Parenting Preschoolers: The Do’s and Don’ts

Parenting preschool children is about setting boundaries and routines. This will help your child feel more secure and you will feel more confident as a parent.

“You’re a bad mom!”

“I don’t like you anymore, Dad!”

If you are a preschooler parent, chances are you may have recently heard a variation of this that screamed at you. It can be a frustrating or even hurtful experience, but is common behavior for preschoolers.

But you may not realize that it can also indicate that you are a wonderful parent, because your child is likely to respond by placing a restriction on their behavior.

Preschoolers tend to like to know why. A preschooler’s brain grows fast, and a 2012 study document that a child’s brain will quadruple in size and reach 90% of its adult volume before the age of 6.

The result of this growth is that young children are learning that things are not just happening to and around them. They begin to understand that there is an explanation attached to almost everything. Hence all the “why”.

A 2009 study indicated that children aged 3 to 5 may be motivated to seek answers about how things work, and they will often keep asking questions until they get an answer.

Testing boundaries and learning answers often drives preschoolers’ behavior.

Young children do not test behavioral limits because they are malicious or trying to upset you. Preschoolers are curious and simply do not know what will happen if, for example, they touch something hot, pull the cat’s tail or hit another child on the playground.

It is the job of a parent and caregiver to provide those answers to children in the form of boundaries, boundaries, and rules.

Setting clear boundaries and consequences usually does not crush a child’s creativity or hinder their growth. Rather, you provide exactly what they want: structure and an explanation.

By setting limits and rules and applying them consistently, you create a reliable and predictable structure that makes your child feel safe and secure, which can also build trust in your parenting.

The pre-school years are a phase of rapid growth characterized by general child behavior, such as:

  • imaginative game
  • looking for other children to play with
  • show empathy
  • offer to be a helper
  • follow simple instructions
  • play by the rules and take turns during games

Parenting is a difficult job that does not come with a manual.

Here are some common parenting strategies to consider that can help you navigate these magical years and put your child on a trail to success.

Set boundaries and apply rules consistently

Consistency is king with preschoolers. Once you have established a rule or limit, it is important to enforce it in the same way every time your child walks across the line.

Following through consistently gives your child a sense of security and stability. They learn that you will be there for them when they are having trouble regulating their emotions or when they are trying to do something that is not safe for them.

Consistently enforcing boundaries can also boost your self-confidence as a parent as you begin to see the effects of providing stability to your child over time.

Practice routine

Preschoolers typically thrive on predictable routines. Try to keep the essential rhythms of your day the same from week to week, month to month, including:

  • dinner time
  • to dress
  • leaving for school
  • bedtime

Following regular routines can help establish an expectation that you and your child will follow the routine. And when a young child can anticipate what is going to happen next in their day, they may be more likely to move on smoothly after each event or activity.

Respect that transitions can be challenging

At the same time, preschoolers do not always want to stop playing to eat or get ready for school or bed.

Try offering multiple reminders, or use a timer, to help your child understand that one activity will end and another will begin. You could also consider building extra time into your schedule for transitions to take into account how long it may take your child to switch.

Understand that the transition from one thing to another can be difficult and uncomfortable for your toddler. Approaching challenges with empathy and patience can also help alleviate these difficult moments.

Praise good behavior

If you feel like all you are doing is saying to your toddler, “no,” “stop,” or “be careful,” you are not alone.

But watch out for the times when your child says “thank you” without asking, or shares a toy with a playmate, or puts on their shoes while scurrying to school.

Praise them for their actions, and be very descriptive about what specifically pleases you. For example, you could say, “I noticed how polite you were just by saying please and thank you. It makes me very proud.”

Many preschool behaviors are based on a child’s desire for an explanation. When they hear praise, they hear an answer they like, and they will keep looking for that response from you.

Offer choices

Preschoolers are slowly learning that the world can be a big – and maybe narrow – place. They want some control, and you might see that desire play out in a tantrum.

Try to give your child some small choices when the consequences do not matter to you. Red or blue socks? Strawberry yogurt for a snack or peach?

This way your child gets a sense that he is in control without affecting the daily routine too much.

Confirm their feelings

Whether your child is sad, angry or happy, take time to notice what they are feeling and to validate their feelings in a specific situation. When your preschooler is heard by you, you again provide that sense of security and stability that they crave.

