Preschoolers are just beginning to discover there is a whole new world outside your house. Little ones interact with others on a daily basis, with preschool classes, library story hour, religious activities and play dates all giving them a chance to learn and develop alongside other kids. Understanding what is appropriate behavior in each environment is an important part of preschool development. If your child exhibits bad or obsessive behavior in preschool, it is time to find the cause of the problem.
Gross But Normal
Preschoolers and older children tend to do things that adults think are gross. But in fact, gross behaviors are all a part of discovery for a child. These behaviors can become habits, so it is important for parents to acknowledge what the child is doing, tell him to stop or offer a solution and explain why we don’t do certain things in public. Some of these habits include nose picking, scab picking, eating food off the floor, using the restroom without washing hands and bodily noises. Most parents will have more than one opportunity to find teachable moments with these “gross” behaviors. Consistency with rules about what is appropriate in public, as well as modeling good behavior, is the best plan.
Preschoolers and Obsession
From the toddler years until about age 4 or 5, your child may become obsessed with a certain object, character or toy. This is especially true of favorite blankets and stuffed animals. During this time, your child’s imagination is becoming more complex. Children not only dress like their favorite character but, in their minds, they become the character. Girls want to wear leotards and tutus every day because they are ballerinas. Boys may choose a superhero and insist on wearing the cape and clothing everywhere, including preschool. This is an ideal time to teach children what is appropriate behavior for different places and times. Four- and five-year-olds can understand “you can wear your super hero outfit at home, but it may be hard for your friends to pay attention if you wear it to school,” or, "you can take your blanket to school, but we will leave it in the car until you finish.” Finding ways to compromise while encouraging the right behavior is the goal.
Preschoolers at Home
Moving between home, preschool and other environments is a time for your child to learn what good behavior looks like at all times. Just because others are not around on a particular day does not mean the behavior changes. What is good in preschool and at the library still applies to home. This can be difficult for some parents, especially those with multiple children at different ages and stages. Setting house rules when children are young helps them see appropriate behavior and habits from older siblings as well as adults. If you want your preschooler to pick up his toys, he needs to see and understand that we all pick up our things and put them away. If your child is going to learn that yelling at others is bad behavior, then yelling at home should not be allowed. Preschoolers pick up habits from the people around them. If you hear your child saying or doing things that are inappropriate, use a stern word or a time out. Make sure he knows what he did wrong and what choice you want him to make the next time. Preschoolers need repetition in order to learn. You may not get it right the first time, but consistency in this area will eventually pay off.
Bad Behavior Problems
When bad behavior in a preschooler is the norm rather than the exception, and she is obsessed with something to the point of not minding you, there may be a problem. Preschoolers can develop obsessive-compulsive disorder if their worries or fears become overwhelming. A young child may be unable to explain to you why she has to do things the same way over and over again because her vocabulary is undeveloped at this age. The inability to communicate how she is feeling could prompt her to act out in inappropriate ways. Both parent and child can become frustrated when neither is being heard or understood. When bad behavior and obsessions begin to interfere with your child’s everyday life, it is time to get some help. The best place to begin is with your pediatrician. Your pediatrician knows your child’s medical history well and can help you determine if there is a problem.