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Preschooler behaviour (1) : what to expect

Key points

  • Preschoolers are curious, easily distracted, keen on independence and still developing self-regulation.

  • Preschool helps your child learn about getting along with others and following rules.

  • Common preschooler behaviour concerns are tantrums, habits, lying and anxiety.

  • Your preschooler needs you to guide his behaviour in positive ways.

Child behaviour in the preschool 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.

And preschoolers are getting better at self-regulation, which is great for getting along with others at preschool or playgroup. But your child still needs your help with expressing strong feelings appropriately and managing behaviour, especially in challenging situations.

Going to preschool: why it’s good for children

Children can benefit from going to preschool at this age.

Some children can take a while to get used to preschool or have fears about starting preschool. But it’s worth sticking with it because preschool gives your child the chance to make friends and practise skills like sharing and taking turns. At preschool, children can start learning about following other people’s rules and getting along with other children.

Child behaviour concerns in the preschool years

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

Fighting 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.

Habits Lots of children have habits, like biting nails or twirling hair. Your child’s habits might bother you, but usually it’s nothing to worry about. Most habits go away by themselves.

Lying 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.

Shyness 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.

Tantrums If your child has tantrums, it might help to remember that he’s still learning appropriate ways to express feelings. If you work on reducing your child’s stress, tuning into your child’s feelings, and spotting your child’s tantrum triggers, you should see fewer tantrums after he turns four.

Don’t worry if your preschooler has an imaginary friend. Make-believe mates grow out of healthy, active imaginations. They give children a great way to express feelings and practise social skills.

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