Two-and-a-half is the most unpredictable preschool age. He will shift from one extreme to the other without warning. This is not because he purposely wants to confuse you or irritate you or defy you. The reason for this changeability lies in a giant step he is taking in decision making.
He is discovering opposites and alternate choices. He understands yes and no, run and stop, take and give, come and go, etc. But now he cannot sort out the relative merits of these opposites for any particular situation. He is not yet capable of thinking of only one to the exclusion of the other.
He doesn’t have enough experience to make a choice and stick to it. Since he still learns mostly by doing, he needs to try out both alternatives. Sometimes he will try do to both things at the same time, other times he’ll start one thing and quit half way to do the other. He is almost compelled to try both in order to decide which is right.
This same struggle with opposites is mirrored in his body. He does not have good control of opposing muscles. He will grasp something too tightly and then release suddenly. He will use good small muscle control, then make jerky large muscle movements or the other way round. Because of this, knocking down his carefully-built tower of blocks is just as much fun for him as building it.
This difficulty with holding and releasing is part of his difficulty in toilet training. He cannot easily relax his bladder muscle, so he holds it too long. He pays so much attention to his play that he doesn’t recognize his mounting bladder pressure until it is too late. Even if he had been successful for a while in potty training, he may take a step backwards for a while.
He is having to learn to let go and relax in order to sleep. He may be demanding a long and involved bedtime routine in order to go to sleep. Even when you finally get him into bed, he may talk to himself for a long time before falling asleep. He uses self-talk to calm himself.
These problems of opposites is more pronounced with very active children than with the more placid. But most two-and-a-half year olds swing between some extremes. He may go from frenzied running around to lying down in a quiet corner. He may be overly outgoing with strangers and then suddenly shy. He may demand a certain food, only to reject it when it is ready. These extremes are not mood swings, but only his attempt to try out both extremes to find what he wants at that moment.
The approach most likely to work is not discipline. If you try to force one thing over another, you will likely cause a temper tantrum. Managing the choices and helping him “want” what you desire, has the best chance of success. Your goal should not be compliance with your desires, but a relatively peaceful passage through this stage of development. A good sense of humor, creative alternatives, and a huge dose of patience will help you through.
Two-and-a-half year olds love music. He will have a preference for music with a strong, definite beat. What he likes, he really likes and wants to play over and over and over again. You can introduce classical music as a background to quiet play or for falling asleep. But the stronger the beat and more repetitious the words, the better he will like it most of the time.
You can teach him to play rhythm instruments like tambourines, maracas, and drums. If he is particularly musical, he may love a kazoo or xylophone. Most two-and-a-half year olds love to dance and march and clap to music.
Music has much to teach our little ones. Most children’s songs teach vocabulary because the words are repeated over and over again. The association between new words and their meanings are strengthened by repetition. The pauses between words help in understanding the meaning of the phrases. The story told through the songs teaches sequences. Children learn what comes first, next, and last and also the numbers in order. Another great benefit of music is teaching our children self control. They must pay careful attention to the words in the song in order to do the actions called for. He must listen, remember, and then translate it into the correct actions.
When you have heard the same album for the hundredth time, congratulate yourself on having helped your child learn so much from his music.
Modeling clay is usually too stiff for young crafters. Playdough is a good alternative. Here is a cheap and no-cook recipe to make edible playdough. In a large bowl, mix 2 cups of flour and 1/2 cup of salt. Gradually stir in 1 teaspoon of oil and 3/4 cups of water. Add the last of the water very slowly so the mixture doesn’t get too wet. Knead it until it is about the consistency of bread dough. Talk while you and your child play with the clay. Describe what he is doing and how the clay feels and looks.
After use, store it in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Your youngster should be expected to help clean up after play. He can roll the clay into a ball and put it into its container. He can use a wet sponge to help wipe the table top.
Finger painting can have a calming effect on your child. Here is an easy recipe for homemade finger paint. Thoroughly dissolve 1 tablespoon of cornstarch in 1/2 cup of cold water in a saucepan. While cooking over medium heat, stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil and begins to thicken. Lower the heat and continue stirring about two minutes until the mixture is very thick and smooth. Let it cool slightly. Color the paint by stirring in powdered or liquid tempera color or food coloring. One color at a time is enough for a two-and-a-half year old.
