Category Archives: Your Preschooler

Articles related to helping you raise your preschooler.

Time Outs and Ins

timeoutChildren between the ages of three and five are learning to develop self- control. Developmentally they are capable of understanding basic rules like “No hitting or biting”.

In addition they should be developing a respect for property and can understand “You can not draw on the walls.” even if the impulse strikes them. But it’s important to remember that this takes time and that they are “learning.” When rules are broken time out provides a method of letting your child know that this behavior is unacceptable.

“Time-out” is the most effective method of discipline for young children. It has been researched extensively and is used by hundreds of day care centers and nursery schools. It is simple to carry out and allows both parent and child to cool off.

How to properly use Time-Out

  • Establish a time-out space in one particular room—the room where you spend the most time together is best. Use a chair, a step, or a playpen without toys. You can also create a time-out space wherever or whenever it is necessary. However, never put a toddler in a closed room, bathroom, or closet.
  • The recommended length of “time-out” is one minute for each year of age. A timer can be very helpful.
  • Establish what behaviors will result in time-out ahead of time. Have a “parent” meeting to decide what behaviors you wish to change. Never try to change more than two at a time.
  • Be consistent. That means each parent and childcare provider is consistent.
  • Remember the rule of using five words or less to tell your child what behavior you are putting them in time out for. Following the inappropriate behavior, say for example, “No hitting!” firmly and, without raising your voice and without further discussion, place the child in time-out.
  • If your child will not sit in the chair, hold him in it from behind the chair putting gentle pressure on the shoulders. For an older child, resetting the timer teaches him to sit until told to get up. The key to success is to not say a word or look at the child during this time.
  • Following a time-out, they can resume play. Do not bring up the incident again. Do not lecture and do not reprimand. Doing so has been shown to act as a positive reinforcement for the unwanted behavior by giving the child attention and could negate your disciplinary efforts.
  • Equally unhelpful is any attempt to assuage your “guilt” by giving extra hugs and kisses to show your child that you still love him. Love is demonstrated in many ways and helping your child learn to control his behavior is one of them.
  • The one exception to bringing up the subject is if they have injured someone or damaged someone’s property. You should ask them to apologize. A simple “I’m sorry ” will do. It’s never too early to teach them that art. But don’t expect miracles right away. If they refuse to apologize, don’t insist or make a fuss. Your facial expression will be enough to convey that you are disappointed. But over time, apologies will come, especially if your child has observed your behavior and heard you apologize.
  • The child should start with a clean slate after each time-out and should receive praise for the next positive behavior.

Time-out works best in a loving environment where the child has received adequate positive attention.

Let the Children Play

 “Play is the work of children” is a quote from a famous turn of the century psychologist. I use that phrase a lot when describing how vital play is for a child’s development. From the moment they can reach for an object, play and the exploration of the world become one. Just watch a six month old reach for an object, shake it, transfer it from hand to hand and then put that object in their mouth for further exploration. As the child grows, exploration of the world becomes more complex and we see this as we watch toddlers manipulate objects and watch the joy on their face when they bang two objects together, put puzzle pieces in place or get the circle in the circle hole in a shape sorter.

Play is also how children work through strong feelings such as anxiety . Peek a boo is a perfect example of this. As soon as a nine month old starts worrying about separation from parents, they also begin loving the game of peek-a boo. It starts with mom or dad pulling a blanket over their head and watching the delight on the baby’s face when they pull it off and say “peek-a-boo”.  They will do it over and over again, even starting to pull the blanket down them selves,  “mommy is gone, mommy is back. As they get older, imaginative play takes over and children will imitate everything they see in the adult world. And to help them overcome feelings of being small and powerless, suddenly a four year old becomes his favorite super hero, with super strength and able to fly.

For school-aged children, play helps them learn self control. A game like Simon Says, for example, teaches kids impulse control. And board games teach them organization and how to follow rules and take turns. Playground games help kids learn negotiation as rules are often changed to fit the situation and kids have to compete in a “child created” hierarchy.

 Play helps children at every age , but something is happening now when children reach age five and enter school. Suddenly the time allowed for free play starts to disappear. Playtime is replaced with playdates, often structured by parents. And what happens on a playdate has changed. By this age imaginative free play has too often been replaced by video and computer games. In school, recess used to be a time of free play with kids learning how to navigate the playground games with rules set by the kids themselves. But now schools have cut down on recess time because of fears of liability and the need to increase time for academics. After school used to be a time of neighborhood play with kids of all ages engaged in pretend and pick up games. But now many parents do not let their children play outside without supervision because of fear for their safety.

Another factor is parents feeling pressure to help children achieve academic and athletic success. Parents fear that if they do not start lessons in sports or other activities at a very young age, their children will have a disadvantage as they grow. So kids are enrolled in ice skating classes and soccer teams at very young ages. This has replaced the free unstructured play time that kids used to have.


3.Talk about the movement to bring play back for children.  

