Parenting Preschoolers: from 3 to 5 it's all about Power and Action!
You thought you were out of the terrible twos? Let's say that parenting preschoolers is not without its challenges! At this age, boys will constantly experiment with their power and push your buttons. Preschoolers need to test before they can settle. This is even more true when there is some doubt about the stability of the parental setup or the home. Preschooler boys need to be sure of the framework before they can be able to play.
All this is perfectly normal. What is important when parenting preschoolers is to stand up to all their tests! It's important to provide your preschooler with the sense of framework that he needs. He needs to know you are in control to feel safe and to be reassured about his own impulses. If your boy feels that he is more powerful than you, the parent, then he will be terrified and will become aggressive to try and find someone who will provide him with the stability he needs.
A word about aggression
This is the central issue when parenting preschoolers: getting their aggression and thirst for power under control. Sometimes unfortunately, parents are a bit confused when disciplining boys. It is really hard to know where to draw the line and know what is normal activity and what is aggression.
There is no easy answer to this. Some evolutionary psychologists think that the reason why boys love to compete and wrestle is that it is a way for them to establish a hierarchy of strength and leadership that will actually reduce future conflicts. They believe that once the boys know where they stand, i.e. once they know whom they can beat or not, they will settle down and concentrate on play.
What you must also know is that your preschooler is mostly a motor person and most of his behavior is driven by his will to move and to show off his muscles. It is easy to mistake this for aggression. This is why it is also important that you allow some aggressive play with other boys. It is at this age that boys start to form social groups and this is what all boys do!
By age three, children start to play with children of the same gender. By age four, boys are strong advocate of boys only play. This will continue throughout childhood. This separation is so strong that, by age eight, boys and girls live in totally different social worlds.
It is really hard to know why this is. When asked, boys just answer that it is more fun to play with other boys... This is probably because boy's play is rougher and more exciting and this attracts them more. Boys tend to gather in bigger groups than girls and prefer to play outdoors.
Parenting preschoolers means entering a world of fantasy. Preschoolers believe they can create the world according to their thoughts and their wishes. They don't totally understand cause and effect relationships and don't accept the constraints of reality. Their world is a world of magic, living monsters and dinosaurs, fantasies... This is nothing to be worried about, but a normal development for your son. With time, he will come to understand reality. In the meantime, just let him enjoy his imagination and construct an exciting world, it is actually pretty fun to witness as an adult. ;)
Do boys need to be toughened up?
The answer is NO!
Many dads seem to think that boys need to be toughened up and are worried when their sons seem to be too sensitive. It is normal for your preschooler to have fears and does not mean he will have similar fears in the future. You do not need to do anything to toughen him up, life will do that without your intervention. If fathers attempt to toughen up their sons through fear or humiliation, this can result in a fear of the father that will last a long time. The best thing you can do for your preschooler is to show him by your actions that you understand and love him. He needs this from both his parents.
Let's look at the development of your preschooler now, because knowledge of age appropriate behavior is a useful tool when parenting preschoolers.
Your preschooler now thinks with his body. He will typically start running when he gets outside. He loves to run, climb, test his balance and is starting to have good coordination. He loves to compete in any kind of games and often boasts about his accomplishments. Typical sentences are: "I'm the strongest", "I run the fastest", "I have the biggest muscles", etc.
If your preschooler has older brothers he will do all he can to compete with them. This will result in him taking risks and probably ending up in tears out of frustration when he realizes he is unable to keep up.
At this age, some boys will be rapidly becoming athletic. But, the competitiveness and athleticism does not mean that preschoolers are ready for organized sports.
Most of them are not ready to stay focussed on the drills required by practice. Furthermore, they may not be ready to lose because they take failures to heart.
It is during this period that most boys will make their first friends. But, most of all, it is the idea of friendship that preschoolers cherish. They actually like the idea of having a friend even better than the actual fact. If they are anything like my preschooler, they will profess that the boy they met five minutes ago at the playground is their friend and not even know his name! ;)
One important social characteristic of preschoolers is that they strongly identify with the group and this group is composed of boys!
But, don't let their tough attitude fool you, they still need to feel some security and it is very common for preschoolers to still have a security blanket, a teddy bear or some other special toy. There is no reason to discourage this.
To view a definition of cognitive development, click here.
The most striking accomplishment of this developmental phase is the amazing heroic imagination of preschoolers, the way they integrate their fantasies into reality. This can easily be witnessed in their games. I often watch my two preschoolers as they play monster. They usually take turn being the monster and their games involve both elements of reality and fantasy. Parenting preschoolers can be a fascinating activity at times!
The main cognitive breakthroughs at this age are intense curiosity and awareness of past and future. Your boy will probably ask "why?" over and over again, which I have to admit can be a tad bit annoying, but is actually an important cognitive milestone. He will start to grasp the concept of time and will try to master it.
At three and four, parenting preschoolers can still be a challenge! Three and four year olds can move rapidly from one emotional state to another. It is not uncommon to see them laughing one minute, then crying the next. They can also be incredibly noisy and suddenly become very quiet. This is all normal behavior but, as with everything, can vary a lot depending on your boy's personality.
As your preschooler improves his language skills, he will be able to control his emotions better and, by age five, will be quieter and more in control. It is also at this age that all boys start to get the message that a strong boy needs to hide his feelings. Peer pressure becomes important and your boy will try to control his emotions to not break down in front of his friends.
I hope these facts will help you with the challenging task of parenting preschoolers. It's the age when these boys are really trying to assert their personality and that can be so much fun! I have two preschoolers of my own at the moment and I'm loving every moment! My little guys are such sweethearts!