Like toddlers, preschoolers are preoccupied by fears, although the fears are likely to be different and more frequent because the preschooler has a richer imagination. While your preschooler no longer feels an intense separation anxiety, or might even have overcome his fear of loud noises, he can now imagine something bad happening to him. Unlike a toddler who may not worry until the thing he fears is about to happen, a preschooler can become afraid even when there is no possibility of it happening. He can conjure up frightening creatures he has never seen. Your preschooler has now begun to ask What if? questions. "What if a bad guy comes into the house while I am sleeping, and takes me away?" "What if that monster I saw on TV yesterday suddenly jumps out of the television and turns me into a frog?" While the greater imagination creates all kinds of fears that you may find puzzling, bear in mind that it is an important element of his developing ability to learn.
Because your preschooler is now spending more hours outside the home, he is exposed to all kinds of situations that can feed his rich imagination and cause him to worry. He worries about the people and events he sees on television and hears other people talk about, like wars, robberies, or children getting kidnapped. He may get very anxious when his parents argue in front of him, even if they are arguing constructively. This is the period when he may have nightmares frequently and may find it difficult to distinguish between them and reality.
Take control of fears
How do you deal with these fears? Some of the things you did to handle fears when he was a toddler will be useful -- avoiding scary books, movies, and videos, especially at times like Hallowe'en. You may also want to try to figure out what caused the fear in the first place, though sometimes a preschooler's fears have no cause that can be discerned. However, because a preschooler is more verbal and has greater understanding of speech than a toddler, talking about the fears and explaining them is much easier and workable. You should help the child understand that we all have our different fears, and that he is not alone; it may give him some relief to know that. It may also help to tell your preschooler stories of the kinds of fears you had when you were a kid, and if you can do it with humour, so much the better.
It may help to find ways to give him control over his fears. For example, you can tell him that dreams are like television, if you don't like one channel because the program is scary, you can change to another by using your imagination to switch. You can get him to suggest ways in which he thinks he can slay the fear as he would a dragon.
It is not useful to be impatient with a fearful preschooler, or tease him, or say things like "Big boys are not afraid of monsters." This may only make him more anxious or make him try to hide his fears, even though they still bother him. As his experience of life grows, he will be able to deal with his fears better. In time, he will realize that monsters do not jump out of the television set and that nightmares are not a part of reality.
Making a friend is an exciting, momentous step for a child, and she's usually ready for it sometime after her third birthday. Between thirty and thirty-six months of age, children enjoy time with other kids, but their play is parallel. They play side by side; they might copy each other's actions and run around together, but they don't interact very much. This interaction develops slowly throughout the fourth year. Your child needs to be with other children a few times a week to develop and practise her social skills.
By the time your child is four, he will likely have several friends. But he may come home from daycare and say things like, "Me and Coburn are best buds. But Mirko is not my friend anymore. He kicked me this morning." Knowing how to deal with friends has become important, and having a best friend is one of the major developments in his relationships with other kids.
Preschool boys tend to play more active games with their friends than girls do (as many parents will attest), although it's not clear whether this is because of parental expectations or because there is a gender difference. As your child becomes more social, give him pointers on the etiquette of friendship. Tell him, "Come to the door so we can say goodbye to Isaiah" or "There's Peter in the park. Do you want to go over and say hello?" Model the kind of behaviour and language that will help him both develop and maintain friendships. If your child is shy, you may want to give him opportunities to play with the same child often, rather than several different children consecutively. Repeated contact with a known person helps dispel shyness. Try not to make your child self-conscious about his shyness.
Kids, like most adults, don't like aggression. They avoid a child who hits, bites, or takes their toys away. If your child behaves in a way that makes him unpopular, work hard to help him figure out how to get along better. Reward him when he spends a peaceful time with a friend. Catch him being nice and tell him you noticed. If he acts rough with his friend, be very sympathetic to the injured party and talk with your child. End the playtime if your child continues to act out.
At preschool, your child will have the opportunity on a regular basis to spend time with her friends. In fact, the most important reason to send your child to a preschool is to give her opportunities to socialize with other children her age. She'll learn to take turns, to be quiet and listen when others speak (other children as well as the caregivers), to follow a new routine with the group. And she'll probably make a truckload of neat items to decorate your fridge.
Most activities are designed to help children develop language skills and both fine and gross motor skills. Your child will work on learning colours; she'll learn to count and sort and match. And she'll do all of this as part of a group, learning not just from the teachers but from the other children.
Choosing the right school
As in any school setting, class size is important. Look for a school with one teacher and one assistant for every 10 or 11 children. You may need to visit two or three schools in your area to get a good idea of what's available. A good preschool usually invites the parents of prospective pupils to come in and spend a morning observing and asking questions.
Preschool may also help prepare a child for starting the regular curriculum in a regular school, since he has already made the transition to a more structured setting and to learning as a member of a group. When it's time for your child to start school officially, give him lots of opportunities to get used to the idea. Take him to visit the school and let him play in the school playground. Help your child get to know other children in the neighbourhood who will attend the school with him so that he sees some familiar faces when he does go.
Excerpted from Growing with Your Child: Pre-Birth to age 5 by Christine Langlois. Copyright 1998 by Telemedia Communications Inc. Excerpted, with permission by Ballantine Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.