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Parenting a Preschooler: 7 Unreasonable Expectations Moms and Dads Should Drop

During her years as a teacher and mother, Ms. Meyers discovered that not all praise was equal and some kinds were even deleterious to kids.

Are Your Expectations for Your Preschooler Out of Whack?

  • Do you get mortified when your preschooler won't share their toys?
  • Do you get easily frustrated when they don't clean their room?
  • Do you worry they're hyperactive because they can't sit still at circle time?
  • Were you convinced there was something terribly wrong with them when they weren't potty trained by three?

If nodding yes to any of these questions, you (like many other moms and dads) have unreasonable expectations for your youngster. Parenting a preschooler is challenging enough without having lofty standards that cause unnecessary stress in your home and are unfair to your child.

Parenting a preschooler is more enjoyable when moms and dads have reasonable expectations and understand age-appropriate behavior.

Parenting a preschooler is more enjoyable when moms and dads have reasonable expectations and understand age-appropriate behavior.

Let Kids Be Kids!

We owe a debt of gratitude to Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and other 20th century pioneers in developmental psychology for revolutionizing the way we look at childhood. Because of their influence, kids are no longer seen as miniature adults like they were in Victorian times. During those days, wealthy youngsters got dolled up in stiff, frilly, formal clothes that were unsuitable for play while impoverished ones got used as cheap labor on farms and in factories.

Still today, though, moms and dads often go off the rails when parenting a preschooler by demanding too much. They create unnecessary stress in their lives because they don't appreciate how unreasonable their expectations are. Here are 7 behaviors that parents commonly expect from preschoolers but shouldn't.

1. Sharing Their Toys

While playing in a sandbox, a preschooler inevitably snatches a toy from another child's hand. Mortified by this transgression, his mom rushes over, scoops him up, removes him from the sandbox, and scolds him. She keeps her eyes fixed on the ground as she takes the parental walk of shame out of the park. She feels like a failure, convinced her son's inability to share reveals a lack of character, compassion, and morality.

Developmental psychologists, however, would tell this mom to stop beating herself up and cut her boy some slack. Kids, they say, don't know how to truly share until ages 7 or 8. Dr. Bill Sears, the noted pediatrician and author of more than 30 parenting books, believes moms and dads should encourage sharing but not demand it. He says preschoolers are naturally egocentric with a “what's in it for me” attitude that prevents them from thinking of others. When they enter elementary school, though, they become more socially aware, adopting a “what's in it for us” stance, and sharing springs from that.

2. Cleaning Their Rooms by Themselves

When ordering preschoolers to clean their rooms, parents have a clear idea of what needs to get done: toys picked up off the floor, bed made, dirty clothes put in the hamper, and books returned to the shelf. However, little kids don't have such a lucid vision. Cleaning a room to them is an overwhelming task. They need guidance to break it down into small doable steps.

Sara Bean, a school counselor and mom, says: “It’s very important that kids know exactly what your expectations are. Many times we think they know how to do certain tasks, but they honestly don’t—they need to be shown the ropes first before they really get it.” Parents need to realize little kids aren't being lazy, stupid, or obstinate. They just need our help.

3. Playing Together Without Conflict

Bullying is the big buzz word among parents today. Politically correct moms and dads devour books on the subject and proudly hail their zero-tolerance stance. They don't hesitate for a second to call any sort of negative behavior bullying even when it occurs at preschool.

These parents, however, are doing a disservice to young children by labeling them indiscriminately. Youngsters at this age have just transitioned from parallel play (being side-by-side but not interacting) to socializing with peers. They need adults to guide and teach them as they build friendships, not label their behavioral missteps as bullying.

Kids who are acting out in a violent way need help and compassion. Betsy Evans, a conflict resolution specialist, says: “When adults frequently observe a child engaging in hurtful actions toward others, the child must not be seen as 'mean' or 'bad' but as experiencing emotional, physical, or social challenges that are overwhelming. Those behaviors will become a pattern if there is no intervention by teachers or parents.”

