amaze us. They are learning so much so quickly, trying to make sense of
the world around them. Preschoolers’ conversations are fascinating as
they try to piece information together: Looking for the sugar bugs on
their teeth after they eat candy. Insisting that Mommy go to
time-out when Mommy makes them mad. Explaining that they can’t start
kindergarten yet because they didn’t meet the “dead lion.” (deadline).
are also challenging, because they think so differently. They are often
oppositional, impulsive, self-centered, inflexible and illogical –
especially when upset. They have narrow and literal understanding of
the meaning of words and figures of speech. Sometimes it seems adults
and preschoolers are speaking different languages. Preschoolers’
actions and behavior usually make ages two through four the hardest for
parents to predict and understand.
In a typical
situation, we tell our preschooler to clean up his room and he refuses.
He argues when he’s told he needs to do it because he was the one who
made the mess. He insists that it was his 4-month-old baby brother who
left everything out. Or he says he can’t clean up because his hand is
too tired – a complaint accompanied by a dramatic collapse on the floor
and a plea that you help. You feel confused, annoyed and clueless about
what to do.
Preschoolers say no to many
of our requests and directions. When we insist, they often become
defiant and may get stuck in rigidity that they can’t get out of on
their own. If we get rigid in response – “you spilled the water
on the floor, so you will clean it up or no TV today” – preschoolers’
reactions can easily escalate to extreme frustration and anger –
expressed verbally (“you’re a mean, stupid mommy”) or physically
(hitting parents with the water cup). When they’re stuck on “no,” we
get annoyed with them and threaten them or force them to cooperate.
Then the oppositionality that normally recedes by kindergarten gets
entrenched in their behavior.
But giving in and
cleaning up the water ourselves is not the solution, because children
must learn not to constantly challenge, disrespect and disregard our
authority. We worry about what will happen when they’re teenagers if
they don’t listen now.
Here are six important strategies for success:
your directions so they sound fun and/or interesting. “Pretty soon,
it’s going to be time to make some holes in the paper cup so we can
take it in your bath and play.” If you can’t come up with
anything, you can emphasize something he can look forward to doing when
he’s done brushing his teeth. Or try having his toys “talk” to him: “I
don’t want to lie on the rug. I want to be in the box with my friends,
green and blue Duplos.” Preschoolers love that. You only need to
do this about half the time. They often can’t stop themselves from
saying no, but we can help the “no” to dissolve and become a “yes” by
making it easy for them to cooperate.
also important to watch how you phrase your directions to preschoolers.
Most parents say something like “How about picking up your toys?” or
“Do you want to come inside now?” when it’s not really a choice.
Preschoolers are so literal that they hear it as a question, which they
answer with “no.” Phrase it as a fun and/or interesting request, not as
- When you want your preschoolers
to do what you ask, giving advance notice is respectful and effective:
“In a little while, it will be time to…”
best to have routines and regular times for dressing, eating,
tooth-brushing, toy pickup, TV watching, bed, etc, to reduce continual
- Spend one-on-one time with
your preschooler regularly – at least weekly – doing something that’s
fun for both of you. She should know you’re doing it just because you
enjoy her company. This is like putting money in the bank to draw on
when you want her cooperation.
need enough sleep at regular times – 12 hours for a three-year-old, 11
½ hours for a four-year-old, 11 hours for a five-year-old. Falling
short by more than an hour is a problem. Insufficient sleep triggers
defiant and moody behavior. They also need about an hour a day of
heart-pounding exercise (running after a soccer ball, biking, jumping,
etc.).Sleep, exercise and regular meals and snacks are essential
to enable kids to control themselves better. You can help them develop
these important habits.
need special handling and understanding. Adapting our approaches
to fit their capabilities helps make family life happier and more
satisfying. And don’t fear that you’ll need to “make it fun” forever.
As children become kindergarten age, they become more rational and
logical, responding to reasoning more often. Preschoolers are
delightful and amazing. Enjoy them.
Annye Rothenberg, Ph.D., author, has been a child/parent
psychologist and a specialist in childrearing and child development for more than 25 years. Her parenting psychology practice is
in Emerald Hills, California. She is also on the adjunct faculty in
pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Rothenberg
was the founder/director of the Child Rearing parenting program in Palo
Alto, California, and is the author of the award-winning books Mommy and Daddy are Always Supposed to Say Yes … Aren’t They?, Why Do I Have To?, I Like To Eat Treats, I Don't Want to Go to the Toilet, I Want To Make Friends and I'm Getting Ready For Kindergarten. These are all-in-one books with a story for preschoolers and a manual
for parents. Her new series is for elementary school childen and their parents. The first book is Why Can't I Be the Boss of Me? (2015). For more information about her books and to read her
articles, visit www.PerfectingParentingPress.com. To find out about her counseling practice and her speaker presentations, go to AnnyeRothenberg.com.