It can be easy to dismiss your preschooler as too young to get themselves ready, remember their manners, and make healthy choices, but they’re actually more capable than you think, and hankering for opportunities to assert their growing independence. Pippa Henderson shares ten great habits to teach your preschooler, and reminds parents to also explain the reasons behind them. Set the example for your preschooler, be realistic and stay positive, then trust them and watch them go. You’ll be reaping the benefits for years to come.
They may not yet recognise the letters P and Q, but preschoolers are still capable of minding them. Those incredible words, please and thank you, although sometimes difficult for little people to get their mouths around, are loaded with favour and potential, and go a long way in helping them build relationships with peers and superiors. They’ll need quite a bit of gentle prompting at first, but once they get in the habit of using these words, the results will be motivation enough to keep them saying it. And of course you’ll be constantly setting the example!
Start the process of teaching them table manners with a couple of simple principles. If grace isn’t part of your family routine you can cultivate thankfulness by encouraging your children to simply thank the cook when the food arrives at the table. And consider starting a family ‘policy’ that even if they’re refusing to eat they still need to be with the family, sitting down at the table, so they learn that meal time is a time to stay put and be together.
When you’re out at about together, one simple lesson to kindly and repetitively reinforce is the importance of waiting their turn. Patience is particularly hard for preschoolers to get their heads (and wriggly bodies) around, but it’s a fact of life that applies to everyone. Practice, eventually, will make perfect!
The aim here is to make generosity a pleasure, not a chore, so make giving fun. Let them search through their games and toys and help choose what to give to children who aren’t as fortunate as they are. You’ll be amazed at the joy preschoolers can find in giving.
When it’s their friend’s birthday ask for their present ideas (it’s impressive how well they do actually know their friends and get it right), as it brings them greater joy to give when they’ve been involved in the process.
If you’ve started giving your preschooler pocket money already, teach them the simple practice of save some, spend some, give some.
Obviously friendliness comes a lot more naturally to some kids than others, but it’s something that is always worth encouraging. Teach your child to keep an eye out for lonely children and include them in their games and activiites.
Set the example by sharing a kind or humorous word with sales assistants, bus drivers, checkout operators etc. It will help build your pre-schooler's social skills, and if your presechooler joins the conversation it can be a real joy for others not accustomed to being around young children.
It’s a truly beautiful thing to be able to celebrate one others joys and successes, even when you’re on the loosing side. Set the example by celebrating wins - high fives and encouraging words when someone wins a game or nails a competition – and taking it graciously when things don’t go your way.
It’s unrealistic to expect most preschoolers to remember where everything goes and to put everything away, but it’s worthwhile reminding them that everything has a place - and actually ensuring there is one!
One general rule to fall back on is tidying up one game before starting another. One great way to get them motivated for this is to time them by counting out loud – preschoolers love a challenge. Or join in – preschoolers also love teamwork.
In terms of their bedroom tidiness, start with the basics, and make it fun. For example you could remind them that pyjamas like to ‘hide’ under our pillows during the day, and celebrate as if they’ve scored a goal when they put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket.
Teach your child that there are things that need to happen when we get home for the day. For example dirty shoes need to come off and be put in the appropriate spot. This one, for some reason, needs multiple reminders!
Include your preschooler in carrying bags and belongings in from the car (just not the tray of eggs!) and also remind them that once their bag is inside they also need to unpack their lunchbox and drink bottle, ready for the next day.
Taking care of their teeth
This can be a fun one with the help of a novelty toothbrush, themed/tasty toothpaste, and a star chart - if necessary. It’s a healthy habit that will hopefully last a lifetime, saving tme, money and pain in the long run.
They may not be up to wiping their own bottoms but they’re more than capable of flushing, if they can reach the button. Make sure you have a stool handy in the bathroom so your little one can also reach the sink, and reinforce that they need to wash their hands, every time, with soap.
Choosing healthy food
You can help your preschooler understand the importance of eating healthy food by explaining that healthy food gives their body more energy – to grow, to play, to run, to dance, etc. Generally speaking foods that are naturally full of vitamins are also naturally full of colour, which is helpful in that colour is attractive to little minds and fingers. Start out how you aim to continue - make a habit of providing fruit and vegetable snacks instead of sugary treats, and you’ll be laying a great platform for their future health.
Walking when possible
Although lifts and escalators are fun for little people, you can start building good habits by explaining the value of taking the stairs. If you’re fortunate enough to live close to your child’s childcare, make a habit of walking when you can! You’ll need to allow extra time for their curiosity as they stop to investigate grass and trees and smell the roses along the way, but you’ll be giving them some exercise while simultaneously cultivating an appreciation for the great outdoors. Walking also offers the opportunity for a timeless little habit and road-safety lesson: look left and right then left again.