4. Sitting Still for Long Periods

Today, even some preschool teachers demand academic rigor because they feel tremendous pressure to prepare kids for kindergarten. Children must sit still longer, listen more attentively, and do more advanced work. Such unreasonable expectations force educators to do things that aren't in the best interest of children. These include assigning too much seat-work, giving too many paper-pencil tasks, having children sit quietly for too long during teacher-directed lessons, and minimizing play.

When youngsters can't sit quietly for long periods of time, they get labeled immature or hyperactive. But, in truth, they're just normal. A preschooler's attention span is about 15 minutes. Therefore, teachers need to let kids learn actively by moving, exploring, and doing. Just because the curriculum has become more stringent doesn't mean the developmental needs of little kids have changed one bit. When parenting a preschooler, moms and dads must advocate for play and other developmentally appropriate practices and not go along with the "earlier is better" approach that's harmful to young children.

Parenting a preschooler involves advocating for what's developmentally appropriate and sitting still for long periods is not.

Parenting a preschooler involves advocating for what's developmentally appropriate and sitting still for long periods is not.

5. Always Telling the Truth

We all tell lies—both big and small—so over-reacting when a preschooler tells an untruth is nonproductive and hypocritical. In fact, lying is a cognitive milestone of normal development. The inability to lie is one indicator of autism.

According to child development experts, young children don't have a clear notion of where truth begins and ends. Dr. Elizabeth Berger, a child psychiatrist and parenting expert, is the author of Raising Kids with Character: Developing Trust and Personal Integrity in Children. She helps parents look beyond what they perceive as a negative behavior to understand it as a normal part of a youngster's development. She says moms and dads shouldn't be alarmed at lying because children 4 and younger regularly confuse reality, daydreams, wishes, fantasies, and fears. Dr Berger advises parents to stay calm but make it clear they're not buying the lie and explain how it breaks trust and hurts the relationship.

6. Using the Toilet

Nothing is more tedious than parents bragging about their toddler, who got potty-trained at an early age. They act as if it's a remarkable feat, indicating great intelligence and willpower—perhaps, worthy of early acceptance at MIT. But Dr. Steve Hodges, a pediatric urologist, argues that early potty-training is not an achievement to boast about and can even cause health problems.

Dr. Hodges says getting youngsters out of diapers before age 3 is potentially dangerous. Because the bladder continues to grow until it reaches standard size at age 3, children need to let it fill and empty uninhibited so it gets stronger. Early potty-training interrupts this natural process and can lead to accidents. It can also lead to constipation, kidney damage, and urinary tract infections.

7. Taking Standardized Tests

Moms and dads should be up-in-arms about an educational system that subjects young children to standardized testing. Unfortunately, too many of them are unaware of its ill-effects and just go along with it, some even naively thinking it a good thing. Their compliance, sadly, greatly narrows the scope of early childhood education. Teachers teach to the precise academic skills on the tests rather than the broader and far more significant goal of fostering curious self-motivated learners.

Renown development psychologists, experienced teachers, and concerned early childhood professionals are highly critical of using standardized tests to measure the progress of young children. Based on the latest research, they argue that it's a waste of precious class time, a misuse of funds, and a practice that garners unreliable results. In fact, countless studies show that testing children under the age of 8 is largely meaningless.

Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Page, a senior adviser for Defending the Early Years (and the mother of actor, Matt Damon) leads the charge against standardized testing for preschoolers. She sums up its disastrous and far-reaching effects: “As we see testing increasingly edge out play and active learning in classrooms for young kids, we also see more and more children who don't like school, who feel way too much pressure, who don't want to go to this place that feels so uncomfortable and out of sync with who they are and what they need.”

More teachers and developmental psychologists are speaking out about the dangers of standardized testing

What do you think?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 McKenna Meyers


Kathleen Cochran on January 07, 2017:

If new parents will read this hub, they will be so much more prepared for parenthood than I was.

Skip so much of the screen time and read to them.

A teacher told me children who read at 4 end up at the same level by 3rd grade as children who don't read until Kindergarten. They are early-readers not necessarily more intelligent.

Boredom actually forces a child to use his/her imagination. In moderation, it is a good thing.

I've learned with my grandchildren to praise them for their hard work when they bring home good grades instead of praising them for being smart. The difference is a generation that is ready for the adult work force and one that is not.