Top 10 Tips for Parenting Preschoolers

Parenting a preschooler means helping him develop good learning and social skills to prepare him for school. See more parenting pictures.
Marcy Maloy/Getty Images

There are only a few months to go until kindergarten, and already you've seen your toddler blossom into school readiness. She has started to grab crayons and pencils with her fingers instead of her fists. She has gone from walking unsteadily to running, jumping and throwing. She has started making conversation, instead of just spouting out random words and phrases. She has even started to share.

During this period, your preschooler's brain will grow faster than any other part of her body: By age 5, it will have grown to be 90 percent the size of an adult brain [source: Cantu]. As your preschooler copes with this change, you'll start seeing the first signs of independence and social interaction. Your child's memory center will also kick in -- her first memory will likely be registered in the year leading up to kindergarten. It's also a time rife with power struggles and frustration. Your preschooler doesn't have fully developed logic skills yet, but she will still demand autonomy. She has not yet developed proper balance, but she can climb to high places.

Expect your fair share of tantrums and time-outs during this time, but if you keep your preschooler active, ease her into greater independence and maintain a safe and nurturing home environment, then your child should be ready when she sits down for her first day of school.

But first, let's work on getting your preschooler some sleep.

10
Learn to Ease Bedtime Troubles

Bedtime can be an exasperating ordeal for both child and parent. The simple act of preparing to sleep can become a desperate battle for control. By remaining sensitive to your child's sleep needs, and by sticking to a regular bedtime routine, night-time drama can be avoided.

Your preschooler may need as few as nine hours or as many as 14 hours of sleep [source: Caldwell]. In certain cases, parents may be forcing sleep on a child who is genuinely not tired. Experiment with different bedtimes to find out how much sleep your child needs. Remember that not all your preschooler's sleeping will necessarily happen at night, so allow for midday naps.

Preschoolers, just like adults, need a winding down period before going to sleep. At least half an hour before bedtime, get your child to start slowing down. Keep him away from caffeine, food or drink, and consider turning on some mellow music. Stick to a routine: Bedtime will be more calming if it is kept to a regular ritual.

Sleep can be a scary prospect for a preschooler. Bedtime, after all, is the time when you're supposed to stay alone in a dark, isolated room. To ease the fear, some experts recommend packing your child a "nighttime kit" [source: KidsHealth]. Put a flashlight, book or music player close to your child's bed so that if he can't sleep, he'll have something to do in the middle of the night without getting out of bed.

9
TV and Video Games are Great -- If Managed Correctly
Playing educational video games can be healthy for preschoolers, but parents should still monitor the games and limit the time spent playing.
Playing educational video games can be healthy for preschoolers, but parents should still monitor the games and limit the time spent playing.
China Tourism Press/Getty Images

TV and video games frequently get a bad rap, but if used correctly, they can be valuable educational and developmental tools. Preschool age is the best time to best time to start developing your child's TV viewing habits. As they grow older, those habits will be harder to change [source: Media Awareness Network].

Make TV and video games an active -- rather than a passive -- experience. Ask your child questions about the TV shows and video games she enjoys ("What was your favorite part?" or "What do you think about that?"). Select positive shows that are heavy on education. If you get a healthy TV routine established, you may find your preschooler developing a better grasp of math and spelling, and having their interest sparked in other subjects [source: Bright Futures].

Of course, TV and video games should be balanced with other activities. In general, restrict your child's television watching to less than two hours per day [source: Canadian Paediatric Society: Media]. You might even consider a TV fast: Switch off the tube for a week or so to gauge television's prevalence in your lives.

You also have to monitor the content of the media your child consumes. You might prefer to steer your preschooler away from TV or video games containing violence, sexuality or cultural and gender stereotypes, or maybe you'd rather use those instances to teach her about your values. Before purchasing a video game, familiarize yourself with the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) guide, which rates games' age appropriateness and warns about elements that might be unsuitable for some people [source: ESRB].

8
Get Outside

Preschoolers have boundless energy and need plenty of exercise to burn it off. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, preschoolers need at least two hours of exercise every day [source: The Children's Hospital]. If your preschooler is active, she'll sleep better, feel stronger, and be less susceptible to childhood obesity and diabetes.

Keep in mind that children often mimic their parents in terms of fitness. Fit parents tend to have fit children. Monitor your own physical activity levels to ensure that you're setting a good example.

