(the third and last of a series)
Victor Bloom MD
The pre-school child is three to five years of age. If he or she is not yet toilet-trained, the social pressures of the pre-school would encourage efforts in this direction. The present tendency to postpone toilet training is the result of many overly permissive tracts on child-care and is facilitated by modern diaper technology. It is simply too easy for caregivers to discard disposable diapers. If the care-giver had to launder diapers, there would be motivation for getting the child to use the potty earlier.
At three years of age most children are ready to be toilet trained. The child may be encouraged to sit on the potty for a significant length of time if the parent would read the child a story or show an appropriate child video. The child should be praised for sitting on the potty and rewarded for depositing something there. This is called positive reinforcement, and it is more effective than scolding, disapproval and punishment. It is OK to say "yuk" about a messy diaper, making sure to differentiate for the child which is the mess. It is not good for the child to get the feeling that he or she is disgusting or repugnant, but the beginning of health and hygiene is to teach the child what is clean and what is dirty.
Your child will be more socially approved at the pre-school nursery if he or she does not require many diaper changes. Of course there will be accidents at this age, but they should not be treated harshly. Rather, the child should be directed repeatedly to the potty. Eventually, they will get the message and it will be the first of many concessions toward polite society. Delaying toilet training excessively transmits the message that the parents do not care about conformity to the expectations of society and opens the door to being an exception and breaking the rules. Every child is unique and an individual, but personal freedom can be carried too far. There has to be a balance between freedom and self-control. The creative task for each parent is to find the ideal balance for that child, in the context of that family, in the context of a larger community.
Similarly, a child of this age should be taught table manners. It is no longer appropriate or cute for a three or four year old to play with his or her food, to bang the utensils on the plate, to drop or throw food. After a while, toddlers should be conveyed simple table manners so that it is possible to take him or her occasionally to a restaurant. That is not a time for the child to walk around and visit or to engage other people.
Preschoolers need to be taught to consider the feelings and requirements of others. They should be taught not to hit or take another child's toy. They will do these things, of course, but they should be taught the difference between right and wrong. This is the time when good lessons will be imprinted and carried out throughout life. They should be encouraged to cooperate and conform to group activities, which may be singing or dancing or in gymnastics, running and jumping and climbing. In play activities children will be encouraged to join hands in a circle or line up and do what the teacher says.
This is the transition of the child to the larger outside world and the teacher is a parent-surrogate, an adult with authority. I think it is useful to get your child to respect other adults and those in authority. Often the child will look to the parent for guidance, and the parent should tell the child, "do what the teacher says". Otherwise, the pattern will develop that the child will resist learning and education, much to its detriment. Chances are, the child does not know better than the teacher and gets along better to follow orders. There is plenty of time to "Question Authority". That is a bumper-sticker for thinking adults who can read and write.
This is also a time when a child is particularly prone to become imprinted by television. I cannot stress too strongly that this should be prevented. There is too much eye-catching manipulation on television, and you don't want your child to get every toy advertised on TV. There are some good programs for children, and those involve the basics of learning and socialization. It would not be excessive to suggest that the preschooler not watch more than one hour of TV a day.
This is a good time to reinforce the preschool exposure to letters and numbers, shapes and colors, and especially storytelling, at home. The day from morning to night is full of opportunities to teach words and concepts, and answer their endless questions as much as possible. They should have wholesome food and a regular schedule which includes a nap. It is good to have an evening ritual which includes dinner, a bath, a story, and then to bed. If it is early enough, the parents have a few hours to themselves for adult talk and recreation, which is necessary. Otherwise the parents get burnt out, and that is not good for anybody.
The preschool years can be hectic and difficult, but they are mostly joyful. They are full of precious moments which should not be overlooked. In a flash the years go by and your children are not babies anymore.
Bye, bye, mommy
Bye, bye, daddy
I'm going to school!