Parenting: Discipline and Limit Setting

3 to 5 Years Old

Preschoolers have a major love affair with life. They are enthralled with their new skills and growing independence. By the time children are 3, 4 or 5, they can dress themselves and even prepare their own bowl of cereal. Their cognitive abilities are simply blossoming and many older preschoolers can count and write their names.

At this age they ponder deep philosophic issues, such as birth and death, and have more highly developed language skills. They can communicate about their desires in a more sophisticated way, so they are less impulsive than during the toddler years. However, they will still have tantrums when they want something badly or things are not going their way. Preschoolers are much more in touch with their emotions than toddlers. Your 4-year-old can say, "I'm angry," at times, rather than hit or throw things. However, when stressed, your 3-, 4- or 5-year-old will still regress to these earlier forms of behavior.

Children at this age have a better comprehension of cause and effect. They can reason and negotiate better, so they can be more cooperative. Your 3-year-old will be more accepting than he was at 2 when you explain, "You can't go to the park today. It's raining." Though preschoolers continue to be egocentric and experience their needs as urgent, they have developed some tolerance for delayed gratification. If you tell your 4-year-old, "You can have some juice when we get home," he will be more capable of waiting than he was when he was younger.

Social skills are blossoming during this stage of your child's development. Sometimes your 4-year-old will be able to share her toys with a playmate or wait her turn, but there will be times when these skills will simply evaporate. Preschoolers have internalized many important rules by now. For instance, they know they should not run into the street when their ball rolls off the sidewalk. But their self-control is still very immature, so they will still run after the ball. They are also outgoing and feel invincible at this age. Your 4 1/2-year-old will enjoy telling strangers all about her new fish, or she might climb up on the windowsill and try to fly like Superman. Therefore, you need to supervise your child carefully.