Pre – Schooler Behaviour and Solutions
What are typical behavioural characteristics and challenges?
Children are in the Preschool Years from 3 years old until they start school. These children are starting to show personality traits and more intellectual development, including:
Egotism. A pre-schooler is the centre of the world. Your child believes that everything in the world revolves around her.
Independence. A pre-schooler will want to dress by himself and want to help you with the household chores. Be patient as your child practices these skills.
Creativity. Imaginations are constantly “on.” Your child’s world is full of magical things at this time.
“Why?” Pre-schoolers are trying to learn all about their environments; they will ask “why” constantly! Take the time to help your child learn about what causes the events happening around him.
Sociality. Pre-schoolers are learning to be a good companion or friend to other children their age. Pre-school play dates or playgroups provide wonderful opportunities for your child to learn important social skills.
Listening. Pre-schoolers must also learn to listen to others with interest. Model appropriate listening behaviour for your pre-schooler by actively listening when she tells you about her day, her friends and her discoveries.
Motor skills. Pre-schoolers are also learning complex movements such as hopping, climbing, and skipping. Let your child practice and make it fun!
Language. Pronunciation improves during this time. Don’t be alarmed if your child leaves out word sounds occasionally.
Principles. Pre-schoolers are also learning the difference between right and wrong. You can help by setting firm and consistent limits for your child.
Reality vs. fantasy. Pre-schoolers must learn the difference between reality and fantasy. By the end of the preschool years, your child will have a better understanding of past, present and future.
Phobias. New fears, especially to unfamiliar sights and sounds are common at this age. Be supportive while trying to ease irrational fears.
Poor sportsmanship. Pre-schoolers learn to follow simple rules in the games they play, but they will always want to win and be in “first place.” Playing “fair” will come later in your child’s development.
Highly impressionable. Pre-schoolers are heavily influenced by what they see. It’s important to actively supervise what your child is exposed to on television and in the real world.
Sexual curiosity. It is normal for pre-schoolers to engage in sexual exploration. Help your child learn what is appropriate.
Children this age are constantly testing their parents and the world. Many parents face similar behavioural problems. Here are some solutions to some everyday problems.
Some days my pre-schooler acts as though she’s ready to be “all grown up,” other times I fear she’s regressing back to her “baby” days. How can I help her through this change?
Help your child transition from “baby” to preschool. Your child may rely on security items (e.g., blankets, special bear) and needs your understanding about the importance of these special items.
Master the art of feeling identification. “Learning to recognize and deal with children’s feelings is a vitally important step in handling children’s behaviour.”
Pre-schoolers haven’t learned what feelings are, how to talk about them or what each one feels like. They may throw a toy or tantrum when trying to deal with frustration or anger.
Parents must interpret nonverbal clues, understand feelings, and help their child understand too.
For example, Jamie starts crying when Mum leaves to go to the shop. Dad says, “Oh you’re crying because you’re sad that Mummy left. She’ll be back soon.” Dad realizes what Jamie is feeling and helps her recognize the feeling “sad.”
I think that if I communicated better with my child, I would be able to influence his behaviour more. But how can I start to improve this aspect of our relationship?
Remember that your child has a limited vocabulary and doesn’t understand everything you say. It’s important not to use too many words. Don’t expect your child to understand another person’s viewpoint because children this age are very egocentric. Also, your child can’t understand abstract ideas yet so it’s important to use concrete examples when using logic, reason, or cause and effect (e.g. if you turn your plate over, all the food will fall off). Practice these ways to communicate with your child:
Learn and model ways to use nonverbal communication in actions that are appropriate for your child.
“Nonverbal communication” involves the feelings expressed through facial expressions, voices, and the way you move or stand.
Children are very sensitive to nonverbal communication. For example, Johnny comes running inside to show Dad the picture he drew. Dad barely takes his eyes away from his work. Johnny learns Dad is not interested in Johnny’s achievement.
Make sure to maintain eye contact when you express your feelings to your child.
Eye contact tells your child she is important and that you are focusing on her. It also encourages her to make eye contact with you.
Making eye contact increases the effectiveness of your message.
Be aware of your posture and position when talking with your child.
Get down to your child’s eye level. Kneel next to him or sit beside him to take away the intimidating difference in size and height.
Watch out for negative body language. For example, crossed arms or legs can indicate that you are “closed off,” resistant, or hostile.
Monitor your tone of voice.
Your tone of voice may be the most powerful nonverbal tool of all!
A simple phrase can be interpreted differently depending upon the tone of voice.
Keeping the voice calm, soothing, and soft helps children feel safe and able to express themselves in return.
Remember the importance of facial expressions and touch.
Simply rubbing a child’s back, smiling and winking, or tucking a child into bed communicates, “I care about you.”
Children are very aware of our faces and the way we express affection through the touch of our hand or a hug.
My 4 year-old daughter seems so angry all the time, but I can’t get her to talk to me about what is going on. What can I do?
Active Listening with Children
Try active listening! Active listening is the art of observing and listening to your child’s feelings, then repeating what you have heard to your child. Active listening:
allows your child to feel like you understand her,
lets your child work through her feelings in an appropriate way
does not mean you agree with everything your child says; you are simply providing her with a supportive forum for her feelings.
