When the toddler passes his second birthday he enters a new period of childhood, often called the pre-school years. He is no longer an infant, dependent upon his mother and father for almost everything. He is beginning to recognize himself as a person and to realize that he can do things for himself. This is the cue to follow. During these years, between two and six, the child will grow from the stage of babyhood to the stage of school child. He will learn to do many things for himself and to become a self-reliant youngster. This is your goal for him in these years.
Parents of a pre-school child will have to remember that learning to be responsible and capable of doing things for oneself is a matter of slow growth. They must be patient and not push the child with too many demands. If they push him too hard and expect too much of him he may rebel, refuse to listen, or in some other way indicate that they are using too much pressure. Many behavior problems develop during the pre-school years, because parents are overanxious to have responsible and well-behaved children. Parents may forget how much learning little folk must acquire before they are ready to become school children.
Preschool children have much to learn
Many of the things children must learn through experiences are everyday affairs to grownups. They forget that many experiences are wholly new to children and that it takes time to absorb them and to learn from them. Learning to talk is one of the accomplishments children must acquire between two and six. The two-year-old can use a few words and even a few simple sentences, but the six-year-old must have progressed far in ability to express himself fluently and clearly. The two-year-old is just beginning to discover that he can put on his shirt, and perhaps his loose bedroom shoes, but he still needs much help in dressing, undressing, and keeping himself clean. The six-year-old is expected to be able to take care of himself in most matters of dressing and cleanliness, except for the hardest buttons or the dirt behind the ears. The two-year-old does not know how to play well with other children. He hits, snatches, cries, and runs to mother. The six-year-old should have learned how to get along with other people, to take turns, to ask for what he wants, and to share with other children. He should have learned, too, how to solve for himself some of the problems and difficulties that arise when children play together. The two-year-old can take no responsibility for his own safety. The six-year-old must know how to cross the street safely, to come in for a coat if he is cold, what places are safe to play in, and what things he had better avoid. He has learned about hot water, matches, electricity, knives, and a host of other things which he must know about to live safely in our modern world. The two-year-old is just beginning to be curious about things around him, but most six-year-olds will have learned much and want to know much more.
Just as patience was needed with the little toddler as he tried to touch, feel, and explore, so continued patience is needed to let the pre-school child get his learning slowly and at his own pace. If parents let his interest and eagerness lead them, while they give simple information, encouragement, and help, they will be truly surprised at the amount their child is able to know and do by the time he is six and off to school.
During the pre-school years it is particularly necessary to remember that growth does not progress steadily. Sometimes a little child seems to be learning to be responsible or to care for himself very well indeed. Then there comes a time when he seems to stand still or even to go back to his baby ways. The growing child wants to be independent and do things for himself, but at the same time things that happen to him may cause him to turn back to being a baby again, for security. Too much scolding by mother and father, adjustment to a new home or a new neighborhood, sickness, the coming of a new baby, playing with children who are too old for him and with whom he cannot keep up — these are just a few of the many things that can make a child feel the need to return to greater dependence upon mother and father. Parents must be very understanding when the child does not always carry on and do what they know he is capable of doing.
Wise parents always try to keep a balance between the child’s need for security and his attempts to achieve independence. They encourage, but they do not force. They are willing to let the little child return to them for help at any time it seems necessary to him. Help should be given casually and without comment, but encouragement should be offered when the child again tries to do something for himself. Parents should offer many opportunities for him to do things for himself, but they should not be too insistent. Encouragement, the approval of mother and father, and his own satisfaction in doing things for himself will gradually help the child to become less dependent as the pre-school years go by. (Continue below to page 2)