Your child’s shape changes more than their height or weight in the years between their 3rd and 6th birthdays. You can expect your child to add about 4-1/2 pounds and grow about three inches each year.
Your preschooler’s body “makeover” begins at the top and works its way down. The bones of the skull and face grow so that your child’s face loses some of its roundness, and your child develops a more noticeable forehead, nose and chin. Meanwhile, the upper and lower jaws begin to widen to make room for their permanent teeth. Your child’s shoulders begin to narrow, their posture improves, and that “toddler tummy” flattens.
Usually around the age of 3, your child becomes much more coordinated with running or going up and down the stairs. By the end of their preschool years, your child should be able to catch a bounced ball easily, kick a ball forward, and stand on one foot or hop. Three-year-olds are so active that sometimes they find it easier to substitute a movement for a word. They may run around the room with their arms spread out to indicate flying instead of talking about flying.
Handedness is well established by the age of 3. If your child prefers to use his or her left hand, do not try to change it. Lefties do just fine.
Your child’s ability to concentrate allows your child to take advantage of the small muscle control in his or her hands. Your child should be able to copy a circle and to scribble quite happily. When playing with blocks, your child can build a tower of nine or more cubes.
This is a great age for crafts. Your child loves to practice cutting, painting and coloring. For future gardeners, it is a great time to work in the garden. For future carpenters, nothing beats the thrill of using a real screwdriver.
Self-help skills should be much improved. At this age, children can feed themselves, unbutton their clothes, and handle large zippers and snaps.
Developmental milestones are abilities (behavioral and physical) achieved as children grow. Children reach different developmental milestones based on their age. As you approach your preschoolers 5th Birthday, you might find that they are in need of a developmental evaluation if he or she:
- is unable to jump in place
- is unable to hold a crayon correctly
- is unable to stack four blocks
- will not separate willingly from their parents
- is not interested in playing with other children
- is not interested in interactive games
- has difficulty throwing a ball overhand
- does not respond as well to non-family members
- has no imaginative play
- is uncooperative with dressing, sleeping, toilet training
- has difficulty with self-control when angered or upset
- is unable to give his or her first and last name
- does not use plurals or past tense properly
- does not use “me” and “you” correctly
- does not speak in sentences of more than three words
- seems unhappy or sad most of the time
Preschoolers continue to use magical thinking to solve problems or explain things. You will be surprised what you learn when you ask your child a “why?” question. For example, your preschooler may tell you that the sun comes up in the morning because that is when it wakes up.
Sometimes an answer alerts you to a possible problem, such as your child believing that his or her anger could make someone ill. Be firm when you explain that emotions do not cause illness or harm to others.
Preschoolers are not logical thinkers. They believe what their eyes tell them even if it makes no sense. Try this famous experiment with your preschooler to get a better understanding of how your child thinks. Pour water from a tall, thin glass vase into a wide, clear glass bowl. Make sure no water spills. Ask your preschooler which container has more water. Very likely, your child will answer the tall, thin vase (or whichever container appears larger to the child). It is unlikely that your preschooler will say that the amount of water has not changed and it only looks different.
Even if you point out that no water was added or taken away, your preschooler believes what he or she can see and pays no attention to logic. This is called prelogical thinking and is absolutely normal and charming.
The Fabulous Five for Helping Preschoolers Learn
- Keep it simple. Think about the safety rules you remember from your childhood. “Look both ways before you cross the street.” “Stop, drop, and roll.” “Buckle up.” It helps to make rules as simple as possible and to repeat them using the same words.
- Repetition is the glue of learning. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
- Learning can be as easy as playing a game. Teach preschoolers safety rules by playing “what-if” games. First, teach the rule in simple words, and then ask your child a “what-if” question. For example, a fire safety rule for matches and lighters is: “Do not touch. Tell an adult.” The “what-if” game question might be: “What if you found a lighter at Uncle Jim’s? What would you do?” The preschooler should respond, “Do not touch. Tell an adult.” Preschoolers like “what-if” games. They like to get the answer right and they like to hear you praise them for their correct answers.
- Success makes success. In addition to praising your child for correct answers in the “what-if” game, praise your child whenever you see him or her using good safety habits. If your preschooler holds onto the handrail when going down the stairs, praise him or her for good safety habits on the stairs. Catch your child doing something right as often as possible so that you will have plenty of opportunities to praise them.
