Preschool Age

Preschoolers bring an added level of fun and worry to parents lives. With determination, laughter and knowledge, potty training, tantrums and many other struggles can be overcome

Key Developmental Milestones for Preschool Age Children

Physical Development

  • Brain develops 70 to 90% during this time period
  • Some Physical Milestones
    • 2 – running
    • 3 – can go up stairs alternating feet, down, still do two feet down
    • 4 – can go up and down alternating feet
    • 4 – can ride tricycle
    • 5 – can ride bicycle
  • TIPS for Parents to Facilitate Physical Development: Provide adequate physical activity throughout entire day (instead of TV, video games)
  • Facilitating Fine Motor Development
    • Provide Ample Opportunities – give them chances to draw, or build
    • Provide Appropriate tools – give them scissors & glue, markers, crayons
    • Provide Adult support – model how to use the tools
    • Don’t focus on performance – focus on having fun!

Cognitive Development

Applying Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development to Young Children

  • Egocentrism: taking into account only one’s own point of view and therefore finding it difficult to be see another’s perspective (ex. your child doesn’t understand that throwing food on the ground means you will have to clean it up later)
  • Centration: attention on one element of a situation and ignoring of all others (ex. Believing that their house-cat is a cat, but a lion is not a cat)
  • TIPOvercoming these tendencies comes naturally, so don’t worry about trying to fix them, but just seek to understand them as a parent

Theory of Mind

  • Theory of Mind: understanding that thoughts are different from those of another person (ex. Child asks, “remember that song we sang at school today?” [when you weren’t there])
  • Develops between 3 and 4 and 1/2
  • Children don’t lie because it doesn’t occur to them that everyone doesn’t already know their thoughts.
  • Some reserch suggests that it is enhanced by siblings and imaginary play
  • Related to development of empathy, morality, perspective taking
  • Underdeveloped in Autistic children

Language Development

  • Age 3 – 75% of words should be understood by someone else besides you
  • It is not uncommon for children to stutter (especially before language explosion), this simply means brain is working faster than mouth
  • What Parents Can Do
    • Don’t say, “that is wrong” or another form of that statement, but rather say the phrase correctly to model proper language for the child
      • Ex. If they say “outside”, say “you want to go outside?”
        Early intervention is the best
  • As a parent, you can download workshops to help underdeveloped children learn language, similar to what a speech therapist would do

Emotional Development

  • Erickson Stage of Development – Initiative vs. Guilt (think the phrase, “me do it!”).
  • Self-Regulation
    • Compliance Types
      • Situational (2-3) – child obeys w/ frequent prompts from parents; the child needs frequent reminders
      • Committed compliance (3-4) – child obeys w/ parent in the room
      • Internalization (4+) – child obeys when parent leaves the room
    • How Parents Can Help Develop Self-RegulationModel self-regulation
      • Build up gradually (ex. Church, make it through 1st hour sitting still, then 2nd….)
      • Be prepared and realistic in expectations (ex. bring coloring books to Church, don’t be surprised with restaurant behavior that is not perfect at first)
      • Make it fun!
  • Delayed Gratification
    • Shift from always indulging to waiting between age 1 and 2
    • Sometimes you have to create situations where they have to learn this because there aren’t opportunities (ex. Only child, overindulgent siblings)
  • Temper Tantrums (Me do it!)
    • Perpetuated by parents who either force a contest of wills or give in completely to desires of child
    • TIPS for Parents
      • Make expectations clear, simple, and appropriate
      • Assist cooperation by gentle verbal and physical (leading) requests
      • Model expected behavior
      • Offer choices
      • Distract
      • Be proactive!
      • Don’t give in!
      • If you mess up – apologize and state what you did wrong
      • Pick your battles

Social Development

Play Style Milestones

  • Age 3 – parallel play (play next to but not with)
  • Age 4 – associative play (play with same things)
  • Age 5 – dramatic play (act things out with other children)

What Parents Can Do to Encourage Social Development

  • Encourage independence where possible
  • Let them go to friends house or group activities (especially where they play outside and don’t just play video games)
  • Teach children to be pro-social like you would academic skills
    • Sharing/taking turns
    • How to enter a peer group situation
    • How to play with friends
  • Make your house the hub of social interaction for children’s friends

Moral Development

Milestones of Moral Development

  • Up to age 4, still pre-moral/pre-conventional reasoning (see Kolberg’s Theory of Moral Development)
    • At this stage, a child’s motivation is to do what is right to be obedient, avoid punishment, and for gain or reward
  • Around 7 or 8, they begin to understand that things are right or wrong, even in the absence of your presence

What Parents Can Do to Encourage Moral Development

  • Practice explaining the why (even if they don’t understand)
  • Provide outlets for anger
  • Model good behavior
  • Encourage sharing and helping

Spiritual Development

  • Children will be very literal when it comes to spiritual matters
  • Children will be eager to learn spiritual things

What Parents Can Do

  • Establish patterns (realistic patterns)
  • Involve Children (ex. Have them say, “and it came to pass” when it comes to family scripture reading)
  • Answer their questions
  • Read and tell stories

Some Relevant Concerns for Preschool Age Children

Potty Training

Potty training usually begins around age 3, but how do you know if your child is ready?

Questions to Ask to Determine Potty Training Readiness

Does the child…

  • Have interest in toilets or underwear?
  • Have the ability to follow instructions?
  • Complain about messy diapers?
  • Have the ability to stay dry for two hours or longer during day?
  • Have the ability to pull pants up and down?
  • Have the ability to get on the toilet?

