Children in this age group are beginning to develop important life skills. You can have a huge impact on the person your child will become just by the way you parent at this critical time.
Set limits. When children do something that is against the rules, explain that what they did was wrong and outline what the consequence will be simply and in a few words. Consequences need to be logical, meaningful and simple. For example:
Create and keep routines. Children do best when they know what to expect.
Assign responsibility. When children do everyday household chores like putting dirty clothes in the hamper or washing machine, setting the table or feeding the dog, they are really learning how to contribute.
Encourage your child to bathe and dress himself.
Teach simple rules about safety with adults. You want your child to respect and trust others, but you also need to teach your child to be careful, so tell him:
Children entering kindergarten with a range of skills and knowledge tend to be more successful in school for years to come. You can download a list of helpful skills from the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education website at humanservices.arkansas.gov/dccece/classroom_docs/kric_booklet_for_parents.pdf or, in Tennessee, at www.tn.gov/education/smart/57_60_months.shtml. Although mastery of any or all of the skills identified here is not required for admission to kindergarten, they will give your child more confidence.
As a parent, you know your child best. If your child is not meeting the milestones for his age, or if you think there could be a problem with the way your child plays, learns, speaks or acts, talk to your child’s doctor and share your concerns. Don’t wait.
Your preschooler has probably developed a pretty good appetite. Preschoolers act out thoughts and emotions instead of using language. That’s why they seem to be in motion all the time. All this physical movement means your child will be hungrier and not so picky about the food you serve at home.
However, your child may be asking for fast food. Kids’ menus at these restaurants are seldom in line with your nutritional goals for your child. Fast foods are generally especially high in fats, salts and sugars, increasing the potential for weight gain and risk for diabetes. Find healthy alternatives to fast food.
Do children really need vitamins? No.
Nutrition experts have been saying for some time that most children do not need vitamins at all. The amount your child needs to eat to get enough vitamins and minerals from food alone is probably much smaller than you think. There are actually very few instances where a child’s diet will leave him deficient.
Parents sometimes try to break the habit by making their child’s thumb taste bad or putting a bandage, sock or glove on his hand. These techniques almost never work and cause undue stress to your child.
Preschoolers sleep about 10 to 12 hours during each 24-hour period. A bedtime routine is a great way to ensure that your preschooler gets enough sleep and develops good sleep habits.
Most preschoolers are very active and still need naps during the day. Even if your child can’t fall asleep, try to set aside some quiet time during the day for relaxing, which will be good for you, too.
The tips for establishing a bedtime routine also apply to naps. Usually, an hour is long enough to get the benefits of a good nap, but if your child has been going full tilt, he may take a longer one.
There is a difference between simple nightmares (when children wake up crying and afraid) and night terrors. Night terrors are when your child is in bed and appears to be awake and terrified, but he won’t respond to you because he is not awake. Night terrors are a mysterious and distressing form of sleep behavior common during the preschool and early school years. These events are much more unsettling for parents than for the child having them. Typically, the child falls asleep without difficulty but wakes up a few hours later in a state of panic and fear. He may point to imaginary objects, kick, scream, call out and be inconsolable. The only things you can really do are:
After 10 to 30 minutes, he’ll go back to sleep and won’t remember a thing about it in the morning.
Since some children have night terrors when they’re overtired, try putting your child to bed about 30 minutes earlier than usual and see if that helps. In any case, they’ll disappear naturally as the child grows older. It’s unusual for night terrors to happen often or over a long period of time. In cases of very frequent night terrors, talk with your child’s doctor, but the best strategy seems to be to wait them out.
Preschoolers (ages 3–5) live in a place somewhere between fantasy and reality. They have “real” imaginary friends, make up stories about places they have never been and hang out with superheroes. They also may have poor memories for accidents (spilled milk) or misdeeds (pinching the baby) that happened earlier in the day. In short, they do not have the ability yet to understand the difference between lying and telling the truth.
You can teach your child the difference between lying and telling truth.
Help them learn the ground rules. At this early age, fibs and misdeeds are learning opportunities. Don’t accuse your child of a misdeed by asking “Did you do this?” It’s better to simply say what the rule is and offer a solution. “We have a rule that we only draw on paper. So let’s get some soap, and you can help clean this up.” Then you can praise your child when he cleans up the mess he obviously made. In this way, he learns what is expected of him.
Gently help them see the difference. Creativity is in high gear during this period.
You can help nurture your child’s imagination and still teach him the importance of honesty. Gently remind children that what they are saying isn’t really true, then turn the discussion into a “what if?” For example, if your child talks about a fictitious trip to Disneyland, you can say, “Well, you know we haven’t been to Disneyland yet, but if we did go, what would you want to do?”
Pay attention. Preschoolers often stretch the truth to get your attention.
Be positive, don’t judge. As the author of The Self-Aware Parent put it, “You have to bust out your child in a nice way.” Tell him you know it’s hard to admit doing something wrong but telling the truth is important.
Remember that children do what they see others do. You are your child’s most important role model. Be sure that every day in every way you are showing your child a healthy way to deal with anger.
Help children understand conflict. Let them know that people get into fights when they are angry, when they get teased a lot or when they are encouraged by people around them. Remind your child that:
Bullies target children they think are weak, shy or are smaller, and want to control them. They torment them verbally or physically, undermining confidence in the victim. The victim may not want to go to school or play outside for fear of being hurt.
Here are some things your child can do, with your help, that will make him safer:
It’s normal to get mad. Anger doesn’t usually last a long time, but it is a very strong feeling when it happens. Talk to your child about what they should do when they’re angry.
If your child is still having trouble getting along with other kids, talk with his doctor.
There are a lot of tools out there (like educational television programs, games, songs, video games and DVDs) that will help your child learn to read when he’s ready. None of those tools will be as important as your attention and your involvement.
Remember that learning to read is a process. If done lovingly, it will open a world of wonder for your child that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.
Children need exercise. Being active at least one hour a day will help your child:
Children need to stay active so they keep developing their bodies and their brains. They aren’t designed to be couch potatoes. Young children should not be sitting around for long amounts of time. A good rule is no more than one hour – unless they are sleeping. And school-age children should not be sitting around for longer than two hours at a time.
Parents need to limit TV, video games and computer time for their children. They also need to set a good example by being active themselves. Being active together can be fun for everyone.
Playing team sports, walking or riding a bike to school, dancing, swimming, bowling or yoga are all great ways to stay in shape.
Accidents continue to be the principal cause of death in children in this age group. As your child becomes active outside the house, you have more things to think about in keeping him safe. Download the Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s child safety checklist. Look for safety issues that might put an on-the-go preschooler or kindergartener in particular danger. Go to http://www.archildrens.org/Services/Injury-Prevention-Center/Home-Safety... and scroll to the bottom of the page.
For more tips on keeping your child safe, download the Home Safety Checklist from www.archildrens.org/documents/ipc-homesafety.pdf or visit the Tennessee Department of Health at health.state.tn.us/healthyhomes/injury.shtml.