What Preschoolers Need Most from Their Parents (and a few things they don’t need.)
Hey Friends — Today I am sharing a post from my most-read series of “What our sons need most….” I hope you enjoy, even if you were around years ago when I first published it. 🙂 (Maybe you have a friend with a preschooler? If so I hope you’ll share this post with them!)
RAISING A PRESCHOOLER.
If you’ve been around a while you know that I love to talk about the tween and teenage years. I love seeing all of the work of the earlier years coming together and taking shape in the form of an emerging human…Complete with gifts and talents, personality, character qualities and all kinds of potential.
Yet of course, all of these things begin much earlier. Last week I shared a post about the Elementary years, which is — no-doubt, foundational to the teenage years. But even before our kids hit elementary age, they are little humans: Babies, then toddlers, and then preschoolers.
And today, we pause there. Preschool.
Preschoolers are little sponges; just waiting to be molded and shaped by the influences in their life. They are curious and funny and…downright exhausting. And though some people love the preschool years, I confess that these years were some of the hardest for me in my parenting.
In fact, my fourth son Levi might have challenged and humbled me the most. Raised by the same parents as his brothers, this one has been entirely his own person.
And there are so many factors that play into that. From birth order, to the stage and busyness (and age!) of the parents. No two kids will ever be alike, and that…Keeps life interesting, doesn’t it?
But it’s true: Preschoolers are not simple, nor straight-forward. And if you have one, then you will probably agree that they can be as sweet as pie, or as frustrating as…Well–
as frustrating as could possibly be.
Preschoolers seem to have so many needs. Food needs, drink needs, needs reaching or wiping or climbing or sleeping. It seems the list goes on and on.
But today we ask: What do preschoolers REALLY NEED?
You’ll notice that the first few categories on my list are broken down into “what they NEED” and “what they DON’T NEED.” Because let’s face it–This stuff can be confusing.
NEED: Nourishment every day. A little something from all of the food groups. Hopefully something healthy. Plenty of clean water.
DON’T NEED: Trendy food labels, 100% organic, every treat their friends have, or any specific brand. (those are fine if you want them, but they won’t make or break you as a parent.) Also don’t “need:” Constant snacks, juice boxes, or soda.
NEED: A safe and secure home that is sanitary and filled with love. A bed to sleep on.
DON’T NEED: Their own room. Designer bedding. A t.v. or computer in their room…Anything to keep up with…anyone.
NEED: To be kept alive on a daily basis. Kept out of busy streets. Away from fires, hot stoves, sharp objects, perverts, and the multitude of dangers that a preschooler may face on any given day.
DON’T NEED: Helicopter parenting. You can keep your eye on them and still give them some room to roam. A few scrapes and bruises will teach lessons and will not do any permanent damage. Cause and effect are some of the best educators.
NEED: The security of knowing that they will have some focused attention every day. One-on-one time regularly. Parents who love them, cheer for them, and set boundaries for their safety and well being.
DON’T NEED: As much attention as they’ll try to convince you they need. “Come here Mom,” “Watch this!” “Swing me again, Dad,” “Stay here while I poop!” “Don’t leave…” Preschoolers perceived needs are never-ending, and unrelenting. Cut yourself some slack–they’ll never be satisfied.
5. TO FEEL VALUED.
NEED: To feel important and unique. To be told that they were created by a loving God with a purpose and a plan.
DON’T NEED: To feel that the world revolves around them. (the world thanks you.)
6. PERMISSION TO BE LITTLE
NEED: Freedom to be silly. To grow up naturally and enjoy the playful, happy days of childhood. Dress up. Make believe. Giggles. ALL. GOOD.
DON’T NEED: To be babied. To be allowed to cling to childish ways in order to get attention or get their way.
7. ENCOURAGEMENT TO GROW UP.
NEED: Increasing responsibilities and gentle nudges to gain independence.
DON’T NEED: Too-high of expectations. To feel pressure to see, do, or understand things that their little brains aren’t ready for.
8. YES. AND NO.
It’s hard to hear no….
NEED: Plenty of both. Most importantly: To be taught to accept a “no” with a content heart. (Or, at least without throwing tantrums in public.)
DON’T NEED: All of one or the other.
NEED: To be offered some choices, every day.
DON’T NEED: Choices about everything.
Side note to Parents: “Choose your battles, but be sure to win the battle you choose.”
