What can you do when your preschooler acts out?

Have you noticed you child's personality change a little since they’ve become a preschooler? They are now in school, spend considerable time away from you, meet more people than they ever have, and have friends they’ve made on their own. It’s easy to understand how this age could come with a sudden burst of fierce independence.

Right now, they may always be looking to do different things, climb great heights, run, jump, tumble over, and try everything that grownups say no to. If you feel confused about why your child is doing everything to push your buttons, remember that this is just their way of exerting a newfound independence. 

Use this time to teach them that no matter what, disobedience is not acceptable and that there are healthy ways to deal with frustration. Let's look at some of the common behavioural issues that crop up in preschoolers and what you can do to help your child cope with them.

Common ways that kids act out

Picture courtesy: Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels

1. Doing dangerous activities: A preschooler's bravado may cause them to try new behaviours without thinking it through, which could be dangerous. For instance, they may want to cross the street without holding your hand or want to attempt a somersault from the couch. While this urge to try things is natural, at this age, your child will still be unable to clearly gauge what is safe for them and what isn’t. 

What you can do: Always keep a watchful eye on your child and explain to them why certain behaviours are dangerous. For instance, you could tell them that jumping off the sofa could lead to a bad fall where they break a bone. As far as possible, try to stay ahead of your child and anticipate a potential tantrum when you put down rules. Since what they truly want is to exert independence, try giving them options to pick from. In this way, they not only get to exert their freedom, but will feel responsible for their choices and will make better ones. 

When you catch your child lying to get out of trouble, confront them without sounding angry. Tell them you understand why they lied but you would have preferred it if they told you the truth.

2. Lying: Honestly, it’s adorable when preschoolers let a white lie slip! You can see their mind running a mile a minute trying to think of things to say when you confront them about something wrong that they did. Sometimes, they may even come up with grand lies that blur the line between fantasy and reality! Children usually tell lies to get out of trouble and keep their parents from getting mad at them. 

What you can do: Accept that small lies are a part of growing up. When you catch your child lying to get out of trouble, confront them without sounding angry. Tell them you understand why they lied but you would have preferred it if they told you the truth. If you catch them making up something fantastical, let them understand that they will not get away with making things up. Teach them the benefits of telling the truth by praising qualities like honesty and courage when they fess up.

Picture courtesy: Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels
 

3. Hitting other kids: While your child’s vocabulary may have recently increased exponentially, they may still find it difficult to express themselves under pressure. So when a child is troubling them at playtime or if they feel any big emotions that they don’t know how to process, they may act out by physically hurting someone. Remember, kids usually get into physical fights when they are unable to express themselves.

Teach them simple phrases that they can use if someone bothers them, like ‘please stop troubling me’ or ‘don’t be mean’. Learning to clearly articulate their emotions could also go a long way in helping them calm down.

What you can do: Yes, it’s upsetting to learn that your child hurt someone but try not to shame them for doing this. Talk to them gently and explain that what they did was wrong. Ask them what exactly they were feeling at that time. Then ask them to try imagining how the other child may have felt when they were hit. Teach them simple phrases that they can use if someone bothers them, like ‘please stop troubling me’ or ‘don’t be mean’. Learning to clearly articulate their emotions could also go a long way in helping them calm down.

4. Being defiant and refusing to listen: Try telling your four-year-old not to do something and chances are they will want to do exactly that! This is because they are trying to test how far they can exert their independence and how much you will let them get away with. If you catch them in the act, they may throw a tantrum or even have a full-blown meltdown. Once again, this is because they don't know how to communicate their feelings of frustration or shame about having been caught misbehaving.

What you can do: Be clear about the boundaries you lay down for your child and do not make a habit of compromising, even on the smaller rules. If you catch them being naughty, be ready to have a conversation with them. Clearly explain why what they did was wrong and listen to how they are feeling as well. A good understanding of boundaries and the ability to express themselves will make them less likely to act out over time. 

Complex problems may have simple solutions!

It can be overwhelming to deal with this sudden onset of tantrums, but keep in mind that there’s always a solution and it’s often something quite simple. Most importantly, remind yourself that this is a passing phase. If you remain present and do your best to guide your child, they will surely grow into healthy and well-adapted children. Before you know it, you will be looking back and laughing at these memories with them! 

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