Relationships and preschooler development
Warm, stable and responsive relationships are fundamental to children’s development and wellbeing.
When you have this kind of relationship with your child, they feel safe and secure. A sense of security gives your child confidence to explore the world and learn. And as your child explores the world, they learn how to think, understand, communicate, behave, show emotions and develop social skills.
Relationships with preschoolers: what to expect
At this age, your child is building on the confidence and self-esteem they’ve been developing since the baby and toddler years. Your child is developing language, problem-solving and social skills. Your relationship might change as a result.
As your child’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 child has a lot of ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘where’, ‘who’ and ‘how’ questions about the world. Your child 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 they grow and develop. It also builds your child’s trust and confidence in you. Your child might ask the same questions many times as they build their understanding, so it’s important to be patient.
Preschoolers are getting 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 child might say ‘Sorry’ if they bump you by mistake or be excited when it’s your birthday. These developing emotional skills are good for your child’s relationships with you and other people, now and in the future.
As your relationship develops and changes, you and your child will both shape 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 your child, and helping them find words for strong emotions, you can help your child learn and develop.
Building strong relationships with preschoolers: 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 ideas to help you keep building this kind of relationship with your child.
- Give your child plenty of positive attention. This might mean making time to do your child’s favourite activities with them – for example, jigsaws or Lego. Even joining in briefly lets your child know that you’re interested in what they’re doing and that you like spending time with them.
- Tune in to your child. If you see your child is getting frustrated or upset, help them understand their emotions. For example, ‘I can see you’re frustrated with that puzzle. How about I help you?’ Understanding emotions is a key part of self-regulation, which is important for all your child’s relationships.
- Show that you’re listening when your child 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?’
- Be patient with your child’s questions and encourage their interests. If your child 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 your child’s favourite subject.
- If your child 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 child learns that they 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 your child’s relationships with you and other people.
- Read together. Regular reading with your child creates a special time for bonding. It also stimulates your child’s imagination and helps your child learn about the world.
- Share regular family meals. Family meals can strengthen your family relationships and your child’s sense of belonging.
- Encourage your child 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 child that you trust them with responsibility. And chores help your child feel ‘big’ and good about themselves.
It’s important to look after yourself. Even spending a few minutes each 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 their development.