- Be a good role model. Your preschooler wants to be just like you when he or she grows up. Everything you do is being watched, so do things right! Make the rule. Teach the rule. Follow the rule. Be alert to children noticing when the rule is not enforced or modified. Most importantly, keep lines of communication open.
If you clap for your preschooler’s new athletic skills, you should give a standing ovation for the marvelous accomplishments your child is making in language.
- 1 year old: 2-4 words in vocabulary
- 1-1/2 years old: 10 words in vocabulary
- 3 years old: 1,000 words in vocabulary
- 5 years old: 10,000 words in vocabulary
However, language is more than just vocabulary. Words must be combined into sentences. Between the ages of 2 and 5, the number of words in a sentence usually equals the child’s age (2-word sentences by age 2, 3-word sentences by age 3 and so on to age 5). Children are also learning grammar. They practice all these skills by talking, asking questions, and reading books.
Children learn language at different rates. A number of factors influence language development – first-born children may use language sooner than younger siblings, girls may talk earlier than boys, and children whose parents were late talkers may follow in their parents’ footsteps. Active children may just be too busy to slow down for a conversation.
The best way to encourage language is by talking and listening to your child – in the car, at the store, at the park, while you are eating, and when you are reading a bedtime story to your child. Talk – listen – talk – listen, etc.
Preschool years are a time of role-playing. Role-playing is practice for the future. Your child may have difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Imaginary friends may come to stay for a while. They usually disappear on their own, replaced by “flesh and blood” playmates. Unfortunately, imaginary monsters are also common at this age and are particularly bothersome at bedtime. Nightlights and reassurance go a long way toward helping your child overcome those fears.
As your child nears age 5, playmates become increasingly important. Your child begins to notice the way that other families do things, which can lead to requests for more privileges and trendy clothing or toys. Your child may experiment with swearing. All of these behaviors are signs that your child is trying to become independent. Your reaction to unacceptable behaviors should separate the behavior from the child. For example, the behavior is “bad,” not the child.
Preschoolers are quite aware of sexuality and may ask questions like “Where do babies come from?” This is also a time when children discover and sometimes “play” with their own bodies.
Your child’s requirement for dietary fat decreases in the preschool years. As your preschooler’s body matures, it is time to cut down on high-fat foods like whole milk and cheese. The low-fat diet that is good for you is now good for your child. Serve your child a wide variety of foods including fruits and vegetables. Serve a variety of food often and each these foods yourself.
There are several normal sleep behaviors beginning in the preschool years that can be very worrisome to parents:
Sleep Terrors: Sleep terrors, also called night terrors, may begin as young as age 1. Sleep terrors differ from nightmares. Nightmares are frightening dreams during dream sleep and can be remembered upon awaking. Sleep terrors occur in non-dream sleep and cannot be remembered upon awaking. They usually occur one to four hours after falling asleep and last between 5 and 30 minutes. They may occur several times in one night or only once in a lifetime. Sleep terrors are far worse for the parents than for the child.
Typically, the child appears to be awake, screams, cries, may thrash, and looks very frightened. Because the child is not fully awake, the child cannot be calmed. When the episode ends, the child returns to full sleep. The good news is children outgrow sleep terrors.
The best way to handle sleep terrors is to stay with your child so that you can protect him or her from any injury caused by their thrashing movements. Do not turn on the lights or try to wake your child. Your child will have no memory of the episode. It may help to put your child to bed earlier in case being overtired is contributing to the problem. If the night terrors are very frequent, discuss the problem with your doctor.
Sleep Talking: Sleep talking includes talking, laughing or crying out in sleep. Your child is not aware of what is going on. Even if your child answers your questions, he or she will have no memory of the conversation. Sleep talking is so common it is not considered abnormal.
Sleep Walking: Sleep walking may involve only walking or may include a number of other activities, including dressing, raiding the refrigerator, opening doors, and even going up and down stairs. As with night terrors, do not try to wake your child. Gently guide your child back to his or her bed and feel better knowing that your child will have no memory of this in the morning. Assure all doors are latched securely to avoid accidents.
Safety in the preschool years provides another parenting challenge. Early on, you mastered the fine art of baby proofing. During the toddler years, you earned your halo as a guardian angel. Now it is time to take on the responsibility of teaching your child the responsibility of staying safe. In the toddler years, your teaching consisted of warnings like “hot,” “do not touch,” and “no.” In the preschool years, it is time to teach and enforce safety rules.
The Fabulous Five for Teaching Safety Rules
- Set the rules.
- Enforce the rules.
- Be consistent.
- Be reasonable.
- Be firm.