In the middle of everyday chaos, parents often fall into the “do as I say, not as I do” mode when dealing with their preschoolers. Unfortunately, this sends a mixed message to the child, leaving her confused and unsure about what’s really “right.” At this stage of development, she’s looking to you for guidance, and as an example of how to act in various situations. You’ll have more success teaching your preschooler desired behaviors, from eating healthful foods to being kind to others, if she sees you consistently modeling such behavior yourself.
Talk to your preschooler about your expectations for her behavior. Don’t throw a long list of rules at her all at one time, but take advantage of opportunities that arise to explain how to behave in different situations. With preschoolers, think in terms of “show and tell” — tell them in words but also show them the correct behaviors yourself. Show her how to use her silverware correctly by doing it yourself at family mealtimes. Model helping behaviors by holding a door for someone or helping a neighbor in his yard. As you do these things, explain what you want her to do in these situations and why it matters.
Display the behaviors you want your preschooler to learn, not just in your dealings with her, but in your interactions with others, as well. This ensures she sees them consistently and often. It’s not enough to just explain it and do it at home: You need to carry over the lessons when you’re together outside the home, as well. If you’ve been teaching her not to use cuss words, for example, you’ll undo some of your progress if she hears you swear at the driver who just cut you off.
Point out examples of desirable and undesirable behaviors when you see them together. When you’re at the store, for example, hold the door open for an elderly patron and explain to your preschooler that it’s kind to help others. Then watch others interact while you’re in the store and ask her to pick out various behaviors and tell you if they’re acceptable according to your family’s rules. If she sees a child hit her sibling, for example, remind her that such behavior is not allowed in your family. Explain that it’s hurtful and reiterate the appropriate behavior, perhaps role-playing through a mock disagreement.TipsNo parent is perfect, and your preschooler likely will see you “mess up” once in a while. Use that as a lesson, too — even grownups make mistakes. Then discuss with her what you should have done instead.Remind her that your family’s behavior rules apply to her even when she’s not with you. Ensure she understands that other families might have different rules, but she should always do her best to behave as she’s been taught.