 Many specialists are warning parents about the dangers of “play deficit”. Depriving children of free imaginative play as they grow may have harmful effects on their growth and development. The experts are saying that most of the social and intellectual skills one needs to succeed in life and work are first developed through childhood play. Children need child centered unstructured imaginative play- time. This is play that does not involve electronics and computers, X boxes, and iPads. It’s play that puts the child in charge of what happens. As soon as parents impose the rules, it becomes “parent play”.


4. What can parents do to help their children have more time for play?  

 Make a commitment to play. Whatever the age of your child, think about how they spend their free time. If you have small children, remove the electronics and unplug their play: look for toys like blocks, legos, dress up, pretend kitchens and tea sets. And avoid toys that are marketed to promote movies and TV shows. Look for toys without a story, ones that a child can impose their imagination on and can create their own stories.Take a look at your children’s schedules. Is there enough time for free play. Are all those classes necessary for an eight year old? Ask your kids what they really enjoy doing.


Create a fun room for play that other kids will like to come and play in. Make it safe, but adult free. Learn to tolerate mess. Making forts out of furniture cushions is messy, but very creative. Look at your backyard. Make it play friendly. Take some trips to the park with other parents.  Let the kids play by themselves. They need to create the rules. Advocate for recess time in schools. Connect with other parents or local advocates like your pediatrician who may feel the same way about the need for exercise as well as play during the school day. Most importantly, get out and play with your child. Play is fun for all ages!


Who’s In Charge?

boy-playing-soccerWe have all seen them. In a restaurant, doctor’s waiting room, the supermarket, and even in our own relative’s homes: out of control children…

We cringe at how they seem to have no respect for anyone or anything. We are horrified when we see them punch, kick, or verbally assault a parent. And we are shocked at how their parents do nothing and allow them to be destructive, rude, or aggressive. It’s easy to say you could never have a child like that. But the reality is that if you don’t act early, your child will more than likely also be out of control.

So ask yourself a few key questions: Who is in charge? Can you tolerate your child being angry with you when you set limits or discipline them? And are you afraid to discipline your child when they cross the line of acceptable behavior?

The first answer should be obvious. You must be in charge. You are the parent. Your son or daughter is the child. This is a very important concept and one that many parents do not fully appreciate. Children need to have limits set on their behavior. What’s more, they need to know that you are in control, and you are the one who has set and will enforce those limits with the help of any other caregivers in your child’s life.

How does this translate into your everyday parenting? It means being able to tolerate their protests and anger at your rules. Some parents are afraid that if they make their child unhappy, that they will not love them. And so they do everything they can to make the child happy and give in to all demands. They then become afraid to discipline them. Now who is in charge?

Discipline works when it is consistent among all caregivers, and not harsh. It is the consistency and not the severity that is effective. Children have very little self-control at this age and although they may not always act like it, they really want your help. On some level they understand that you must help them learn self control and will not let them “go wild”. They want parents to be strong. It makes them feel safe.

Here is an analogy that may help clarify this issue. In our society, we are not always happy with the decisions of our government and we may even stage a protest; however, most people still understand that we need laws to keep our society safe and will abide by the law even as they protest it. Your child is the same and really wants to be a member of their family and ultimately this society.

To successfully guide your child through the inevitable behavioral problems of the preschool years requires inner strength. Setting limits on a young child’s behavior is very important. You cannot begin this when the child is older, and most definitely not when they hit the teen years. You are the teacher of how your child will act in the world, what kind of person they will become, what type of citizen they will be and what kind of spouse or parent they will ultimately become. Remember — a wise teacher treats his or her students with respect but does not allow them to teach the class.

Gender Identity in Children

…And That’s What Little Girls/Boys are Made Of

This is the age when children learn about the differences between boys and girls and become very aware of their own sex. As most experts have come to realize, there are true differences between boys and girls and these have nothing to do with cultural conditioning. In general boys are more physically aggressive, girls more verbal. Boys are drawn to anything with wheels, and most girls are not. Girls are drawn to dolls, most boys are not. There are many other differences that have to do with the way boys and girls learn and communicate.

However scientific they may be, these are generalizations. Some girls prefer typical “boy” activities, and some boys like to play with dolls. The tomboy seems to be more accepted by parents than a boy who likes to play with dolls or has other more “feminine” ways. Fathers, especially, may get very upset if they see their son playing in the kitchen or with a doll. If a child shows that they are happy and comfortable in their gender role, there is probably nothing wrong. Boys need to learn to nurture as well as girls. In addition, girls can benefit from play that is more aggressive.

If a child seems uncomfortable in their gender role or frequently makes statements like: “I wish I were a boy,” or “I’m not a girl, I’m a boy,” it may signal that your child is not happy with his / her gender identity. Children sometimes feel, correctly, or incorrectly, that their parents value one sex more than the other, or that their parents are unhappy because they wanted the opposite sex child. These matters can be very complex psychologically and usually need referral to a professional. If you suspect your child is having a conflict about his or her gender identity, please discuss it with your pediatrician or family practitioner.


teddy_hugThe sucking of fingers is only one of a group of behaviors we observe in small children. These are called tensional outlets. They are thumb or finger sucking, chewing on clothing or hair, nose picking, and holding the genitals. These are very common behaviors during this period of childhood. They help a child reduce the internal tension, which results from anxiety and fear. Each child has his or her own personal tensional outlet, which may have become associated with stress reduction during infancy or toddlerhood.