Moisten the tray or oil cloth or shiny shelf paper with a sponge. The surface must be wet before using the paint. Place a tablespoon of the paint at a time for your child to spread around with his hands.
Be sure to talk about what he is doing. Use as many descriptive words as possible for him to associate with what he is doing. As with the clay, he can help with the clean up. Just a wet sponge and paper towel are necessary to clean the work space. Left-over paint can be stored in the refrigerator too.
As your child matures, he learns to concentrate for longer periods of time. He must learn how to focus his attention on one task and ignore everything around him for a while. He also must learn to finish one task before beginning another.
You are naturally beginning to expect him to pay attention better than you did at the beginning of this year. You expect him to eat without spending so much time looking at everything else in the room. Bath time is probably more work and less play that it used to be. He likes toys that challenge him to pay closer attention to detail.
Here’s a game to help him grow in his ability to focus his attention. Begin with three differently shaped toys placed under a blanket. Now show him a fourth toy that is just like one under the blanket. Tell him, “There is a toy just like this under the blanket. Put your hands under the blanket. Without looking can you find the toy just like this one?” Encourage him to feel one toy at a time until he finds the right one. Be sure to applaud his success.
If he used his eyes, he would find the toy immediately. But by only using touch, he has to concentrate harder, picture the toys he is touching, and choose the correct match. Start very easy so that he can experience success quickly.
Variations include putting only one object under the blanket and asking him to tell you what it is only by touching it. Another is to use a toy he doesn’t know the name of under the blanket. Show him three toys and ask him to point to the one that matches what he feels.
Only play this game once or twice each session. It is better to stop while he still wants more. He will ask you to play it again sometime soon instead of you trying to get him to play it later.
Hand-eye co-ordination and sequences
Toys that provide practice in small muscle development and hand-eye co-ordination can also begin teaching sequences. Toys like magnetic boards, peg boards with large pegs, matching games and puzzles are good choices. Baby toys he liked continue to be favorites during this stage of development, like blocks, cups, rings, and shape sorters. He is using them in different ways and learning new skills with them now.
Self-esteem builds a foundation for approaching life’s challenges. When your child has a sense of belonging, believes he is capable, and knows he has something worthwhile to contribute, he will be able to face challenges that come his way.
Here are some strategies for building your child’s self-esteem:
- Give unconditional love. It is important to let your child know you love him no matter what he does. You love him no matter what his abilities or his temperament are. Hug and kiss him often. Tell him how much you love him. When you correct him, tell him what he did was wrong, not that he is bad.
- Give undivided attention. When he knows you give him your undivided attention, he knows he is important and valuable to you. When he wants to talk to you, turn off the TV or put your paper down, make eye contact, and listen. Listen now so that when he is older he’ll listen to you.
- Be consistent. Have a few rules and enforce them consistently. Having certain limits makes him feel secure. Enforcing rules consistently teaches him you expect him to obey.
- Offer two choices, either of which are acceptable. He will gain confidence in his ability to choose, when he sees he has made a good decision.
- Encourage independence. Let your child explore new foods, new friends, new activities. Manage the risks to keep him safe, but allow him to fail. Resist the urge to “rescue” him. When there is some risk of failure, success is even sweeter!
- Mistakes are OK. He learns as much, and sometimes more, from a mistake than from perfection. Letting him know it is OK to make mistakes, teaches him that mistakes aren’t final, he can recover from a mistake.
- Make success easy. Put toys and books within his reach. Having a step stool nearby makes doing things for himself possible. The more he can do independently, the better his self-esteem.
- Praise him often. He will want to repeat successes when he is praised for them. Be specific when you praise him so that he knows exactly what he did right. The effect of praise is multiplied when you tell Dad, in the presence of your child, what a good job his son did today. Then Dad does the praising.
Preparing for Preschool
In each of the next First Steps bulletins, we will discuss steps you can take now to prepare your child for preschool. These will help your child get the most out of his preschool experience.
1. Plan lots of social activities for your child. Learning to share, following directions, taking turns, and playing cooperatively are necessary skills best learned early in play dates, tot gym, and toddler classes. Children with too little social experience have a hard time fitting into preschool.
Heavenly Father, please forgive me for the times when I get impatient and angry with my child. Give me the wisdom I need to avoid confrontations. In Jesus’ name, Amen.