There are two types of exercise for preschoolers: structured and unstructured. Structured play is planned activity, such as playground games (tag, hopscotch, etc.) or group sports. Structured play allows your child to develop her physical coordination while learning the basics of cooperation and teamwork. Unstructured, or free, play is when your child is left to do activities on her own, such as drawing, exploring, or playing with toys. By giving your child space, she is able to develop creativity, imagination and emotional strength. Give your child an even balance of both structured and unstructured play.

In all play, safety is essential. Preschoolers haven't completely developed their balance or coordination, and they haven't fully formed the basics of common sense. Put a helmet on them when they ride their tricycle, supervise them in parks and playgrounds, and be especially watchful when they swim in a pool.

7
Get Ready For Kindergarten

Kindergarten is a huge step. It's the first of at least 13 years of education, and for some children, it represents the first time they'll be separated from their parents for extended periods of time. Some experts suggest not telling your preschooler too much about kindergarten until about two weeks before it starts. Preschoolers don't yet have a good grasp of time periods, and giving them too much notice may fill them with unnecessary anxiety [source: Peterson].

You may have years of classroom experiences under your belt, but to a child, it's a completely new environment. Get your child used to the physical basics of kindergarten: Take her to the playground of her new school, and get her used to sitting in a desk and holding a pencil.

Starting school also requires a fair amount of emotional preparation. Your preschooler may have made friends at the playground that she won't be able to see now that she is in kindergarten. Try to arrange play dates -- if your child is allowed to maintain a link with her past, it may help her transition to kindergarten.

About a month before kindergarten starts, check to see that your child is behaviorally prepped for school. She should have a good grasp of appropriate behavior and have some level of autonomy before the term rolls around. There are times when preschoolers simply aren't yet ready for kindergarten, so you might consider waiting a year to enroll her if that is case [source: Suro].

6
Guide Your Child's Emotional Development
Preschoolers should spend time around other children to develop their social skills.
Preschoolers should spend time around other children to develop their social skills.
Doug Menuez/Getty Images

By about age 3, your preschooler will start becoming a social creature. Playmates will become friends, siblings will become accomplices or foes, and caregivers will become confidants and discussion partners. During this period, it's a good idea to keep an eye on the ways your child is developing social skills.

Take your child to the playground, park or to classes at a local community center. By being around other kids her age, your preschooler will be able to hash out most of the ground rules for social interaction, such as sharing and taking turns.

Of course, groups of preschoolers can also be cruel, aggressive and rude -- transforming any playground into a cauldron of emotional drama. After a significant amount of time spent around her peers, you may notice your preschooler starting to develop behavioral problems [source: Dewar: Stress]. That's why it's good to make sure that your child also interacts with emotionally mature adults, instead of just her peers. Point out emotions in other people, explain the causes and effects of emotions, and teach your preschooler to communicate her feelings in a healthy way [source: Dewar: Social Skills].

5
Read

From the moment you can prop your child in front of a book, regular reading is an excellent step toward nurturing a confident and curious preschooler. Schedule a few minutes every day to read with your child.

Long before your child starts thumbing through his first Dr. Seuss, it's important to get him used to the look and feel of printed words. Teach him that books are read from front to back, and point out printed words on other items, such as signs and packaging. Once your child has grasped the significance of printed words, his motivation to start reading will be much stronger.

Next, teach your child the relationship between words and sounds. Explain the sounds that different letters make, and how those letters sound when they're strung together on the page. The sooner your child equates written words with talking, the more quickly he'll learn to read.

As you work through your daily reading sessions, gradually get your child involved in the mechanics of turning written words into verbal stories. Pick predictable stories with simple story patterns (such as "Green Eggs and Ham") [source: Reading is Fundamental]. As you read, trace the words with your finger, and get him to join you in sounding out the words.

4
Praise Resiliency

Resiliency is a valuable trait in any preschooler. It's what gives him the confidence to try new things and the strength to pick himself up if he fails. The more resilient your child, the more likely he'll show initiative, drive and resistance to negative peer pressure later in life. There are several tricks you can use to encourage resilience in your preschooler.

It's natural for parents to want to shelter their children from failure. When your child falls down, your first instinct is to go pick him up. But by the time he reaches preschool age, don't be afraid to start letting your child make mistakes. Allow your child to lose or fall, but talk him through the experience and get him used to bouncing back and trying again.

A world run by preschoolers could be a scary place: You might have sweets served for three meals a day and a teddy bear for president. Nevertheless, give your child some capacity to make decisions on his own. For example, let your preschooler pick out his own clothes or comb his own hair. It may not look how you would prefer, but it will help him shore up his self-confidence [source: Wingerden].