(We let Levi choose his own clothes.) (In case you haven’t noticed…)
NEED: Age-appropriate entertainment…Access to basic busy work—like paper and crayons, books, and simple toys.
Most important: To learn to entertain themselves.
DON’T NEED: To be entertained constantly. A full schedule. Too many organized activities. Fancy toys. Also: iPods, iPads, Xboxes or other devices. (I’m not saying they’re wrong, but they are not a “need.”)
NEED: To be taught age-appropriate skills, lessons, and good manners. How to manage emotions. Also teach Bible stories, basic spiritual truths. An introduction to letters, and numbers.
DON’T NEED: Lectures, sermons, long explanations, or anything requiring more than a few seconds of attention. Also don’t need: To learn to read.
NEED: 10-12 hours a day. To be able to soothe self to sleep and stay in own bed. Also helpful: A bedtime routine/ritual.
DON’T NEED: Someone in bed with them. (This is obviously a personal decision and up to the parents, but from our experience–we’ve done it both ways, and the whole family has proven much happier when everyone sleeps in their own bed. 🙂
NEED: People (of all ages) to interact with throughout the day. Siblings are great. Grandparents are a blessing. Playdates are good for some (Not my personal favorite.) Preschool is sometimes a good option.
DON’T NEED: Daily playdates. Constant time with peers. Sleepovers.
MORE THINGS EVERY PRESCHOOLER NEEDS:
14. DISCIPLINE Lots of it now will pay off later.
15. ROUTINE Preschoolers feel secure with routine. Some consistent scheduling is good for them.
16. TO LEARN HOW TO CARE FOR OTHERS They love caring for others! Give them opportunities and watch them blossom!
17. PLENTY OF BOOKS Never too many.
18. FRESH AIR AND EXERCISE The solution to many a fussy preschooler.
19. HUGS and CUDDLES All the live long day.
20. UNCONDITIONAL LOVE communicated and demonstrated.
OK friends—I did my bestest. 🙂
What did I miss!? Please comment with any thoughts or ideas, questions, or funnies from your own adorable preschoolers.
And as always, I really appreciate it when you pass this on to your friends through the social media share buttons below! Mahalo!
Have you Pre-ordered BOY MOM yet!? My new book releases on August 6th! (click to read about it and find all of the places to order!)
Love the format of this post!
Thank you Friend!! 🙂 XO
Thank you for this article. My 4 year old son wanted to wear his fireman outfit to a restaurant much to my husbands dismay. I told him we have to pick our battles, he’s only 4 and I love the fact that he has a great imagination. He was so proud wearing his outfit and the other patrons loved it.
One thing we have recently come across which has been fun and educational are board games. Life and Monopoly both have junior editions and it’s great for counting, managing money, etc. Even Uno which says its for age 7+ is fun. Anything that keeps him off an iPad is positive to me.
Amen! I love the fireman outfit! So great that he can do that, way to go mom! 🙂 Love games and love it when they’re old enough to play!! Thanks for commenting!
Thank you for this post.
As a grade primary teacher (known as pre-school to most!), I really appreciate the comments about routine. September in my classroom can be hectic as we learn to navigate the school and for some be away from mom for the first time. We have a routine that grows throughout the year but being consistent is key.
I also agree with the no constant snacks, juice boxes and soda. No child needs soda. A treat should be exactly that… A treat! For me, soda is a treat, even as an adult. Water will help them grow strong and be ready to learn just fine.
My favorite thing about this post is giving them time to be little. They need time to play and use their imagination without myself or anyone else guiding their every move. Video games and TV are fine now and then, but preschoolers need to explore and move!
Thanks again for all of the reminders. As the teacher I also choose my battles and it’s nice to have a little reminder and see that I go through the same things as parents.
Yay–thank you Stephanie! So great to hear all of that from a teacher! Super encouraging. You are a blessing, keep it up!! aloha!
love this. my almost 3 year old is always on time when it comes to sleeping .he loves it, so luckily the routine thing worked like a bomb! what I do struggle with is that he will favor someone over the other, this has become difficult to handle and to teach him that what he is doing is not right, I am talking about the grandparents now, when we visit his daddy’s mother he doesn’t want to greet her or even go close to her, he is plain rude, I don’t know if this is because he is the smallest and he feels that he doesn’t get that much attention from them or if he is just going through a stage!!! but other that that everyday is an adventure with him.. thanks for the post! opened my eyes to things he doesn’t need! will definitely start with that! greetings from SA!!!
