The Social Needs of Preschoolers
As children grow from the toddler phase to preschool age, their social needs increase and change. Your child now needs careful guidance from parents and playtime with other children his age in order to learn about the world and develop socially.
Young preschoolers have extreme emotions that often erupt as temper tantrums. After temper tantrums, you should talk to your child about her emotions, and give her words to identify and express her feelings. This can help prevent future tantrums by giving your child the tools to communicate her feelings before they overwhelm her. Talking about emotions also teaches your child to be more sensitive to others' feelings, which sets the foundation for cooperation and sharing. Because young preschoolers are still mastering the art of sharing, parents should be ready to intervene in sharing disputes to prevent violent outbursts, and help the children work to figure out a solution.
Pretending to be someone else allows a child to see things from another's perspective, which helps him learn to empathize and share.
Preschoolers need to engage in pretend play. Pretending to be someone else allows a child to see things from another's perspective, which helps him learn to empathize and share. Encourage and join in your child's imaginary play. Acknowledge an imaginary friend, and ask your child how he is doing or feeling throughout the day. Encourage your child to play “dress up.” Join in a tea party with your child's dolls. Keep in mind that your preschooler is always watching you and mimicking you. So be sure to stay mindful of your own behavior! It is important to model the behavior and interactions with others you want your preschooler to learn.
Encourage your preschooler to develop her own interests, and engage in playtime that she enjoys to help her build her sense of self and identity. If your child shows interest in a particular subject, help her explore it through reading and play. Give her tasks that she is able to perform, such as helping to set the table and clean her room, and praise her when she completes them well. Let her know how you expect her to behave, and praise her when she complies. Creating situations you know your child can succeed in and giving your child consistent praise is extremely important to her sense of self-worth that develops during the preschool years.
By four years old, it is extremely important for your child to play with other children his age and have friends. Ideally, he will have friends in the neighborhood or at preschool he can play with regularly. If your child isn't enrolled in preschool and you don't live near other children, visit parks and playgrounds to meet children and arrange play dates. Encourage friendships by inviting friends to play at your house. It is important for your child to have an opportunity to “show off” his home, possessions, and family to his friends to generate a sense of self-pride. This doesn't require expensive toys – just a loving, welcoming environment!
Friends are not only playmates – they influence your child's thinking, opinions, values, and behavior. Your preschooler wants to be just like her friends, and may start to demonstrate behaviors that go against your family rules. Your child may start to be rude to you, or even start swearing. Although it hurts, challenging authority in this manner is a positive sign that your child is learning to test the limits of her independence. Set consistent consequences for these behaviors, but don't overreact. If your child gets an emotional response from you, she will be tempted to continue these behaviors. According to HealthyChildren.org, a time-out is the best way to discourage unwanted behaviors.
If you have questions or concerns about your preschooler's social development, speak with your pediatrician.