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A Preschool Behavior Survival Guide

A Preschool Behavior Survival Guide

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Updated on Aug 6, 2013

Preschool parents battled their way through sleepless infant nights and survived the terrible twos. But just when they thought the worst was over, enter the sometimes willful, rude, and whiny preschool child.

Nobody said being a parent was easy, especially when you’re dealing with the most aggravating aspects of child development. But since there's no turning back, there’s nothing left to do but roll up your sleeves, and tackle those aggravating preschool behaviors head-on. Here's a parent-friendly guide to getting preschool behavior on track—without losing your mind!

Rid Your Child of Rudeness

“Kids aren’t born knowing how to be polite; it’s a social behavior that’s learned through ongoing experiences and teachings,” says daycare owner and operator Camilla Brown. “During the preschool years, youngsters are extremely receptive to learning rules, so this stage of development provides a window of opportunity to teach them how to be courteous to others.”  

Kids emulate the behaviors of the adults around them, so be a shining example of what it means to be polite. Your child should frequently hear you say “Please,” “Thank you,” “Excuse me,” and “May I.” If you make being polite part of your everyday interactions with others, the behavior will become second-nature to your child.

Young children absorb information at a rapid pace. And when they’re bombarded with a bunch of dos and don’ts, they can easily forget—so introduce rules gradually and offer plenty of gentle reminders. When you notice your child making an effort to be polite to others, give her a little positive feedback by saying, “I liked the way you said thank you when grandma gave you that new doll.” This type of honest praise will encourage your little one to continue with her polite ways.   

Put a Lid on Whining

Listening to the high-pitched squeals of a child begging for a cookie can gnaw at any parent's nerves. It’s tempting to give in to your whining preschooler’s demands just to silence him, but caving in will only perpetuate the behavior. “If you are overly annoyed by a child’s whining, he’ll pick up on this and it will become his new weapon of choice,” says early elementary teacher Yasmin Stewart. So when your child starts to whine, stay calm and request that he speak to you using his normal voice.

If whining is continuous, it can signal something deeper. Take a step back and assess your situation. Is there a new baby in the house? Have you been preoccupied with other things lately? Your child’s whining may be a plea for attention. So make an effort to spend one-on-one time with your youngster each day.

Turn Refusal into Compliance

Preschoolers have a growing sense of autonomy and they aren’t afraid to let others know it. So they often refuse to eat, go to bed, and get dressed. Unfortunately, parents are always on the receiving end of this noncompliant behavior. When your young child refuses to do what you ask, it’s easy get frustrated and “lose it.” But flipping out and punishing your child won’t solve the problem—it will only lead to unnecessary power struggles and more frustration.

Thankfully, typical behaviors of noncompliance in a preschooler can be easily remedied by allowing him to make simple choices. Before your child gets dressed in the mornings, lay out two outfits, and let him choose which one he wants to wear. During lunchtime your little one can decide whether he wants turkey or ham on his sandwich. Offering limited choices can give your young child the room he needs to exercise his independence without compromising his safety and your sanity. The choices you present to your child should be acceptable to you, so no matter what he chooses, everybody wins.

Routines are also great for dealing with noncompliant children as they enable youngsters to predict what’s going to happen next. And if your child understands that naptime comes shortly after lunch, he’ll be less likely to put up a fight because knowing what to expect gives him a sense of control over his life. In order for routines to be effective they have to be consistent, so once you get your child’s routine in place, avoid any unnecessary disruptions.

Don’t expect miracles when you’re tackling whining, rudeness, and refusal in your young child, as these behaviors are a normal part of preschool development, and nipping them in the bud takes time. But before long you should find that your preschooler's behavior is slowly but steadily improving.

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