3
Discipline, Don't Just Punish

Punishment is a necessary part of parenting, as long as it's part of an overall discipline strategy. It's one thing to give a preschooler a time out, but quite another for a preschooler to understand why he is getting the time out and what he can do to prevent future time outs. Make sure that punishment is always given in the spirit of education.

At preschool age, your child is learning to gauge the causes and effects of bad behavior. After your child draws on the wall with crayons, for instance, an appropriate response could be to get him to clean up the mess [source: Canadian Paediatric Society: Discipline].

Your preschooler might respond to discipline with some pretty hurtful words (such as "I hate you" or "You're stupid!"). Many parenting experts recommend ignoring it, arguing that your child is simply saying it to get attention. Overreacting to his verbal outbursts in the moment will just reinforce the behavior [source: Fleming].

Be sure to notice good behavior as well as bad behavior. If you can praise good behavior in addition to discouraging bad behavior, the overall effect will be much more potent.

These days, many parenting experts recommend against hitting or yelling at your child. They say spanking or hitting your child teaches him that violence is an acceptable solution to a problem [source: Wallace].

Also, don't resort to trying to shame your preschooler out of bad behavior ("You're making a fool of yourself"). Shaming is a direct affront to a child's emotions and may affect his self-confidence.

2
Keep Cool During Tantrums, but Stay in Charge
Many preschoolers tend to have tantrums as an outlet for their emotions.
Many preschoolers tend to have tantrums as an outlet for their emotions.
Camille Tokerud/Getty Images

At times, tantrums may seem like your child has been possessed by an irrational spirit, but they are a common part of growing up. Preschoolers don't yet have the ability to control their emotions, and tantrums are sometimes their outlet for expressing themselves. Know how to manage tantrums when they happen, and your child should grow out of them by grade school.

You can stop many tantrums before they start. Preschoolers are hungry for independence, and they use tantrums as an outlet when they feel frustrated about a lack of control over their own lives. Give your child a sense of autonomy by giving him control over little things, like whether to have his juice before his snack, or the other way around. Preschoolers also have incredibly short attention spans. If you see a tantrum brewing, try to distract your child or move him to a different room.

Inevitably, however, tantrums will crop up. Each tantrum is different. If a child has failed at doing something, he may simply need comforting. If he is throwing a tantrum because you've refused him something, your best bet is to ignore him [source: Spock]. If the tantrum happens in a public place, whisk your preschooler off to quiet area where he can cool off.

Whatever you do, do not react to a tantrum by giving in. If your preschooler learns that tantrums are an effective way to get what he wants, you'll be facing many, many more tantrums.

1
Listen

The better you are at listening to your preschooler, the easier it will be to communicate with her. If your preschooler feels she's being heard and understood, you'll be able to steer clear of ample amounts of frustration and bad feelings.

When your child is talking, try to use body language to show that you're paying attention. Kneel down to her level, look her in the eyes and, if you really want to look engaged, tilt your head [source: PBS Parents]. If you're too busy to give your full attention, schedule a time when you can. As your preschooler speaks, ask clarifying questions to make sure you know what she's saying.

Preschoolers say a lot of incorrect or nonsense things ("But Jeff's mom lets him play with matches"). Although it may be tempting to correct her immediately, instead let her finish what she's saying, and even get her to explain further. That way, she has been allowed to express herself before being shot down with a contradiction.

Also, avoid saying 'no' immediately. Sudden rejections can be a prime cause of tantrums. Instead, take a moment to consider the question. Even if the answer is still 'no,' your preschooler will feel that her opinion is valuable. Answers aren't always necessary -- sometimes a simple "I see" will suffice.

Learn even more about parenting and children by visiting the links on the next page.

UP NEXT

How Free-Range Parenting Works

How Free-Range Parenting Works

HowStuffWorks learns about the free-range parenting philosophy and talks to the movement's founder Lenore Skenazy.


