Preschool: A Time Of Increasing Independence - How To Handle It As A Parent

  • Routines 

Despite how busy most parents are, especially when they need to incorporate preschool, playdates, and activities into their own adult schedules, it is crucial to set up and then maintain routines. Despite how children may balk at rules and routines, it provides them with a sense of security to know what to expect and to know the plan.

For example: try to wake the child each morning at the same time, have him/her get dressed and go to the bathroom, and then sit down if possible for breakfast (not in the car or walking around the house). 

Similarly at bedtime, it is important to plan for what is known as “ sleep hygiene” which means a routine prior to a consistent bedtime that includes a bath, brushing their teeth and then a soothing story or short snuggle with the parent. Talk about what was the best and hardest part of the day and tell them about your day too. Often, reading a story helps the child to relax. TV should not be used as a bedtime relaxation. Limit the TV time to 1.5 hours a day but not right before bed. It will stimulate them and make it harder for them to fall asleep.

  • Rules

Rules provide a way for the child to have a guideline for acceptable behavior. It is important to state the rule consistently amongst caregivers and then have consistent consequences if the rules are broken. It is critical for all people involved in the child’s care to use the same words: “unacceptable” or “not allowed” for example.  

Do not say the CHILD is not being nice, say what s(he) DID was not nice. This will allow the child to not feel bad about him/herself, simply that what the behavior was was not right.

The consequences of doingsomething against the rules, must also be consistent in the explanation and the language used, and the consequences for repeated rule-breaking must be spelled out calmly and clearly in simple terms. For example: “you’re not supposed to hit your friend with the toy.  It is unacceptable. If you do this again I will be very upset and have to take the toy away because it is unacceptable to hit.”. 

  • Household “ Chores”

Chores is the word commonly used but actually these should be referred to as “ jobs” or “ helping activities” so they do not feel that the responsibility is punitive. Simple tasks such as picking up their clothes, feeding the dog and putting their toys away are appropriate ways to teach them to participate in the household and they should be praised when they successfully accomplish them.

  • Safety discussions:

It is critical for the parent(s) and caregiver(s) to teach the child to be safe. “Don’t talk to strangers” is an old adage that, while it can mean that your child may appear rude to people they don’t know, it can also be a way to be sure they don’t talk to a person who might injure them on the street or in a playground.

Be sure to tell them that they should not keep secrets from you and that if they feel like something is scary or they are not sure then they should always tell you and ask what to do. Encourage them to learn their address and your phone number and explain to them how to find a police officer or guard if they get lost. 

It is also important to tell them that no one, not even a doctor or nurse, is allowed to touch them or undress them unless someone such as a parent or caregiver is present. Unpleasant and adverse events are sometimes perpetuated by people pretending to be medical personnel. Their pediatrician should say “ It is ok for me to examine you because mommy/daddy/caregiver is here.” As a pediatrician, I never undress or examine a child without saying this each time. 

  • Socialization

Four- to six-year-olds are learning about their friends, and the ups and downs that come with friends. Many parents try to manage these friendships and intervene when there is a problem. Talk to your child about his/her feelings in the situation. Teach your child “emotion words” by saying “you must be so happy that your friend gave you his toy to play with, he is a good friend.” Or, alternatively, “ you must be mad that your friend took your toy. Are you mad?” This helps them to use words instead of physical behavior to solve problems. Instead of hitting the other child or crying, they can learn to sit down and say “I am sad or mad”. Then say “well maybe your friend feels sad too. Or maybe your friend wants you to share that toy because it’s such a great toy. Give your friend a turn to play with it.”

As your child grows, each step in the process brings new and exciting challenges. They are full of wonder and eager to learn about life in the family and in the school and in the playground. They are testing the waters and looking for clues. Consistent attention, love and predictability will be the keys to an ongoing age of great wonder and development. Enjoy the time!!

Natalie Geary