Preschool Age (3–5 years)
A preschool-age child is wonderfully imaginative, chatty, and fun. He is also easily frustrated, often headstrong, and intent on challenging the limits that loving parents set. Children this age characteristically worry that they did something to cause a parent’s illness. These misconceptions come from the combination of associative logic, egocentricity, and mixing fantasy and reality. Preschoolers need parental support and opportunities for imaginative play in order to manage their worries.
Associative logic is the belief that unconnected things may explain each other. For example, “My brother wants a dog, because he is a boy.” Though it may be true that this brother wants a dog, it is not because he is a boy. A preschooler’s thinking is egocentric. This means the child can only envision things from his own perspective.
A physical-world example of this self-centered perspective is that if your three-year-old is looking at a picture in a book, she assumes that you can see what she sees on that page, even if you are facing in another direction. An emotional example of this viewpoint is that if an important phone call interrupts playing with your preschooler, he may complain that you are being mean to him. He can only understand your behavior as it relates to him, not as independent from him or his experience.
Children at this age have very vivid imaginations. They weave together facts and imagination to construct personal stories sometimes referred to as “magical thinking” in which they themselves are the cause of what happens around them. So when a parent is ill, children this age are likely to think that they caused the parent’s illness even when there is no mature logic to substantiate this belief.
Play is important
Play of all types, but especially imaginative play, is important for healthy development. Having opportunities at preschool and at home to engage in this play will allow your child to work on the age-appropriate emotional challenges she faces.
One of these normal challenges is the desire to be powerful and in charge of different situations. It is not uncommon for a child this age to assert, “You are not the boss of me” to the adult who is setting the rules. This is one of the many normal ways in which a young child pushes the limits to see if those boundaries will be consistent. Think about how constant the physical world is. Every time a child drops something, it falls down, not up. Interactions with people are so much more varied. Sometimes your child can stay later at the park and sometimes she cannot. Sometimes she can have an ice pop before dinner and sometimes that is not allowed.
Young children are like scientists testing out what is possible with their loving adults. When the rules are ever changing, there is much more limit testing. When the rules are more consistent and an explanation is given for why an occasional change in the rules is occurring, your child is more likely to follow the rules with less resistance.
Keep in mind that children with intense temperaments will protest louder and longer than those with milder temperaments. When faced with an upset child, remember that your child’s sense of security and self-confidence comes from facing life’s many frustrations and small obstacles and learning that one can ultimately enjoy or at least manage a good second choice. These little challenges faced in a loving environment build your child’s ability to cope with bigger challenges throughout life.
© 2013 Marjorie E. Korff PACT Program/PACT Boston • • Back to top