Related How Stuff Works Articles

Sources

  • Bright Futures. "Top TV Tips: Building a Balanced TV Diet." (January 28, 2010) http://www.brightfutures.org/mentalhealth/pdf/families/mc/tv_diet.pdf
  • Caldwell, Bettye M. "Dealing with a Nightly Bedtime Drama." http://www.fisherprice.com/fp.aspx?st=665&e=expertadvice&catparcode=ps_slpslns&ccat=PS_GetSleep&content=36643
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. "Are home trampolines safe?" September, 2007. (February 3, 2010) http://www.cps.ca/caringforkids/keepkidssafe/trampolines.htm
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. "Effective discipline for children." 2004. (February, 4, 2010) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2719514/
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. "Impact of media use on children and youth." January, 2009. (January 28, 2010) http://www.cps.ca/english/statements/PP/pp03-01.htm
  • Canadian Parents "Positive Discipline." (January 28, 2010)http://www.canadianparents.com/article/positive-discipline
  • Cantu, Ethel. "The Preschool Years: Physical & Cognitive Development." Based on Development Across the Life Span by Robert Feldman, Prentice-Hall. (February 8, 2010) http://blue.utb.edu/ecantu/Psyc%202314/Feldman3Notes/PreschoolPhysCogFeldman3Notes.htm
  • Children's Hospital, The. "Kids and Exercise." University of Colorado -- Denver.http://www.thechildrenshospital.org/wellness/info/parents/21620.aspx
  • Dewar, Gwen. "Preschool social skills: A guide for the science-minded parent." (February 4, 2010) http://www.parentingscience.com/preschool-social-skills.html
  • Dewar, Gwen. "The dark side of preschool: Peers, social skills, and stress."http://www.parentingscience.com/preschool-stress.html
  • Direnfeld, Gary. "Parenting a pre-schooler." (January 28, 2010) http://www.canadianliving.com/family/toddlers_and_preschoolers/parenting_a_preschooler.php
  • Disney Family Fun. "Brain Play." (February 3, 2010)http://familyfun.go.com/playtime/brain-play-701255/
  • Entertainment Software Ratings Board.http://www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.jsp
  • Evitt, Marie Faust. "Getting Ready to Read: Preschool Reading Skills." (January 28, 2010)http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=1503
  • Fleming, Don and Mark Ritts. "What is provocative communication?" (February 8, 2010) http://www.enotalone.com/article/4398.html
  • Gisler, Peggy and Marge Eberts. "Is My Daughter Emotionally Ready For Kindergarten?" (February 3, 2010) http://school.familyeducation.com/kindergarten/emotional-development/40734.html
  • Hanson, Cynthia. "7 Tips for Disciplining Your Toddler." February, 2007. (January 28, 2010) http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/discipline/tips/7-tips-for-disciplining-your-toddler/?page=1
  • KidsHealth. "Raising a fit preschooler." May, 2008. (January 28, 2010) http://kidshealth.org/parent/nutrition_fit/fitness/fit_preschooler.html#
  • KidsHealth. "Temper Tantrums." November, 2008. (January 28, 2010)http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/tantrums.html# KidsHealth. "Establishing a Bedtime Routine." August, 2008. (January 28, 2010) http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/sleep/sleep_preschool.html#
  • Media Awareness Network. "Managing Television In The Home." (February 3, 2010) http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/parents/television/managing_tv_at_home.cfm
  • Parlapiano, Ellen H. "Ready for Kindergarten?" (January 28, 2010) http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=701 Peterson, Gayle. "Preparing Your Preschooler For Kindergarten." (January 28, 2010) http://parenting.ivillage.com/gs/gslearning/0,,48pq,00.html
  • PBS parents. "Positive ways to talk and listen." November 5, 2006. (January 28, 2010)http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/talking_and_listening_in_positive_ways_pbs.html/context/633
  • PBS parents. "Video Games: Preschoolers." (January 28, 2010)http://www.pbs.org/parents/childrenandmedia/videogames-preschool.html
  • Pitman, Teresa. "Nightmares and Night Terrors." April, 1997. (February 3, 2010)http://www.todaysparent.com/preschool/article.jsp?content=73&page=1Reading Is Fundamental. "Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler." (January 28, 2010) http://www.rif.org/parents/0_4.mspx
  • Risk, Margaret. "Meltdown Moments." (January 28, 2010)http://www.preschoolerstoday.com/resources/articles/meltdown.htm
  • Spock, Benjamin. "Tantrums At Preschool Age: What To Do." September 14, 2004. (January 28, 2010) http://www.drspock.com/article/0,1510,3983,00.html
  • Suro, Roberto. "Holding Back to Get Ahead." January 5, 1992. (February 8, 2010) http://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/05/education/holding-back-to-get-ahead.html?pagewanted=1
  • Wallace, Merri. "Parenting: Discipline and Limit Setting." (January 28, 2010)http://health.discovery.com/centers/kids/childrearingtips/discipline_11.html
  • Wingerden, Pamela. "'I Can Do It!" Raising a Resilient Preschooler.'" (February 4, 2010)http://www.education.com/magazine/article/raising-resilient-preschooler/