The Preschool Years (Ages 4 and 5): What Happens Developmentally? (page 3)

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

Making Friends

Friendships, even for young children, are important. Research has shown that children with friends have a better sense of themselves. They are more likely to have better self-esteem, fewer social problems, and they do better in school.

Kids need lots of practice, so invite other kids over; set up play groups, but don't expect that young children will have long-term relationships.

Don't force sharing, and expect some conflict. Put a time limit on a game. Present toys that both children can use together. When you see conflict brewing, take a break for a story, song, or juice.

Consider your child's temperament. Some children form friendships eagerly and easily while others need more time to observe a situation before becoming involved. Some children become aggressive with playmates or peers. For the aggressive child, here are some points to keep in mind:

Some Do's

Help children avoid punishment by using an early warning system. "Raisins are not for throwing." If he continues, "I'll have to take the box of raisins away. They're not for throwing." Be sure to follow through on your warning.

Decide on a punishment that's a logical consequence of the behavior; it should be related to the offense. If the child is disruptive, removal from the group until he can control himself is a logical action.

Some Don'ts

The penalty shouldn't be too harsh in relation to the offense. Harsh penalties make the child angry and resentful, and he isn't likely to make the connection between the crime and the punishment.

Avoid drawn-out lecturing, scolding or explanation, which may, in fact, represent the attention the child is seeking. If attention-seeking is indeed at the root of the trouble, ask yourself why this might be so and try to provide attention in other ways.

Some preschoolers may be withdrawn, shy or anxious. A certain amount of reticence is appropriate in all new social situations. Many shy and inhibited children may later develop some positive skills. If the child persists in anxious and shy behavior, let her know you know she's upset. For the shy child, here are some points to keep in mind:

Some Do's

Remind her there's no rush, that she has control over what she does or does not do.

Remind her of previous successes in similar situations.

Expose her to other children who are non-aggressive.

Encourage her to play with a younger child. This may relieve pressure and offer an opportunity for her to practice new ways of relating she might be hesitant to try with an older child.

Some Don'ts

Push her to interact before she's ready.

Compare her negatively to a more outgoing child.

Laugh at or belittle her fears.

Label her as shy; this sets up expectations for her behavior and the label may stick.

Keeping Curiosity Alive

Parents should create an atmosphere which encourages the child to ask questions, knowing he'll be taken seriously and will receive direct answers. The curiosity of the preschooler usually includes an interest in sexuality, both his own and opposite sex. He may ask where babies come from and about the organs involved in reproduction and elimination. Answers should be simple and honest. He won't benefit from long explanations and doesn't need details. Short answers and a matter-of-fact attitude are appropriate at this age.

The preschooler may play with own genitals and show an interest in genitals of other children. These are signs of normal curiosity and scolding or punishment are likely to foster attitudes of secrecy and shame. Help him learn what's socially appropriate. Emphasize that no other person, including close friends and relatives, may touch his 'private parts.' Exceptions are doctors and nurses and his own parents.

Day Care or Preschool

To make the separation from home and family a good experience, it is recommended that parents consider the following factors in selecting a care facility or preschool:

Trained, experienced teachers who enjoy, understand and can lead children

Enough teachers and assistants, ideally, at least one for every five children, small rather than large groups, if possible. (Studies have shown that five children with one caregiver is better than 20 children with four caregivers)

Staff that has been there for a long period of time

Opportunities for creative work, imaginative play, and physical activity

Space to move indoors and out

Lots of drawing and coloring materials and toys, as well as equipment such as swings, wagons, jungle gym, etc.

(from Facts for Families, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists, 2004)

Related Web sites:

National Parent Information Network

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

American Academy of Pediatrics

About the NYU Child Study Center

The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at

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