Stress and the Preschooler
Your preschooler is probably pretty happy most of the time. But there are many things that can cause stress for your preschooler. He has so many new skills to juggle. The arrival of a new sibling, lack of a regular routine, illness, moving, vacation, change in caregivers, fear of the dark, and even too many planned activities can stress your preschooler.
The signs of stress at this age often depend on his personality. Some preschoolers become withdrawn and seem bored, while others become angry and impatient. Some don’t want to play or want to go home when they have just arrived at play group. Some regress in their toilet training or in self-skills like dressing themselves.
What’s a parent to do? Some of the stressors you can do something about. You can reduce the number of activities you plan for the week or provide a more stable routine schedule. But other stressors are out of your control. New babies arrive when they will, illnesses come and go, and moving follows job changes. The best thing you can do is add extra cuddles and special time for your preschooler. Don’t make this the time his blankie needs a bath or his room needs to be rearranged. Whatever can be kept stable should remain stable. He will adjust to the new situation, but he needs some extra time and attention from you.
This is time you carve out of your day to devote your full attention to your child. This time should not be interrupted with the telephone or food preparation. This is time your child can choose the activity to do with you. Fifteen minutes is a good length of time for his attention span. Let him know when Special Time is so he can anticipate it and decide on an activity. If you keep this up, as he gets more verbal he will use this time to talk to you. Treasure these times and know you are setting a pattern that will ease his passage through school age and teens.
Sense of Time
Your child is beginning to understand time. Yesterday was in the past, tomorrow is in the future. He marks time more by his daily routine not by minutes or hours. This is one reason routines are so important. Use references to time whenever possible now. Tell him, “We will leave in five minutes. This helps prepare him for change and also begin to recognize how long minutes are.
If you haven’t started teaching your child to wash his hands by himself, now is the time. With a step stool so he can reach the faucet and soap, he will soon be able to do a good job of washing his hands. Bar soap may be easier for him to handle than a pump dispenser for now. Sing a special hand-washing song that is about 20-30 seconds long to help your child gauge how long he should rub and make suds before rinsing.
Some of you are saying, “What potty training?” Others of you say, “It was a snap!” Whatever your progress with this major step of development, know you are not alone. For some children potty training seems to be super easy, for some they learn either to pee or poop in the potty and cannot seem to figure out how to do the other, for some daytime potty training goes well, but nighttime will take another year or so to be learned, and for others they just are not ready yet. Don’t let anyone put you or your child down! Just say, “We have a plan. We’re not worried about it!”
Here are some keys to remember:
- Wait until your child is ready. They need the physical development, awareness, and communication skills to gel before they will be successful at potty training. Starting before he’s ready can prolong the process or backfire later on.
- There are wrong times to begin training. Wrong times are when a new baby is arriving soon, when you are changing caregivers, or during vacations or holidays. Wait until life settles down to more of a routine.
- It can take up to three months to train your child. If you have tried for three months without success. Stop for a few weeks before trying again.
- Don’t pressure him to hurry up on the potty. If he gets nervous, he can become constipated. Let him take his time.
- Don’t ever punish him for accidents or not being interested in using the potty. He will become less interested in potty training or become afraid any mistake will anger you. Respond as calmly as possible and know he’ll succeed with a little more time and practice.
More Discipline Strategies
By this time in your parenting, you have learned some discipline strategies that work very well and others that don’t work at all for your child. But most of us would like to have a few more tools we can pull out from time-to-time. Here are some things to think about.
- ·ever take away a child’s security toy or blankie as a punishment. (Of course this item will fall apart or get lost eventually or you can choose to wean him from it.) But don’t even threaten to take it away as punishment, no matter how angry you are. That blankie or toy is your child’s symbol of security and comfort. To take it away is to strike one of the foundations of his well-being.
- When your child is behaving in a way you don’t like, ignore it. Yes, you heard correctly. Many annoying behaviors that you haven’t been able to break your child from doing can be ignored to extinction. When this behavior no longer gets a rise out of you, he will stop. Now the bad behavior may escalate briefly while he figures out that you just won’t react to it any more. But keep on ignoring and it will soon be forgotten.
- Follow Me! Instead of chasing your preschooler around the house to get changed, change the game. When he runs away from you, expecting you to chase him, catch him, and pin him down to dress him; try something new. Pick up his clothes and tell him, “When you’re ready, come to the bathroom to get dressed.” You go to the bathroom and close the door. This usually brings a two-and-a-half year old running and crying, “I’m ready! I’m ready!” When he comes to the bathroom door, open it, let him in, and then close and lock it. Put him up on the toilet seat or on a clothes hamper to change. He won’t want to fall, so he’ll usually settle right down and let you help him get dressed.
