.
Her: Be kind and nice to friends and the teacher. Listen to all her words. Oh, and don't whine.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear in her answers some of the advice I barrage her with on a daily basis. Broken record nagging has some effect. But there was a telling difference between what I expected to hear and what she said. I'm focused on her academic performance and meeting expectations. She is concerned about relationships with her friends and teacher. For her, the ups and downs in these relationships will more likely decide a good day from a bad one, rather than how she does on a quiz. It is a humbling reminder to really pay attention -- and address what she cares about especially if I want to effectively impress on her the things I view as important. On the emotional roller coaster of parenting, this is a lesson I know I am going to have to relearn a few times. So in the midst of the frenzy, hopes and expectations of the new school year, perhaps the best advice we can all follow is to relax and listen to our children.