Through my therapy and counseling work with young children and their parents, I am inevitably asked a lot of questions. Parenting can be challenging, rewarding and scary all at the same time, but it might be comforting to know that parents often ask questions about the same issues year after year. So, you’re not alone! Here are the answers to some of the most common questions I get from the parents of preschool children:
Q. Is there some emotional reason my child still sucks his thumb? How do I get him to stop?
A. Non-nutritive sucking is a comfort to babies, triggering a release of “feel-good” chemicals in the brain. When young children feel anxious or tired, they sometimes turn to the thumb for natural comfort. Experts say there is no harm caused by thumb-sucking before age 4 or 5. To get your child to stop sucking his thumb, try providing a distraction or alternative comfort when you notice him going for it. Don’t scold him or pull his thumb from his mouth – this will only create a power struggle. Instead, reinforce self-soothing but provide other outlets, such as listening to soft music, a warm bath, snuggling or reading books together.
Q. Why does my toddler love to say “NO!” so often?
A. Your toddler has just discovered that she is a separate entity from you! Up until around the age of 2, children perceive themselves as an extension of their main caregiver. They experience the first phase of “individuation” once they begin toddling around, and with this comes a pronounced sense of power. As they begin to speak, the word “no” packs a lot of punch, but don’t take it personally. She’s just trying a bit of independence on for size.
Q. How do I get my preschooler to sit still? He’s always moving and squirming.
A. Young children are wired for motion. Some even process information through movement and touch, which is natural and normal. Encourage him to run, climb and play as much as possible at this age. If you’re planning to sit down for dinner or go someplace where movement is not appropriate, be sure to give him an opportunity to use up some of his energy before it’s time to sit. Also, be mindful of the time he’s expected to sit still – he likely won’t last long!
Q. My daughter cries every time I drop her off at preschool. It breaks my heart! What do I do?
A. Separation anxiety between the ages 18 months and 3 years is a normal part of a child’s development. Many times, a parent’s anxiousness can make this experience worse. I encourage you to see this as your opportunity to teach your child that she can be away from you and have a good time. Showing that you will always return for her through these repeated experiences will help her develop age-appropriate independence. Have a pep talk in the morning to remind her she’ll be going to school and you’ll be dropping her off. Once you arrive, give her a big hug and tell her you love her and you’ll be back. Then, turn and leave without looking back; I know it’s hard, but I promise her tears will dry within five minutes after you leave! It also might be helpful to read “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn with her and to develop your own ritual to combat the anxiety she feels during those times.