During the pre-school years, your child is learning and developing all the time, and also building more confidence and self-esteem. Understanding your pre-schooler’s emotions and social development helps you connect with your child during these years.
Understanding pre-schoolers: the basics
The pre-school years are one of the most important periods in a child’s emotional development.
Your child is building on the confidence and self-esteem he has been developing since the baby and toddler years. The way children feel about their rapidly blossoming abilities and the way they deal with more complex emotions have a huge influence on their ability to cope with life’s stresses.
Your job during the pre-school years is to help your child develop self-esteem, coping skills, problem-solving skills and social skills.
These skills will help your child cope with emotional changes, keep going in the face of frustration, have hope, control extreme emotional impulses, and feel compassion and empathy. These are important ingredients for success and wellbeing in life.
Most of your pre-schooler’s development and learning happens through play. Your child learns through playing by herself or with you at home, and also through playing with her teachers and other children at pre-school or kindergarten.
Nurturing your child’s self-esteem
Good self-esteem means that you have a positive view of yourself and your abilities. Children who have good self-esteem feel that they’re valued and they can manage the world to some degree.
Good self-esteem helps you deal with life’s disappointments and problems. It lets us understand and accept that things don’t always work out, and respond to this in a positive way – for example, ‘What can I do to fix that bad thing that happened to me?’ or ‘Bad things happen to everyone. I can get over this’.
You can help your child develop self-esteem by:
Fostering a sense of self
Your child’s self-esteem comes from knowing that she’s connected to others and loved and valued for who she is. Here are some ideas for fostering these feelings:
Developing confidence in abilities
Giving positive attention
Protecting your child from every failure by stepping in and making things right can stop him from learning that not everything works out the way we want it to. It can also mean that your child doesn’t learn to cope with disappointments and failures and always needs you to make things better for him. And it can send the message that you don’t think your child can handle anything by himself.
Developing your child’s coping skills
Good coping skills help us to deal with problems, frustrations, threats and challenges. The way a child deals with these things as a baby and toddler – crying and tantrums – don’t go down well in later childhood, or as an adult in the office!
If your child learns to understand the way she feels in different situations – especially difficult situations – this is a great first step towards developing coping skills.
Pre-schoolers tend to deal with threatening situations through symbolic play – they create make-believe situations where they can defeat whatever is frightening them. They feel better by acting out control over a frightening situation. Older children might find it comforting if you also explain what’s going on in a frightening situation.
Tips for promoting good coping skills in your child
Fostering your child’s problem-solving skills
Problem-solving skills are important for making decisions and sorting out conflicts.
Conflict isn’t always a bad thing. Through conflict, children learn that people experience different thoughts and feelings. Children also learn the difference between right and wrong and how their behaviour affects other people.
Tips for helping your child develop problem-solving skills
Developing your child’s social skills
Having good relationships with a range of people is very important for a person’s mental health. To develop these relationships, children must learn social skills like:
How children learn social skills
You tend to have the most influence on how your child’s social skills develop, but your child also learns from other family members, friends and peers at child care and pre-school.
There’s no recipe for teaching social skills – it’s often a case of watching to see what works for your child.
When pre-schoolers are learning social skills, they can find it very hard to take turns, negotiate difficult situations, and sort out conflict. It helps to be prepared for this.
Developing social skills is like any other skill. Children need to know what these skills look like and they need to practice them. Practice helps children get better at making and keeping friends.
Tips for helping your child develop good social skills
When your child starts school, you can help her with social skills by encouraging her to play games that involve winning and losing – like ‘snap’ or ‘snakes and ladders’ – taking her on family trips and outings, and getting her involved in sport or other group activities.
Video: Connecting and communicating with preschoolers
Watch this video and learn the importance of communicating with your preschooler, and how it helps her learn and develop.
Playing with pasta pieces, especially macaroni, can be an excellent way to boost your child's acquisition of fine motor skills!