An example of active listening:
Billy comes in yelling, “Harry took my favourite toy away!!!” and bursts into tears.
Mum says, “Gosh, you seem pretty angry about this!”
Billy thinks and says, “It’s not fair! Harry took my toy – he’s taller and runs faster than me!”
Mum gently reflects back, “It must be really frustrating to have your toy taken away by someone bigger than you.”
Billy thinks some more and says, “I feel sad.”
After more talking, Billy decides to forget about his favourite toy and go play outside. Mum has helped him feel listened to, appreciated, and loved.
I feel as though my pre schooler does not listen to me at all. I tell him to clean his room and he keeps playing. Ever since he turned 4, it’s been a struggle to have him do anything that I tell him to do. In fact, sometimes he’ll do the opposite! What can I do?
Look at how you talk to your child. Nagging, lecturing, or yelling will turn the child off to listening, and threats and bribes teach fear and greed, not obedience.
Give choices: “Would you like me to help you pick up all the toys or would you rather do it yourself?” This empowers your child.
Stop the power struggle. Adults set up a power struggle that makes winning more attractive than listening or cooperating. When your child does the opposite of what you say, he thinks, “I win!”
Be developmentally appropriate. Sometimes we expect our children to be more advanced than they really are. Remember that many of the younger children can’t understand a request because it involves thinking or listening skills that they haven’t developed yet.
Be understanding. A child this age is “programmed” to explore as much as she possibly can. Sometimes this desire to check out the world will win over an adult’s words.
My pre-schooler will not eat about 85% of what I serve to him. What can I do to change this?
Offer choices. If your child complains about food, ask (in a supportive manner), “You can eat what’s on the table or fix your own sandwich. What’s your choice?” You can teach him how to make his own sandwiches at this age.
Invite solutions. Ask, “What can we do about this problem?” This invites your child to use his thinking skills and problem-solving skills. He can use his power in positive ways to feel capable instead of in power struggles.
Share tasks. Children are more cooperative when they have been included and feel like a contributing member of the family. Sharing tasks also helps teach life skills.
Invite your child to help plan menus.
Get him involved in creating the shopping list.
Encourage him to help with the cooking. Let him decide which nights he wants to be the chef’s “special helper.”
Choose your battles. Don’t turn it into a battle of wills (e.g. your child sits at the table for hours while refusing to finish his broccoli). This is destructive to your relationship and may lead to eating problems in the future.
Keep up those mealtime routines! A small snack can also help with after-school hunger pangs. Make sure that mealtime is regular. Have rituals such as a quick game before lunch or a walk after dinner. This sense of family togetherness, especially around the evening meal, can help children feel part of a secure, loving group.
Strategies to deal with problematic behaviour:
Ignore mild behaviour. If a child does not get attention for a behaviour, he will often stop doing it.
Use distraction. Try redirecting your child to another behaviour, toy, or activity. You can also use humour as a distraction tool.
Give warnings then follow through. For example, “Food stays on our plate. If it goes on the floor, I will take it away” (the warning). If the warning needs to be repeated more than twice, take the plate away and end the meal (the consequence).
Time-out. Remove your child from the situation (e.g. put her in another room, have her sit in the corner) for a short period. This will help her calm down as well as motivate her to behave so she can “get back into the game.”
“Calming time.” Giving your child a quiet activity (drawing, colouring, puzzle pieces, etc) can calm her better than simply sitting (a time-out)
Stay in control. Be emotionally neutral and matter-of-fact. Avoid shouting, or pleading for cooperation. If you start using these techniques, it’s okay to say that you made a mistake and to start over using a different technique. Remember to take a “calming time” to cool off when YOU need it too!
Trial and error. Remember that each child is different, and your strategies may need to change for each child or as your child grows through different phases. Find what works specifically for you and your child.
Be playful. If you want your child to clean up her toys, get down and do it with her in a fun way. For example, have a “10-second tidy” where you see how much you can clean up in 10 seconds or sing a silly song like “Clean up clean up, everybody everywhere. Clean up clean up, everybody do your share.” Feel free to make up your games and lyrics!
Say “no” less. Prevent battles by childproofing your home and removing objects your child isn’t allowed to play with.
“Time in.” Make sure your child has at least 15 minutes a day of your complete attention. This reduces “attention-getting” behaviours and shows your child love and support.
Take care of yourself. As a parent, you need to find time for yourself, so you have the energy to give the proper attention and discipline. Paying attention to your needs, feeling rested and being calm improves your relationships with others.
More general parenting tips
Keep your praise and encouragement specific. When your child draws a picture, instead of saying, “This is great,” talk to your child about it. You might say, “Tell me about these stripes here – are blue and pink your favourite colours? What kind of shape did you use here?” This way you can talk and learn together, while sending the message that the picture is important to you too.
Watch the content of your praise and encouragement. Saying, “Wow, that is the most beautiful artwork I’ve ever seen!” can make your child focus on always trying to please people. Instead you could say, “I like all the colours you used in this picture.”
“Catch your child being good.” Instead of always pointing out everything your child does wrong, give them attention for the things that they do right. Celebrate the positive things they do and reward their good behaviour!
Instead of focusing on the two Lego pieces your child forgot to put away, praise him for cleaning up all the other pieces.
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