Thank you so much Eunice!! Sounds like you are doing great–and just talking through this with your little guy is the best idea. Prepare him before he greets folks, and let him know what you would like him to do. Sadly we cannot control these little ones, (I have the same problems sometimes w/ my little guy,) but keep steering him and in time I think he’ll come around. Much aloha and keep in touch! xo
Thank you! This is an amazing piece. I also enjoyed your one on elementary school age. But mostly, thank you for alieving some guilt that I suffer from constantly. Many of my friends do have daily play dates during the summer and a few/week during the school year. They are not my favorite thing either. Plus we live a half hour out of town, I work part time and I have a very busy husband who needs many errands ran. Maybe I’m bad at time management but I can’t seem to find the time for all of this plus running my household. We generally have 1-2 per week and maybe one a week during the school year. However, some weeks I’m busy and we have none. I’ve always felt so horrible that my kids don’t get enough play dates. But they do socialize everyday. I have 2 boys who play well, I work for my parents business so they see grandparents, their uncle, and a dozen mechanics daily. Sometimes a great aunt or two. And are in gr.1 and preschool. But when you came out and just said it, they don’t need constant play dates, I swear I felt a weight lift. So thanks again
Oh Jacquelyn–I could say a lot more than that too! 🙂
You’re doing amazing. My five year old has had about three play dates in his lifetime. Maybe two. haha. It’s so hard not to compare and get all insecure about everything we do. Keep up the good work and I do encourage you to just be confident in what you do and try not to compare! 🙂
There are so many single parents out there. I was one. Widowed. And my family was so far away. My children are grown and have their own children, so it’s too late for me.
But how I wanted and needed second opinions! I was not reared in a good home, but I had spent a lifetime studying other parents, and that was what I had. Thank G-d for that!
They need to be READ TO. Every day. More than any other shared activity besides family dinner.
As a veteran elementary teacher with advanced degrees & certifications in early childhood education I could not agree more with the last line of #11 & #17. Preschool children do not need to learn how to read. They absolutely need to develop foundational literacy skills, but that does not mean memorizing sight words or pushing too hard with letters & sounds and endless worksheets to cut and paste or practice handwriting. If a child is interested & is easily capable, then by all means, give them a go, but I would recommend against anything that they don’t freely gravitate towards on their own. Instead expose them deeply to the concept of story. They need to listen to stories, make up stories, retell stories they’ve heard, change details of familiar stories to create new ones (I wonder what would have happened if…?). They need to be able to think about characters: character qualities (brave, spoiled, kind, generous, mean…), relation of those qualities to self & those in their own world, characteristics they want to strive for & why, what if you were the character, what world you do, what makes the character act a certain way, how does that help or hurt the character, etc. Then they can start thinking about the story itself. Ask questions along the way, literal (Something directly about what was just read) & inferential (what do you think will happen next?). This type of engagement will take them farther than forcing a skill too soon. Some research says that a child needs to be read 1000 stories (could be repeats of some same stories 🙂 before they will even begin to be ready to START to learn formalized reading skills. What’s more important than anything is that they need to have are opportunities to learn to love learning! Chances to explore their curiosities & the marvels of their world. The textbooks & papers will come soon enough 🙂
Thank you for these pointers on building literacy skills! My four-year-old is detail-oriented but not particularly creative. He likes learning to read because it gives him a chance to learn some rules and then apply them. However, he is less skilled at understanding/empathizing with characters or imagining situations that aren’t in the book. These are some great questions for me to use to help him broaden his horizon!
I have so enjoyed your articles about toddlers and elementary boys. I wish I had been blessed with this practical advise when my son was growing up. I spoilt him by giving in too much because I felt guilty about being at work so long and there never seemed to be time for my own children -I love them dearly. He was never materially spoilt- he learned to milk cows at 12 and helped with a leaflet and paper run before that and I took them blueberry picking to show them what manual labour was like . He never did chores without a huge wrangle! He saved his birthday money and earnings till he could afford a play-station and later on a car and all the things he needed to fix it! He has grown up to be a hard worker. He believes in God but has no idea how to live a Godly life and I wish I could turn back the clock and spend time doing some of what he wanted, teaching him how to hide scripture in his heart and talking about things and seeing what Jesus would do and learning to walk with the Holy spirit’s guidance, listening to the “still small voice and the word of God. ” I played Monopoly(which I hate) a few months ago on a visit and we all laughed and enjoyed ourselves and I realized what a neat person he is. I missed all that in his teenage years. I used hit the kitchen running after work and start my chores and pop my head round his door and ask him to do something. He says I nagged.Probably playing monopoly was what we both needed. His dad nearly died when he was 12 and he lost his”joy” around us.I pray for him so much because the depression that hit when he ran himself into the ground marathon training at 16 can hit hard and make you think all kinds of thing that not true. God is our hope and light and LOVE. So I know he is the Lord’s and I must just love him and be in the moment with him when I can.
