Parenting Strategies for Preschool Kids

Alex Robboy, CAS, MSW, LCSW
Individual, Couples & Family Therapy
IMAGO Certified Marriage Counselor
AASECT Certified Sex Therapist Supervisor
Founder & Director of the Center for Growth Inc.

Posted by: Alex Robboy
CAS, MSW, LCSW Individual, Couples & Family Therapy IMAGO Certified Marriage Counselor AASECT Certified Sex Therapist Supervisor Founder & Director of the Center for Growth Inc.
267-324-9564

Parenting Strategies for Preschool Kids in Philadelphia and World Wide: Are you at your wits’ end?  Have you no idea how to get your little one to listen?  Do you feel powerless and at his/her mercy?  Are you feeling like an inadequate parent?  Or, do you believe your kid is just inherently “bad”? 

Parenting can be enormously frustrating, and there’s not a parent alive who hasn’t lost it from time to time.  But if you’re losing it too frequently and feel motivated (or maybe even desperate) to turn things around, this series is for you.  The only way to change your child’s behavior is to change your own.

What are you modeling with your parenting style?You are your child’s most influential teacher.  Ask yourself: what is my child learning by watching me?  Your child learns how to be a person in the world from watching you.  Do you embody the traits you’d like to see in your child?  While personal values vary, most parents agree on the types of qualities they’d like to see in their children (kindness, respect, independence, confidence, patience, etc.).  I’ve yet to meet a parent who intends to raise a child to be impatient, disrespectful or aggressive …and yet many kids demonstrate these less desirable traits frequently.  The harsh truth is they are learning how to be impatient, disrespectful and aggressive from their caretakers.  So ask yourself: what is my child learning by watching me?

Consider the following examples of common parental behaviors that in the long run do not serve your children (though in the moment they may seem like they help you).

Impatience with preschool kids

Scenario:  You’re late and your child – trying to put on his pants – is taking way too long.
Your Solution:You sigh, grab the pants from him, and put the pants on him yourself.  But what are you modeling?  In this example, you’ve modeled impatience, frustration, and lack of faith in your child’s ability to perform a task.  You’ve also robbed him of the satisfaction of accomplishment, as well as set a precedent that you will put his clothes on for him.  Was this your goal? 

Disrespect with preschool kids

Scenario:  Your child throws a fit because she wanted pink underpants, and you bought her purple underpants.
Your Solution: You tell your child it doesn’t matter what color the underpants are, you tell her to just wear the pink ones, and you tell her to stop overreacting…after all, they’re just underpants.  But what are you modeling?  In this example, you’ve modeled disrespect, lack of empathy, blame and criticism.  Your child may feel as if you don’t care about her feelings, and that she can’t count on you to help her through a tough moment.  Was this your goal? 

Aggression with preschool kids

Scenario: Your child will not stop yelling, or crying, or doing whatever it is you want him to stop doing. 
Your solution: You yell at him from a one-up place: “I said STOP IT.”  Maybe you grab him firmly, maybe you even add “…or else you can’t do X, Y or Z.”  But what are you modeling?  In this example you’ve modeled anger, domination, aggression, manipulation and threats.  Your child may feel afraid, furious, and betrayed that you were so unkind to him.  Was this your goal?

It’s easy to see how we unintentionally often teach our children how to behave badly.  So what can be done?  Ask yourself: what do I want my child to learn by watching me?  Let that answer guide your parenting intervention. Using the above scenarios, here are just a few (of endless) examples of how you could intervene while teaching what you want to teach.  In each scenario, it will require more of your self-control, effort and time, yet the long-term payoff can be profound. 

Patience with preschool kids

Scenario: You’re late and your child – trying to put on his pants – is taking way too long. 
Your New Solutions: Do your best to contain yourself, and employ your own patience.  You could wait patiently until his pants are on, then applaud him for doing it all by himself.  You could ask him if he would like help, then heed his answer.  You could explain to him that because you’re late, you are putting on his pants for him (even if he is upset), but that he is still going to be the one putting on his own pants going forward.  In any case, you are modeling patience, respect and effective problem-solving. If you find yourself frequently short on time, you may need to replan your day and allot more time.  Too little time on a regular basis will create a frustrating situation for all involve.d    

Respect with preschool kids

Scenario:  Your child throws a fit because she wanted pink underpants, and you bought her purple underpants.
Your New Solutions: Do your best to empathize with your daughter.  You could validate her tears, and tell her you understand that it’s upsetting when you don’t get what you want.  Ask her how she would like to handle the situation?  As she is brainstorming the different options you could add some silly ones, and some practical ideas.  Let her decide the best course of action.   Regardless of how she chooses to handle the situation, you’re modeling empathy, connection, care, respect for feelings, and safety.  Chances are when she feels heard and understood, she will make a decision and move forward.  After all, the source of the fit was likely her feeling as if her wants were disregarded or irrelevant. 

Peaceful Acceptance with preschool kids

Scenario:  Your child will not stop yelling or crying and you have no idea why. 
Your New Solutions: Do your best to stay calm in the midst of your child’s chaos.  Help him identify his behaviors and his feelings.  You could say “I can tell that you’re feeling angry because you’re yelling…once you feel ready to talk, I’m here to listen to you and help you…” then let him be.  If you can’t tolerate the noise, remove yourself to a quieter place.  This approach tells him that you’re not scared of his big emotions, and lets him know that you’re there for him whenever he’s calmed down (but that you’re not going to take responsibility for calming him down).  Additionally, it sets the groundwork for the time in his future when he can skip the tantrum and go right to saying “I’m angry.”

Parenthood is challenging.  There are often no "right" answers.  Every child is different and responds differently to the same interventions.  With that being said, there are some basic principles that are useful guidelines.