- Be clear about what you expect. When you want your child to do something, tell him in simple terms exactly what you want him to do. Telling him to “clean his room,” will not work. But saying, “Please put your books back on the bookshelf,” will get a much better response. It is best not to give your preschooler instructions with more than two or three steps. It also helps if you say the instructions in the order he is to do them. “Please go upstairs, get your socks, and bring them down,” will likely work better than, “Please put your socks on, they are upstairs.”
- Be realistic about your expectations. If you say, “Get ready for dinner now,” he cannot remember what he needs to do to get ready for dinner.” Saying, “It is time to wash your hands and come to the table for dinner,” is much more likely to be rewarded with obedience.
- Compliments and encouragement are strong motivators. Preschoolers love to please. Telling how well he is doing at filling your requests goes so much further than scolding, nagging, or demanding obedience. “You got your socks and put them on so quickly today. Thank you!”
- Incentives work better than demands. “When you put your blocks in the box, then we will go to the park.” He can see some really good reason to do his job. Stickers really work well for some kids too. “You put your blocks away so quickly, you get a sticker on your chart. Just two more stickers and we get to go for a bike ride in the neighborhood.”
Preparing for Preschool
Last month we began a series of steps you can take with your child to prepare him for preschool. We will continue this series for the next few months.
Prepare him for what to expect. Most children, like most adults, find starting a new job unsettling. (Preschool is his new job.) A few bold ones will jump right into anything new with zest, but they are the exception.
Think about starting preschool this way. It would be like you suddenly finding yourself in a foreign country. You only know a little of the language, you don’t know how anything works, and everyone else is twice as tall as you. Think about what would help you in that situation.
Don’t belittle his fears by saying there’s nothing to be afraid of. But on the other hand, don’t talk about preschool as if it is going to be ALL fun. Be realistic. Give him good information by telling him what to expect when he goes to preschool. It is preferable to let him see his school, his classroom, and his teacher before he is to begin. Let him ask questions and tell him about what he’ll be doing. If you have been telling him the truth about what to expect in new situations before, what you tell him now will help him be ready to take this new step.
This time we’re not talking about the child’s distraction, but parents’ distraction. Being vigilant all day every day is exhausting. Two year olds are most prone to accidents and getting lost because their parents are momentarily distracted.
Because two year olds are so quick and can easily get to places that were hard for them before, they are prone to serious accidents: falls, poisoning, and drowning. They can run into the street and get lost in crowds.
This warning is not to make you fearful, but to remind you to be more careful during stressful times, like when you are rushing to get out the door and into the car, while preparing dinner, when you are running late, when you are shopping, and when you have guests.
If your child gets lost, most of the time he is found very quickly because he cries out loudly. However, some children don’t scream out in their panic, they freeze where they are or cower in a small enclosed space. These are the children who are the hardest to find.
For the child, it is not he who is lost, but his parents. When he is lost he feels very small in a mob of moving, unfamiliar giants. His Mommy and Daddy have always been in his world. Now they are gone and he doesn’t know why. As worried as you are because of what you know could happen to him, he is afraid because of all he doesn’t know.
So what can a parent do? Avoiding separation by using the shopping carts stores provide is one way. Use their safety belt or bring your own to keep him in place. In malls, use a stroller. There is much he can see without being able to wander off. He also won’t get so tired out by walking such long distances. If he just won’t be satisfied sitting down, use a harness or lead. This allows your inquisitive child the freedom to look around and walk on his own within a limited range. Don’t worry that others will think you treat your child like a dog. Remember that responsible pet owners use a leash because their dog is so valuable they want to protect it. If your child won’t allow any of these measures, only take him when you can fully concentrate on him and help him learn to stay with you for his own safety.
Make a game of teaching your child his full name. Teach him to answer the questions, “What is your name, little boy?” “What is your Daddy’s name?” “Where do you live?”
If your child does get lost, notify security immediately. They would rather find out he was just in the next aisle over, than for him to have had time to get to any part of a huge mall before they were called. Swallow your pride, accept some teasing if necessary to have your child safely returned to you.
When you are reunited with your child, don’t punish him. Hug him and let him know how happy you are to find each other again. Remember he didn’t get lost on purpose.
Heavenly Father, knowing You watch me makes me feel secure. Help me to be vigilant in watching my child as you are vigilant in watching over my life. Help my son to feel secure. In Jesus’ name, Amen.