Between the ages of three and five, you might hear the words ‘Why? Why? Why?’ from morning to night. This is because preschoolers have:
- constantly improving speech and language skills
- an understanding that they are their own person
- constant fascination with the world around them.
How preschoolers express themselves
Preschoolers express themselves through:
- constant chatter and play (particularly make-believe)
- body language – they still use gestures and noises to communicate
- painting and craft.
By this age, children become capable of maintaining simple conversations and can use specific words to say what they mean. With a vocabulary that’s growing all the time, they’re also capable of expressing that they are upset, rather than resorting to the tantrums of toddlers.
Even though their language skills might have improved dramatically, preschoolers still rely on your facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures to understand things.
Tips for talking and listening to preschoolers
Get used to repetition. Preschoolers love repetition in stories. This is because it helps them to understand the world and test their imagination in familiar scenarios.
- Stop what you’re doing and give your full attention to your child. It’s not possible all the time. But when you can, it’s a great investment in your relationship.
- When your child tells you something, summarise it back. This lets your child knows that you’re listening.
- Nod, smile and be affectionate when your child is talking. Again, this lets your child know you’re listening.
- Watch your preschooler’s body language and behaviour. This is as important as hearing your child’s words.
- Take questions seriously, and take the time to give a real answer. When you do this, you encourage your child to keep asking questions and exploring the world – an important part of development.
- Use phrases that show you are interested. For example, you can say, ‘Really?’, ‘Go on’, or ‘And then what happened?’
- Let your child finish telling a story. Resist the temptation to butt in.
Say exactly what you mean to avoid confusion. Your child might not understand jokes, exaggeration or sarcasm. These might be misinterpreted and lead to hurt feelings.
- You can repeat the same message in a couple of different ways. This will help your child understand what you want.
- Beat your child to asking ‘Why?’ by explaining things when you’re speaking. For example, ‘We don’t ride bikes on the road because we might get hit by a car’.
- Give your child lots of praise and encouragement, and explain why you’re happy with your child.
- Make sure your body language and facial expressions match what you’re saying.
Preschoolers take things very literally, and interpret things based on the words they hear. They don’t really understand sarcasm or hidden meanings. So it’s a good idea to be careful about how you say things. This can avoid upsetting preschoolers who think the joke is on them!