HA! The “Stay here while I poop!” thing killed me. That is SO my 3 year old! It’s funny how such a little thing makes me realize that I’m really not alone. Thanks. 🙂
Yesterday we dressed up as pirates and dressed up the 1 year old as a turtle and went “sailing” on our “ship” (couch). It was one of those moments when I felt so blessed to have little kids.
My only “bone” I’d pick is that a preschooler eating organic is not a need. It may well be. Kiddos still growing are extremely susceptible to junk & chemicals and frankly, until 100 years ago everyone DID eat organic, all the time. If anyone needs to eat organic, it’s little kids. Even the most mainstream of experts caution to keep kids’ pesticide levels low– and it’s very hard to do that if you are not buying organic. Just my 2 cents. 🙂
How did you teach to accept no with a happy heart?
haha, THAT is a work in progress, my friend! Really, the main thing is to consistently remind our preschoolers that there is blessing in obeying…And that includes accepting a “no.” I try to point out how when they accept a “no” the result will be good in some way…something good will come of it, etc. And the opposite is also true: If they cannot accept “no,” the answer remains “no” but there will often be further consequences because of their fussing etc. Again, communicating in simple terms over and over and over. Eventually it will pay off.
Good advice. Consistency is the key to breakthrough 🙂
did you offer “prizes” when you first started teaching that there’s blessing in obedience?
Just one more age group…toddlers! I am just at the beginning of it all with a 14 month old boy. So much curiosity and SO MUCH personality!!
Oh thank you! My 4yo (and only child) makes me feel so bad for “not paying enough attention to him” but as a fulltime working single mom, there are only so many hours of coloring and legos I can play before something needs to be cleaned, cooked, ect. It seems like he wants me to observe his every waking moment and its EXHAUSTING. Thank you for letting me know he demands more attention than he actually needs.
As a mother of two (ages 13 and 10), and a teacher of 3-year olds, I feel your list is spot-on! I hope the parents of my pre schoolers see this!
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post. This fits in so closely with my own parenting philosophy and I really wish so many parents would read this, or even memorize it. I see a lot of parents making poor choices (or at least what I think are poor choices) and I have to include my own grown son in this category too. I just wish they could see it from an older person’s perspective and see how those choices turn out when their kids grow up.
Raising kids with a complete lack of discipline and and overabundance of entitlement is just never going to end well. And I love that you include important things like being a little kid and giggling, and having the attention they NEED but not the attention they WANT. That’s how I raised my three boys and I think they turned out pretty well. I certainly was never worried about taking them to a store or a restaurant, or a friend’s house because I was able to rein them back in fairly easily if they were getting out of control. Some parents just don’t seem to realize that they not only have the RIGHT to say no to their children, they really have a DUTY to do so, in order to raise children who have good control over their actions. Great post!
Amen and Amen Adrian! So well said. I know there are so many factors in everyone’s situation, but I agree that if we can keep an eye on the future outcomes, it really helps shape what we do now. Thank you for the comment!! Aloha-
I have been reading your blog for about a year now and it always helps me out when I’m finding the days a little tough. I am a Mum to three boys and love being able to relate to your heartfelt posts. Seeing a little bit of Hawaii helps too. I have fond memories of a trip your way when I was 6 months pregnant with my first son. Happy days. 🙂
Thank you Suzanne! So fun to hear from you. (Boy moms unite!) Hang in there and enjoy those boys…Maybe you’ll make it back here so they can make memories too! 🙂 Aloha
You are such a fabulous resource! I think so many of these points are important for moms to hear – I’m pinning this onto my someday board 🙂
Thank you Alexandra! You are a wise young woman…Much aloha to you!
These are all so true! The sleeping things is killing me! My son sleeps in his bed, but refuses to fall asleep alone…ugh, so frustrating.
Thank you Chastity…Yeah, our fourth has really been a challenge in the sleep department. For a while I felt like it was killing us…But it is getting a little better now so there is hope…:) Much aloha !
