How to Grow an (Eventually) Regulated Preschooler

In this fast-paced, electronically redundant world it takes extra effort to make sure our preschoolers are developing and mastering the vital social and emotional skills they will need for the rest of their lives. 

And the things I’m referencing might be surprising. Sure, we want to make sure they’re using their “pleases” and “thank you’s” and we’re cautioning them about wiping their tushes and their hands and their faces. 

But it goes so much deeper than that. And when screen time is so readily available and such a guilty pleasure…. for so many of us, the list of things that can help build the basic skills of human interaction are surprisingly simple. And fun. And not all that complicated. And the best part? They’re the things we did all summer, all winter, and everyday after school. 

So in honor of our longing to return to our own childhoods, here is what preschoolers need.

1). Talk to them. About what you’re doing, what you’re both seeing. Notice together what’s going on around you, let them hear how you think, how you see the world, and how you problem solve.

2). Play tag. And red light/green light, red rover red rover, freeze tag, freeze dance, hide and seek, and ring around the rosy. Am I kidding? Nope. Here’s why not- these games teach many, many good things and at the top of that list: delay of gratification, holding things in your mind before reacting, listening to others to remember so you know when it’s your turn, self-control, and self-regulation.

3). Remember how awesome imagination was? And you know how we’re like uh yikes, we can’t lose that love in a single generation. Don’t worry, we don’t have to. Think back on what the back yard or the patio was to you when you were itty bitty. Remember how that random wall was always the little shop? And that if you climbed up to this branch on the tree you were the captain, and if you sat on this ledge you were the one responsible for tossing snow down on your sister and her friends? Remember how everything was something else? That’s a fundamental part of how we changed the world these last twenty years. Not sure what they’re seeing? Get down and see what the world looks from three feet high again. Prompt them just a touch to get their internal motors running. They’ll do this. They’re wired to. Just give it a jumpstart if you feel it would help.

4). And that brings me to another thing, they watch every dang thing we are doing. We know this, but it’s my biggest Achilles heal. You lose it for a second? Twenty-six times in a day? They’re watching… but maybe it’s actually not so bad. Yet. They need to see us coping. They want to know how to react to tough stuff. So if you can regulate; regulate. If you yell and toss your phone (gently) and lay down on the floor (a little over-dramatically), take your second, long as everyone’s safe. And when it’s over? And you’re sure you’ve ruined their lives? Maybe say hey look, sometimes mommy feels frustrated. Can you show me your frustrated face? Here’s mine. Grrrr! Grr! Okay. But we can take a breath and we’re gonna be okay. Lable not only their emotions; but also yours. EVEN your craptastic ones. 

This list could go on forever, but I think you’ve got the idea. By the way, for those research nerds, I’ve pulled all of this from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. 

Wait wait wait! Before you go. One more thing. I said at the top that this would help them regulate. I didn’t mean regulate like during year four, perse….. I meant, it’s a building block. You know, for the long haul. Because I gotta believe it’s all about planting seeds. And remember, they have those first memories this year, oh gosh, I hope it wasn’t the one when I threw my phone and laid down on the floor. Oh God. 

Okay. Onward. Kisses to your little ones. And a quick game of hide and seek before bed. 

*But maybe not with the dad and the grandpas. They get them all crazy and wound up. I guess they need that too, don’t they. Sigh.


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