Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD
Fear not, moms and dads. You're not alone. Preschoolers want to own their newfound independence. But they also want the close attention and love of their caregivers.
Michele Borba, EdD, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, says, "These ages (3-5) are among the most active and frustrating in terms of parenting.
Here are eight common mistakes parents of preschoolers make and some smart fixes to help avoid or resolve problems.
1. Straying Too Much From Routines
When you're not being consistent with your routine, preschoolers get confused and may act out more or throw more temper tantrums. Altmann says, "If sometimes you let them do something and sometimes you don't, they don't understand."
Your child probably wants to know why last time Mommy let her play on the playground for 10 minutes when school got out but this time wants her to get in the car right away. Or why did Mommy laid down with her for 10 minutes last night while she fell asleep but now says she can't.
Fix it: Be consistent across the board -- whether it's with discipline, sleep habits, or mealtime routines.
Altmann says if your routine is consistent 90% of the time and your child is doing well, then so are you, and a minor exception may be OK.
2. Focusing on the Negative
Altmann says parents tend to focus on what they don't want their preschoolers to do. "They'll say, 'Don't hit. Don't throw. Don't say 'poopy pants,'" she says.
Fix it: Notice when your child is doing something positive, and reward the good behavior.
The reward for positive actions can be your praise, or it can be giving your child a big hug or kiss. "Those types of things really go a long way with preschoolers," Altmann says.
Tell your child, "I like the way you sat quietly and listened," or "That was good when you were so friendly to the child on the playground."
Fix it: Figure out and anticipate what your kid's natural warning signs are, Borba says. The usual ones are hunger, fatigue, and boredom.
So don't take your child to the supermarket unless she's napped or you've stashed a healthy snack in your purse.
4. Encouraging Whining
Borba says parents often give in to these whines, but this only reinforces the attention-getting behavior. Your child will figure out which buttons to push and then push them over and over again.
"This is the age when your children come out of their shells," she says. "Watch out, because they figure out what works."
Fix it: Ignore it.
For behavior that isn't aggressive, like a whine or sulk, you're better off if you don't respond to it at all. If you're consistent, Borba says, your child will think, "Well, that didn't work."
5. Overscheduling Your Child
The problem, Altmann says, is that they're still wound up and need time to calm down. Every child needs down time, especially preschoolers, she says. Whether your child is at preschool for two hours or there all day, it can be very exhausting.
Fix it: Don't overschedule your child or shuttle him from one activity to the next. Give your child time to unwind with free play when he gets home from school.
6. Underestimating the Importance of Play
What's most enriching at this age, says psychologist Lawrence J. Cohen, author ofPlayful Parenting, is free play. That includes dramatic play (make believe), rough housing, and goofing around.
"Free play is how children's brains develop best," he says. "In play, children will naturally give themselves the right amount of challenge -- not too easy or too hard."
Fix it: Allow your child time and space for free play. Remember that preschoolers define play as "what you do when you get to choose what to do."
Free choice -- the voluntary aspect of play -- is important, Cohen says. "Preschoolers love to vacuum or do housework, but it's play. It's not on their chore list. They've chosen to do it and they're just doing it for fun," he says.