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Behaviour: What to expect
Behaviour: What to expect

Child behaviour in the preschooler years

Preschoolers are fascinated by the world around them, so you can expect lots of ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions. You might need to allow more time when you’re doing things with your preschooler – for example, so she can stop and look at a bug on the footpath.

As they try to understand the world, preschoolers can sometimes get distracted. It might seem like your preschooler isn’t listening to you – but he might still be trying to figure out something you said five minutes ago.

Independence is important to preschoolers, who are very keen to do things for themselves. But your child needs your support to build confidence and self-esteem. Lots of positive attention, praise and opportunities to practise new skills will help.

Child behaviour concerns in the preschooler years

Anxiety is a normal part of children’s development, and preschoolers often fear things like being on their own or being in the dark. If your child worries too much or shows signs of anxiety, you can support her by acknowledging her fear, gently encouraging her to do things she’s anxious about and praising her when she does. If anxiety is affecting your child’s life, see your GP.

Bullying can be devastating for children’s confidence and self-esteem, especially in the preschool years. If your child is being bullied, he needs lots of love and support, both at home and at school. He also needs to know that you’ll take action to prevent any further bullying.

Disagreements and fighting among children are very common. A few factors affect fighting – temperament, environment, age and skills. You can work with these factors to handle fighting in your family.

You might have caught your child telling the occasional lie. Lying is part of development, and it often starts around three years of age. It’s usually better to teach young children the value of honesty and telling the truth than to punish them for small lies.

Shy behaviour is normal in preschoolers. If your child is slow to warm up, try to support her in social situations. For example, you could stay at preschool for a while in the mornings during the early days. It’s also good to praise your child for brave social behaviour, like responding to others, using eye contact, or playing away from you.

Helping preschoolers children behave well: tips

Use reminders
Preschoolers have short memories and are easily distracted. You might need to remind your child about things several times. For example, when it’s nearly time to leave the park, try saying ‘Adele, we’re going home soon’. Then give another reminder closer to the time you are leaving – ‘Adele, two more slides then we’re going’.

Share feelings
If your infant understands how her behaviour affects you, she might be able to feel for you. So you might say, ‘I'm getting upset because there’s so much noise, and I can’t talk on the phone’. When you start the sentence with ‘I’, it gives your child the chance to change things for your sake.

Change the environment
You can often prevent or minimise problem behaviour by changing your child’s environment. For example, if your infant is getting frustrated because your baby keeps crawling over his jigsaw puzzle, try to find a quiet spot where your preschooler can play undisturbed.

Preschooler discipline and guiding child behaviour

Discipline works best when you have a warm and loving relationship with your child and encourage good behaviour – for example, by using routines, clear instructions and plenty of praise for behaving well.

Family rules are a key aspect of discipline for children of all ages. They guide children’s behaviour in positive ways by stating exactly what behaviour you expect. But infants are likely to forget or ignore rules, so they’ll need support and reminders to follow them.

Consequences are a handy way to guide children’s behaviour because they make it clear to children what not to do. You can tailor consequences to different situations, but consequences are always best when combined with a focus on your child’s positive behaviour.


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