Understanding preschooler behaviour
Preschoolers need boundaries that guide their natural enthusiasm but that don’t dampen their passion for life. Boundaries and routines offer security. They protect preschoolers from getting overwhelmed by too much responsibility before they’re ready.
Preschoolers are trying to understand the world around them, so we have to forgive them for being a bit distracted. A good rule is to always budget for another 30 minutes when doing things with your preschooler.
Preschool children are also still learning the everyday things that we
take for granted, like how we talk to each other. For example, you
might think your preschooler isn’t listening to you – but he might
still be trying to figure out what someone said five minutes ago!
Going to preschool
At this age, children can really benefit from going to preschool.
This is where they can start learning about other people’s rules and
how to get along with other children in a formal setting. Preschool gives your child the chance to play with other children and practice friendship skills.
Some children settle into a preschool with no worries at all. Others
take a while to warm up. Let your child take it slowly, but also be
firm. It’s worth sticking with it and helping your child overcome fears about starting preschool.
What to expect
Tantrums and other troubles
If your child has tantrums, it might help to know that this behaviour is still very common among children aged 18-36 months. Hang in there – tantrums tend to tail off after children turn four.
You might also still have some eating battles with your child. If so, a good rule to keep in mind is that, as the parent, you’re responsible for making
healthy food available on a regular basis. Your child can be
responsible for deciding how much of the food gets eaten.
Some fights are a fact of life when kids get together. A few factors affect fighting – temperament, environment, age and skills. You can work with these factors to handle fighting in your family.
Habits and lying
Lots of children have habits. Your child’s habits might bother or frustrate you, but usually it’s nothing to worry about. Most habits go away by themselves.
But if your child’s habit is interfering with everyday activities, has
become embarrassing, or is even causing some harm, there are things you
can do to help your child break the habit.
You might have caught your child telling the occasional lie. Lying is
of a child’s development, and it often starts around three years of
age. Children aged 4-6 years usually lie a bit more. Generally, it’s
better to teach children the value of honesty and telling the truth than
to punish them for small lies.
a normal part of children’s development, and preschoolers often fear
being on their own and in the dark. If your child shows signs of
anxiety, you can support her by acknowledging her fear, gently
encouraging her to do things she’s anxious about and praising her when
she does, and avoiding
labels like ’shy’ or ’anxious’. Step in to help her only when she actually gets anxious.
Don’t worry if your child has a imaginary friend
at this age. Make-believe mates grow out of healthy, active imaginations, give
children a great way to express their feelings, and give children
someone to practise social skills with.
Changing preschooler behaviour: some tips
Preschoolers have short memories and are easily distracted. You might need to remind your child about things several times. (You can test this by saying, ‘I’ll give you a treat tomorrow morning’ and see if your preschooler remembers!)
If you can honestly tell your preschooler how his behaviour affects you, he can recognise his own emotions in yours, like a mirror, and be able to feel for you. So you might say, ‘I'm getting upset because there’s so much noise, and I can’t talk on the phone’. When you start the sentence with ‘I’, it gives your child the chance to change things for your sake.
Change the environment
You can often prevent or minimise problem behaviour by changing your child’s environment. For example, if your preschooler is getting frustrated because your baby keeps crawling over her jigsaw puzzle, try to find a quiet spot where your preschooler can play undisturbed.
When you explain the consequences of behaviour, your preschooler can figure out why something is wrong. This helps give him a better understanding of the world around him. Sometimes it’s OK not to explain too – for example, the most effective way to deal with your child’s swearing is to ignore the swearing completely.
Your preschooler can help set the consequences for undesirable behaviour – or at least agree to what you set. It’s amazing how much easier it is when children know what consequences to expect because they’ve already agreed on them. But sometimes you won’t have to set a consequence at all – you can just let your child begin to develop responsibility through experiencing the natural consequences of behaviour, like feeling a bit cold for refusing to put on a coat.
Time-out is a type of consequence. It involves having your child go to a place that’s apart from interesting activities, and other people, for a short period of time. It can be used for particularly difficult behaviour, or when you and your child both need a break from each other.
Encouraging your child to change her behaviour can be tricky. When children get praise, encouragement and rewards for behaving well, they’re likely to want to keep behaving well.
The word ‘discipline’ means ‘to teach’ – not necessarily to punish. The true goal is to teach your child the rules of behaviour so he can use them.
Children learn self-discipline by growing up in a loving family, with fair and predictable rules and expectations. Punishment can actually interfere with their development of self-discipline.
Physical punishment doesn’t help children learn proper behaviour.
It doesn’t give them the opportunity to learn how to solve their
own problems. Instead, it can make them fearful, insecure and resentful.
Children learn from example, and hitting teaches them to get what they
want by hitting.
If you have concerns about your preschooler’s behaviour, seek
professional help. You can also read more practical advice about discipline.
Some parents might hit their child because they’re trying to relieve
their own tension or stress in a situation. For more help with managing
your own stress and angry feelings, try reading Feeling stressed and When you feel you might hurt your child.