Thanks for sharing your wisdom, your posts are refreshingly real and reassure me that I’m not failing as a mum to my twin 12 year old boys.
We live in Melbourne, close to the beach 🙂 and my two are taking the big step into High School at the end of this month. In Australia the school year starts in January.
With this new transition I have struck the mine- field debate of – “mobile phones and social media NEEDS or NOT” and would love to hear your thoughts on it.. when you have a chance 🙂
As a mom of eleven children (four are still living at home), and now a grandmother, I want to congratulate you Monica, on “hitting the nail on the head!” You can only imagine the reading of positive child rearing books I read through, great articles in Parent’s magazine starting in the 1980’s and also the classes on child development I took in Nursing school before being married. My big research paper was on “Sibling Rivalry.” I applaud your website and definitely have passed it on to my married daughters – they are definitely in this stage. I also love how you share your Christian values. It is so important they know their Heavenly Father loves them also and that we are in a partnership with Him as parents. Thank you for taking time to post!!!!
Your blog posts are written beautifully and inspiring.
I have a 2 and six year old. So I fall in between. I’m 44 like you, so keeping up with my kids is a little much for me. I will be happy when my 2 year old is 3, 4, 5, 6. She is a little daredevil, and very busy. My nerves are toast after reacting to all her action. I just can’t wait till she is a little more safe. I need some time to take care of myself. I know I just need to accept and enjoy her young years. I just hope she settles down. I will be a nervous wreck if she doesn’t. I find it hard not to helicopter parent because there are so many slugs, flowers, berries, etc that you don’t want your child to ingest in Hawaii, and she is just the type to taste them all! Of course I’m a new comer so I’m not exactly in my comfort zone yet. Aloha! And keep them coming!
i love this! Thank you. How do you work with your kids on hearing “no” with a content heart? Huge issue for us with our 4.5 year old right now.
would love to learn more about this too!
Just the one I’ve been waiting for! 😉 This is great, thank you. It really got back to the basics, and I needed the reminder. The “Stay here while I poop!” made me laugh! SO TRUE! Or as my son says, “I don’t need my privacy right now…” Oh yes you do. And I am SO thankful that we live in a place where we can get outside to play everyday (also in Hawaii)! Sometimes I think the park is more for me than for him. We just moved from the east side to the west side, and it’s nice to have a shakeup in our routine. Looking back, I realize now that our days were just TOO busy with activities and programs, and I’m loving these free days to just hang out. Thanks for this! Aloha!
Love it. We are in the thick of it with our 3rd child who is 3.5 years old…. Needs vs. No Needs is a wonderful way to present this topic. They are all different , our children, but I feel like our youngest is trying so hard to be older than he is … Sigh. Such a balancing act!! Thank you!!!
I’m so with you Melissa! A balancing act indeed! 🙂 Thanks for commenting…Aloha!
Love what you said about routine…my 3 year old is so much calmer and even communicates better with me, when he knows what to expect at certain times of day & where it will happen (breakfast at his place at the table, while mommy cooks & baby sissy eats in her high chair, too; bedtime is bath, prayers, story & sleep…he doesn’t like it when we do it in any other order, lol!). I also realized I need to be doing #7 and #9 more, as well. Thank you for this post, you’re one of my heroes, girl!
Thank you so much Amanda! I’m not naturally good at routine, so I’m still learning what a difference this does make, and how I can actually change the tone of my own preschooler by working on more consistent routines. Thanks for the encouragement! Aloha 🙂
I love this!
I can speak from experience t say you have much wisdom to share about preschoolers. 🙂
[and for the record, I think you are still doing a great job with Levi!]
Bless you! And hope that you are settled in and very happy in Texas!! 🙂 Sending some Aloha anyways…
You are spot on! Loved the need/not need format. It is so easy to fall into the trap of what “everyone” has/does and feeling you MUST provide the same for your kid. Currently, my boys are convinced that they are the ONLY children who have NEVER been to Disney. Spare me… They have traveled more in their short years than many adults ever get the chance to do. We are actually planning to surprise them with a short trip to Disneyland combined with a business trip. If the begging doesn’t stop, I may have to reconsider. I don’t want them to think they have that much power over decision making.
Thanks for the great read!
Such good points Shannon. (Now I think I should add something about travel! 🙂 haha…my list could go on and on!) Good for you…I hope they simmer down so you can enjoy a fun surprise!! aloha
#9 is cute. Obviously plaid goes with plaid! Just like all shades of green go together…. I learned that long ago 🙂