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. She 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.
2 Years 7 Months Girl
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 her blankie needs a bath or her room needs to be rearranged. Whatever can be kept stable should remain stable. She will adjust to the new situation, but she 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 her attention span. Let her know when Special Time is so she can anticipate it and decide on an activity. If you keep this up, as she gets more verbal she will use this time to talk to you. Treasure these times and know you are setting a pattern that will ease her 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. She marks time more by her daily routine not by minutes or hours. This is one reason routines are so important. Use references to time whenever possible now. Tell her, “We will leave in five minutes. This helps prepare her for change and also begin to recognize how long minutes are.
If you haven’t started teaching your child to wash her hands by herself, now is the time. With a step stool so she can reach the faucet and soap, she will soon be able to do a good job of washing her hands. Bar soap may be easier for her 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 she 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 she’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 her to hurry up on the potty. If she gets nervous, she can become constipated. Let her take her time.
- Don’t ever punish her for accidents or not being interested in using the potty. She will become less interested in potty training or become afraid any mistake will anger you. Respond as calmly as possible and know she’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.
- Never 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 her 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 her 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, she will stop. Now the bad behavior may escalate briefly while she 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 she runs away from you, expecting you to chase her, catch her, and pin her down to dress her; try something new. Pick up her clothes and tell her, “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 she comes to the bathroom door, open it, let her in, and then close and lock it. Put her up on the toilet seat or on a clothes hamper to change. She won’t want to fall, so she’ll usually settle right down and let you help her get dressed.
- Be clear about what you expect. When you want your child to do something, tell her in simple terms exactly what you want her to do. Telling her to “clean her 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 she 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,” she cannot remember what she 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 she 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.” She can see some really good reason to do her 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 her for preschool. We will continue this series for the next few months.
Prepare her for what to expect. Most children, like most adults, find starting a new job unsettling. (Preschool is her 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 her 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 her good information by telling her what to expect when she goes to preschool. It is preferable to let her see her school, her classroom, and her teacher before she is to begin. Let her ask questions and tell her about what she’ll be doing. If you have been telling her the truth about what to expect in new situations before, what you tell her now will help her 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 she is found very quickly because she 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 she who is lost, but her parents. When she is lost she feels very small in a mob of moving, unfamiliar giants. Her Mommy and Daddy have always been in her world. Now they are gone and she doesn’t know why. As worried as you are because of what you know could happen to her, she is afraid because of all she 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 her in place. In malls, use a stroller. There is much she can see without being able to wander off. She also won’t get so tired out by walking such long distances. If she 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 her 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 her when you can fully concentrate on her and help her learn to stay with you for her own safety.
Make a game of teaching your child her full name. Teach her to answer the questions, “What is your name, little girl?” “What is your Daddy’s name?” “Where do you live?”
If your child does get lost, notify security immediately. They would rather find out she was just in the next aisle over, than for her 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 her. Hug her and let her know how happy you are to find each other again. Remember she 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 daughter to feel secure. In Jesus’ name, Amen.