About relationships with preschoolers
Warm, stable and responsive relationships are fundamental to children’s development and wellbeing.
When you have this kind of relationship with your preschooler, he feels safe and secure. A sense of security gives your preschooler confidence to explore the world and learn. And as your preschooler explores the world, he learns how to think, understand, communicate, behave, show emotions and develop social skills.
Your relationship with your preschooler: what to expect
At this age, your preschooler is building on the confidence and self-esteem she has been developing since the baby and toddler years. She’s developing language, problem-solving skills and social skills. Your relationship might change as a result.
As your preschooler’s ability to use and understand language develops, you’ll start to have longer conversations. These conversations give you the chance to really listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings. When you do this, it sends the message that what your child is thinking and saying is important to you. This is great for your relationship with your child.
You might find that your preschooler has lots of ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘where’, ‘who’ and ‘how’ questions about the world around him. He can also understand more complex explanations. When you take your child’s questions seriously and take the time to give real answers, this helps your child to learn about the world as he grows and develops – and builds his trust and confidence in you.
Preschoolers are better at understanding and using words to express emotions like ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘angry’ or ‘surprised’. And they can begin to understand that other people have these feelings too. So your preschooler might say ‘Sorry’ if she bumps you by mistake, or be excited when it’s your birthday. These developing emotional skills are good for her relationships with you and other people, now and in the future.
As your relationship with your preschooler develops and changes, it might help to know that relationships are a two-way street. Both you and your preschooler will contribute to your relationship. For example, your child’s temperament will influence the sorts of activities you enjoy together, or how you sort out differences of opinion. All relationships go through ups and downs. But if you work on maintaining your relationship over time, your child will feel loved and secure.
A strong parent-child relationship is about more than just having fun together. By tuning in to your child’s feelings, praising him for positive behaviour, and helping him find words for big emotions, you can help him behave well.
Building a strong relationship with your preschooler: tips
Children of all ages need parents and caregivers who are warm and responsive, who pay them attention and who make them feel safe. Here are some ideas to help you keep building this kind of relationship with your preschooler:
- Show that you’re listening when your preschooler is talking. Stop what you’re doing, make eye contact, pay attention to your child’s body language, and use phrases like 'Really?’, ‘Go on’, or ‘And then what happened?’
- Give your child plenty of positive attention. This might mean making time to do your child’s favourite activities with her – for example, jigsaws or Lego. Even joining in briefly lets her know that you’re interested in what she’s doing and that you like spending time with her.
- Try to be patient with your preschooler’s questions and encourage his interests. If he asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, you could look it up online together. Or you could visit the library to take out some books on his favourite subject.
- If your preschooler asks about tough topics, answer in simple language and short sentences that your child can understand – for example, ‘Grandma has died and we won’t see her anymore. I’m very sad’. If you encourage open communication about tough topics, your preschooler learns that she can always talk to you.
- Play games together like ‘I spy’ or simple board or card games. Turn-taking games like these help your child learn to play cooperatively and get along with people. These skills are good for his relationships with you and other people.
- Read together. Regular reading with your preschooler creates a special time for bonding. It also stimulates your preschooler’s imagination and helps her learn about the world around her.
- Share regular family meals. Family meals can strengthen your family relationships and your child’s sense of belonging.
- Encourage your preschooler to help you around the house – for example, by setting the table or putting away laundry. This gives you the chance to spend time together and show your preschooler that you trust him with responsibility. And chores help your preschooler feel ‘big’ and good about himself.
It’s important to look after yourself. Even spending a few minutes a day doing something you enjoy like going for a walk or reading a magazine can make a big difference to how you feel about the time you spend with your child. Looking after yourself is good for you, so it’s good for your relationship with your child and her development.