Preschoolers are beginning to develop some understanding of social rules but are limited by the fact that they assume everyone else has the same perspective they do. As we guide children into an understanding of their relationship with others, we are laying the foundation for moral behavior
• Young children are not good at taking the perspective of someone else; they tend to think that if others have the same information they have, others will think as they do.
• They may manipulate others to get what they want (“I’ll be your friend if…,” “You can’t come to my birthday party unless you let me…”) and are easily manipulated by other children using the same threats or promises. The child who manipulates and the child who is being manipulated need help in learning more appropriate ways of dealing with disagreements.
• The sense of self (their abilities and their value) is developing in preschoolers, but failure to compare themselves with others causes them to believe they are the best at everything they try. As a result, their self-esteem is unreasonably high. We can help by valuing each child’s accomplishments while helping the child also see the value in each other.
• Children this age have an all-or-nothing perspective of who they are as people of value. They see themselves as totally good or totally bad rather than understanding they are good at some things and bad at others. This limitation will begin to disappear as they get older.
• Preschoolers have a strong belief in the power of their thoughts. As a result, they may think their wishes cause things to happen. (“I’m mad at Janie, so when she falls down, it’s because I was mad at her.”)
• They are now able to recognize their own characteristics and those of others (gender, race, skills and interests). We can help them see the value of these differences by the way we treat children who are different from each other.
• Preschoolers develop their sense of identity based on the way they are treated by the important adults in their lives. They tend to behave based on who we tell them they are: kind, disobedient, capable, silly, etc.
• Friendship is defined in the preschool years based on who children play with. We can help broaden a child’s circle of friends by helping them learn to play with a variety of children.
• In spite of their eagerness to play with other children, preschoolers often need help learning to negotiate disagreements. Often they need to be reminded to use words to solve their problems. Occasionally they may need us to tell them appropriate words to use.
• Fours are making a big transition in their ability to care for themselves. As a result, they may want to be totally independent one minute and completely helpless the next. Patience and encouragement on our part goes a long way toward guiding children through this challenging stage.
• Throughout the preschool years, children are learning to balance the things they can do and decide on their own with the things that need help from others. This process often leads to some inappropriate decisions related to independence. Patient teaching can be effective in guiding children through this process without causing them to see any adult direction as a negative thing.
• As is true of emotional skills, preschoolers learn social skills best by seeing them practiced by the important adults in their lives. Your social behavior toward them is the model they will follow in their behavior toward others.
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