Say, for example, that your child has just learned that a good friend moves away from preschool, and says they are sad and will miss their friend. Instead of saying “Oh, you’ll make new friends!” tell your child that you hear that they are sad, that it is hard to lose good friends, and you are glad your child felt safe to tell you about it.

By validating their emotional experience, you provide context to their great, sometimes confusing, feelings they have at this age.

Encourage physical play outside

A 2022 study of parents of preschool children indicated that 95% of parents may overestimate their children’s level of physical activity.

The CDC recommended that children from 3 to 6 years of age are physically active for a minimum of one hour each day. Exercise, along with enough sleep, can be associated with better social-emotional development, including emotional regulation and development of empathy. This can be especially important for boys, according to a 2022 study.

Outdoor play and access to nature can have a positive impact on children’s physical health and sleeping habits, according to a 2021 study. So if you are able, try to take your child outside for at least an hour every day to play.

Limit screen time

The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that toddlers have access to screens for an hour or less daily.

A 2022 study suggests that too much time in front of a screen can affect children:

  • behaviorally
  • emotional
  • cognitive

Another 2022 study indicated that excessive screen time can also affect a child’s sleep.

While sometimes you have to rely on a screen to help you get work done, or to have time to do chores, try to use some of that time to get outside, or rather to play directly with your child .

Preschoolers can be just as challenging as they are fun and creative, and it can be easy to make mistakes as a parent.

Let your child set the rules

When setting rules at home, children can learn that the same rules must be followed in other situations, such as:

  • school
  • friends ‘or relatives’ homes
  • in a house of worship
  • extracurricular activities

It can be tempting to let your preschooler say the shots when you are tired, stressed or overwhelmed. Rather, work with your child to establish and enforce house rules that everyone can follow.

Consider having your child help with tasks. Preschoolers are often eager to be helpers, and you can establish a pattern that can continue through their teens.

Reinforcing bad behavior without responding to the good

Children often test limits at this age, and any reaction you give to specific behaviors – bad or good – can increase the likelihood that they will be able to do it again.

Reinforce the behaviors you want to see, and ignore what you do not want to see. The only exception is if the unwanted behavior is harmful or unsafe to your child or another child.


When your child knows what to expect from you, they tend to feel safer, and you can establish a reliable routine.

Inconsistency often leads to instability, so try to establish established routines.

Some symptoms in preschool children may indicate early mental health problems or psychological disorders, especially signs that affect the way children:

  • behave
  • file
  • to regulate their emotions

If your child shows a specific behavior that you are engaging in, consider talking to a pediatrician or pediatrician about the following steps.

Anxiety and depression

It is possible for toddlers to develop mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Some symptoms of anxiety in young children to pay attention to include:

  • extreme separation anxiety
  • extreme fear of going to school or entering other social situations
  • develop phobias
  • repetitive behavior

Symptoms of depression in toddlers may include the following:

  • changes in eating habits, sleep patterns or energy levels
  • frequent irritability or anger
  • lack of interest in doing nice things
  • self injury

Behavioral or behavioral disorders

Preschoolers often test behavioral and social boundaries as a natural part of development. However, when your child’s disruptive behavior seems repetitive or constant, it can be a symptom of a behavioral or behavioral disorder.

Some signs and symptoms of behavioral disorders may include the following:

  • a mood that seems disproportionate to a situation
  • refuses to obey rules
  • intentional aggression against other people or animals

Learning or developmental disorders

Children with mental health disorders or behavioral conditions may also have co-occurring learning disorders or other developmental conditions, including:

If you are concerned about your preschooler showing signs or symptoms of any of these conditions, early intervention can make the difference. Consider reaching out to a pediatrician or child psychologist as a first step toward treatment.

Preschool behavior can be hilarious, awesome, frustrating and downright crazy – sometimes, all at once.

The simple explanation for this behavior? Because children from 3 to 5 years are developed to look for answers. Parenting a preschooler is often about providing those answers in the form of:

  • structure
  • routines
  • perke
  • rules

Your preschooler thrives on rules. Try to channel this eagerness for rules to establish household routines and enforce rules and boundaries consistently.

Encourage your child to play as much as possible physically, especially outdoors in nature, every day. It can help regulate your child’s emotions, as well as support sleep and physical health.

Remember that your preschooler is learning to be part of a larger world, and that your job as a parent is to help make that world more manageable for them.

If you are concerned about your child’s behavior or development, consider talking to a pediatrician or child psychologist. Check out Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health care for support.

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