All of these are difficult habits to change in a small child, although parents spend a great deal of time trying. They spend even more time listening to advice from well -meaning friends, relatives and even strangers, who warn of the dangers of these habits aren’t corrected. The simply truth is these tensional outlets are not harmful and are obviously very important to these small children who are experiencing some form of stress. They usually are outgrown by school time.

Here are some common questions from parents:

Does finger sucking cause orthodontic problems?

Most dentists today feel that serious malocclusion occurs because of genetic factors. There may be a moderate effect caused by finger sucking that extends into the fifth or sixth year, but these can be reversed by orthodontics.

Should I do something to help my child stop?

If a child is motivated or asks for help, you can provide encouragement. However, you should never force a child to give up their tensional outlet.

If your child is motivated, a positive reward system may be useful. In regards to finger sucking, the motivated child over age 7 can be fitted by an orthodontist with a special mouthpiece which has a bridge that hits the child’s fingers as it goes onto the mouth. This provides a gentle reminder. It is not recommended to put bad tasting substances on the fingers, to restrain them, or to use punishment to curb these behaviors.

Are there any health risks?
Most of these habits are completely harmless, but there can be some complications. Fingers and nail beds can sometimes become infected. Although it is rare, swallowing hair that is chewed on can accumulate in a child’s stomach. And picking of noses can cause nosebleeds.

When will they grow out of it?

Thumb or finger sucking, and nail biting will last the longest. It will vary based on the child, but most children give up finger sucking by age 8 or 9. Nail biting, however, can go on for a life time, but can be helped. Ask your pediatrician for suggestions when your child is older and motivated.


sleeping_on_shoulderHopefully your child is going to bed without any problems and staying asleep all night. However, even if they are, it will not be every night.

All children this age have some sleep disturbance at some time. In addition, some children will still be having difficulty on a regular basis. Here are some common problems with preschoolers and sleep. If you are having difficulties with sleep, consult your pediatrician for further advice and guidance.

Your bed or theirs?
By age three, even if you have chosen up to now to follow the philosophy of the “family bed”, it is a good time for your child to be taught how to sleep by himself in his own bed. As hard as it can be for many parents, your child will be happier and healthier if you can do this. Even if you wish to have your child sleep in the same room for a bit more, sleeping in the parental bed after age five may not be healthy for psychosexual development.

Bedtime routines
Bedtime routines will help your preschooler to go to sleep. Make sure you have a regular and calming routine before a child’s bedtime A routine can consist of the reading of a favorite story after the bath, kissing all the stuffed animals, or singing a special song. This will become the signal for your child that bedtime has arrived and will also provide a transitional period during which he or she can prepare for the separation that sleep brings. It also gives preschoolers some control of the situation since the ritual must be completed before they will go to bed.

Can’t go to sleep without you

Your preschooler may insist that you be present while he falls asleep. While some respect for his separation anxiety is needed, you can still gently tell him that you understand how hard it is, but you will help him to do this on his own. After the bedtime routine simply say, “It’s time for sleep now” Give a big hug and kiss and then leave him in his bed. If he gets up again, simply walk him back to his bed and repeat the same phrase. You may have to do this many times, but make it boring without a lot of extra hugs and kisses. After awhile he will know you mean business. This method works well with most children. Another technique is to challenge your child to stay in bed until you check on him or her. They will feel proud of themselves if they can do it. Check on them at 5-10 minute intervals gradually increasing the time between checks.

The Magical Age

magical_ageWhen your child turns three, he or she will suddenly announce, “Look out world, I am here!”

From the age of three until your child enters formal school usually at the age of five, he or she will experience the wonder of the world in a way that they will never experience again in their lifetime. This is the age of imagination, of magic, of play. And yet at the same time preschool children often appear as little “scientists” testing the limits of physics or little “sociologists” analyzing human behavior to understand how people live together and communicate with each other.

The challenging role of the parent is clear. You must continue the job of civilizing these young members of society, while preserving their need to explore, examine, and analyze the world. In other words, allow for these important developmental steps to occur within certain social boundaries and in a safe, protective environment.

To accomplish this you must first recognize your child’s temperament and understand the basics of child development at each age. Then you must allow your child to play as much as possible. Provide imaginative play materials and toys and then let the child do the rest. Re-live your own childhoods as you get down and play with your child and enter their rich imaginary worlds. Pay close attention to how they see things and marvel at the wonder of imagination and the richness of play. Have fun with them.

At the same time you must learn to set limits and to effectively discipline your child when necessary. This is the hard part for many parents. But your child is depending on you for this vital role. This is a magical age. It won’t last forever. Enjoy your preschool child.