Things to Remember

  • Night and Daytime training are different, and it is okay to use diapers at night and not during the day
  • Wait until child is ready
  • Dress the child in accessible clothing (i.e. Have pull-ups or sweatpants at first)
  • Have infinite patience (and carpet cleaner)
  • Start training with them in their underwear, they can feel it better, and they will want to use potty because it is uncomfortable
  • Don’t punish, reinforce positively
  • Let your child make choices (for example, what potty seat to use or what underwear to wear, they will be less likely to soil them if they like them!)
  • Usually start with sitting instead of standing for boys
  • Schedule potty breaks (ask all the time, do you have to use the potty, similar to dog)
  • Be creative (ex. have boys try to hit fruit loops in toilet, sticker charts) but don’t go crazy and if you use rewards, wean off them over time
  • Set aside time for training (minimize distractions for you). Usually it only takes only a few days, so stay home for a few days and make it a focus
  • Teach good hygiene (washing and wiping), note, you will probably have to wipe for them until they are five or so
  • Praise when successful
  • Remember, if it’s impacting your relationship, stop and try again later!

Other Resources


  • Bike Helmets: helmuts are a must. Things will go easier if
    • You explain why your child should use a helmet
    • Have your child pick out a cool one that they like
  • Car Travel
    • Car seats (rear facing until child is 40 lbs.)
    • Booster Seat (until the child is 8 or at least 57 inches tall)
    • Front Seat (not until 12 or 80lbs, can kill them)
  • Inside Safety
    • Remove breakable/fragile objects
    • Remove or pad furniture with sharp corners
    • Safety devices in outlets
    • Baby locks on cabinets
    • Gates on stairways
    • No hanging pictures above child’s bed
    • All cleaning supplies locked up
  • Outside Safety
    • Fences and gates secure – especially on pools or hot-tubs
    • Make sure outdoor equipment in good repair
    • Children should be supervised at all times

Other Resources

Picky Eating

Did you know that kids have extra taste buds, so they can taste more than you can? Additionally, kids are having a battle of wills. With this in mind, how do you help those with picky eaters? The following TIPS can help:

  • Respect when your child is hungry or not
  • Serve meals and snacks routinely
  • Avoid juice/milk between meals (so they are hungrier at meals)
  • Be patient with new foods
  • Talk about the color or shape of food (to get interest)
  • Serve new foods with favorites
  • Make it fun
  • Add a dip to fruit or veggies
  • Cut food into fun shapes (especially for not good eaters)
  • Let your child choose healthy foods or plan a meal
  • Let them pick food at the store (ex. ask “what veggie should we try?”)
  • Let them help prepare – they will be more likely to eat it
  • Set good example
  • Be creative
  • Sneak healthy food into spaghetti sauce or soups
  • Minimize distractions (no media at the table, including parents)
  • Don’t offer dessert as a reward. Feel free to use it as a consequence (ex. “if you don’t eat two more bits of veggies, you can’t eat desert.”) but not a reward (ex. “if you eat your veggies, we will get you a scoop of ice cream.”)
  • Don’t cook to order (remember, children won’t die if they miss a meal. They will be hungry for the next one and will eat later)

Other Resources

Preschool: Sending Your Child or Not

Questions To Ask Yourself as You Decide

  • Can they leave you for any amount of time?
  • Can the make friends?
  • Can they appropriately deal with emotions for thier age?

What to Look For In Preschools

  • Quality of environment
    • Student – teacher ratio (low)
    • Experience of teachers
    • Those that focus on while child – social, emotional, cognitive and social (you probably don’t want a school with an academic focus but a social one instead)

Some Thoughts

The biggest benefit of preschool is preparation for kindergarten. A parent who puts in the time can give help their child just as well as any preschool. Consider these things as you decide about enrolling your child in preschool

Supplemental Materials

Parenting, Work, and Daycare

Types Child Care

  • In Home (Nanny) – someone comes to home to care for children
    • Pros
      • Individualized attention
      • Less germ exposure (comparatively)
      • Child becoemes familiar with them
    • Cons
      • Difficult to find long-term caregiver
      • Most expensive option
      • No direct monitoring (fears; liability)
  • Family Day Care (informal)
    • Pros
      • Less expensive
      • Flexible
      • Homelike environment
      • Small number of children enrolled
    • Cons
      • Many are not registered with agencies
      • Caregivers may not have knowledge of child development
    • TIP – try to pick someone with similar values and goals as you and will be more satisfied with the care your child receives
  • Center Based Day Care (formal)
    • Pros
      • Educational focus
      • Lots of peer interaction
      • Broad variety of materials and play space
      • Licensed
    • Cons
      • High caregiver turnover
      • Expensive
      • Diseases spread quickly
      • Caregiver-child ratio is usually high
    • Quality is key to center based care, but only %20 of center based care is high quality
    • Characteristics of a quality center-based daycare program
      • Adequate attention given to each child
      • Low staff turnover
      • Encouragement of sensorimotor development
      • Attention to health
      • Qualities of caregivers (most important consideration)
        • Consistent
        • Responsive and loving
        • Treats children as individuals

A Caution About Daycare

Daycare usually is fine for children but Early (1-6 weeks) and extensive (>30 hours/week) daycare does seem to have negative outcomes in the long run for children and families. Consider what is best for your family when making the decision about using daycare or not and what type to use.

Good Reads


Note for Author: For information not provided in links, see 2017 personal notes on lecture about the authority stage of parenting from SFL 240 class