Your child’s body should continue to lose baby fat and gain muscle during this time, giving her a stronger and more mature appearance. Her arms and legs will become more slender and her upper body more narrow and tapered.
In some children, gains in height occur so much more quickly than gains in weight and muscle that they may begin to look quite skinny and fragile. But this doesn’t mean they are unhealthy or that anything is wrong; such children fill out gradually as their muscles develop.
In general, a preschooler’s growth gradually will begin to slow this year and in the subsequent ones—from about a 5-pound (2.3-kg) gain and about a 3 1⁄2 inch (8.9 cm) increase in height during the third year, and then decreasing to about 4 1⁄2 pounds or 2 kg, and 2 1⁄2 inches or 6.4 cm during the fifth.
However, after age two, children of the same age can vary noticeably in size and weight, so try not to spend too much time comparing your child’s measurements with those of her playmates. As long as she’s maintaining her own individual rate of growth, there’s no reason to worry.
Measure your child twice a year and record her measurements on her growth chart. If her weight seems to be rising faster than her height, she may become overweight, or if her height does not increase at all in six months, she may have a growth problem. In either case, discuss this with your pediatrician.
Your child’s face also will mature during these years. The length of her skull will increase slightly, and the lower jaw will become more pronounced. At the same time, the upper jaw will widen to make room for her permanent teeth. As a result, her face actually will become larger and her features more distinct.
It’s easy for a parent to become overwhelmed with emotions and expectations as a child grows up and gets ready for that first day of school. As the day nears for the beginning of preschool or kindergarten, the anxiety levels can climb, and the inevitable questions arise: Is she ready for this? Will he do well? We are all concerned that our children do well in the long run and succeed in school. In recent years, parents and professionals have become more aware that early childhood literacy is a key to a success in the classroom, and on into adulthood.
Children introduced to reading early on tend to read earlier and excel in school compared to children who are not exposed to language and books at a young age. The National Institute for Literacy estimates that one out of every five children in the U.S. will experience a reading or writing problem at some point during their school years.
What is literacy? Simply put, it is our ability to read and write and learn. It’s been said that we spend the first few years of our lives learning to read, and the rest of our lives reading to learn. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), good literacy skills include being able to read and understand age-appropriate information (comprehension), put letters together to form words (spelling), and write meaningful phrases and sentences.
As with many other aspects of a child’s growth, his literacy level is affected by genetics and environment. The genes a child inherits from her parents determine her brain’s basic “wiring,” while the home environment she grows up within helps determine how efficiently the “wires” are connected, and how well she adapts to the world around her.
Inside the Brain
In order to get a better grasp on this, we can look at the brain’s basic anatomy. The nervous system begins to operate very early in a developing fetus. Less than a month after conception, the neurological system’s basic structure is already established, and brain cells begin to form.
Each brain cell gradually sprouts hundreds of long branches called “dendrites” which connect to other brain cells via junctions called “synapses.” The electrical impulses our brain uses to send messages to the rest of the body are carried along these branches along a fatty sheath called “myelin” that covers the branches like bark on a tree. Chemicals called “neurotransmitters” help transfer the electrical pulses across our synapses to other branches. As an old saying goes, “Cells that fire together, wire together.” This “hard-wiring” of our brains continues throughout fetal development as the number of synapses continues to increase, peaking in the early years of our lives. The process declines by one-third between early childhood and adolescence.
The Building Blocks of Learning
Many people believe that children learn to read and write in kindergarten or first grade. However, the foundation for literacy skills is laid years before children enter school.
In light of a child’s need for early and frequent brain stimulation, there are several important steps parents and caregivers can take to help a child’s brain and language skills develop.
Engaging a child’s senses is very important right from birth. Singing, rhyming, and talking are very important. Babies develop listening skills and an interest in sounds and words from this activity.
Eventually the baby learns to understand certain patterns of sounds and tries to reproduce them, which marks the beginning of personal expression and two-way communication. Reading books aloud, showing pictures, and letting even infants handle written materials encourages to the child to learn visual recognition and to identify what she hears with what she sees.
“Parents don’t always think of giving books to infants,” says Jill Fussell, M.D., FAAP, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. “But even young infants can visually attend to book pages with black-and-white patterns or with bright, contrasting colors for short time periods.”
No one expects an infant to read, but simply having a book in her hands can start the process of getting familiar with books and reading materials. “Although a 9- to 12-month-old may chew on a book or bang it on the floor, parents should still encourage children by including books in their repertoire of play objects,” says Dr. Fussell. “The same goes for reading to younger infants and toddlers. Parents need to be reminded of the power their voice has, and how their own babies will prefer to attend to their parent’s voice, given the opportunity, over other noises — such as a television.”
An important and normal part of developing early literacy skills for very young children is repetition. Sure, they may want to read the same storybook or look at the same pictures over and over. But this activity is actually “hard-wiring” their brains and providing consistent stimulation for language development, the cornerstone of literacy.
The Lap of Literacy
As the ASHA puts it, “Toddlers are like little scientists.” They explore with all their senses, learn trial and error, cause and effect, and their brain growth increases through personal interaction with parents, grandparents, caregivers, and even other children. Reading aloud, laughing, talking, and exploring books together from an early age significantly improves language development and literacy outcomes for children in the long run.
Literacy begins in the lap of a loving parent or caregiver who takes the time to personally interact with their infant. “Some parents may have reading problems themselves, so that reading out loud to their children may be intimidating,” Dr. Fussell says. “In those cases — even if a parent just looks at a book and comments on the pictures with their child, asks the child questions about what’s going on in the pictures — that’s still ‘reading’!”
Teaching a Love for Books
The most important language stimulation we can provide to our infants and toddlers is reading to them, says Pamela High, M.D., FAAP. “I think that the most important thing parents do by reading with their infants, toddlers, and preschoolers is to teach them to love books and stories so much that they will be very motivated to learn to read, even when it is a difficult task for them,” she says.
That motivation is strengthened even as the bond between a parent and child grows while they share reading time. “The other really important aspect of reading with young children is that this always occurs within the relationship,” says Dr. High, who is Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care. “This activity provides busy parents a reason to slow down and pay total attention to their child and the story. This often becomes a favorite time of the day for both parent and child. When parents read with their children as part of a regular bedtime routine it also promotes healthy sleep habits.”
Reading, rhyming, singing, and talking — beginning from birth — profoundly influence literacy and language development, the foundations for all other learning. The results last a lifetime.
Quick Tips for Reading Fun
Start talking, singing, and reading with your child from the beginning. Even though your child can’t read when he’s an infant, he’ll get the idea that books are fun and reading is a fun activity you share together.
Repetition is good — it helps a child build important language skills.
Reading doesn’t have to be a huge project. Just a 3-minute story every night before bed will help get your child interested in reading.
Board books and soft books are good for infants to get used to holding a book in their hands — and enjoying the experience.
During your child’s preschool-age years, they’ll discover a lot about themselves and interacting with people around them.
Once they reach age three, your child will be much less selfish than they were before. They’ll also be less dependent on you, a sign that their own sense of identity is stronger and more secure. Now they’ll actually play with other children, interacting instead of just playing side by side. In the process, they’ll recognize that not everyone thinks exactly as they do and that each of their playmates has many unique qualities, some attractive and some not. You’ll also find your child drifting toward certain kids and starting to develop friendships with them. As they create these friendships, children discover that they, too, each have special qualities that make them likable—a revelation that gives a vital boost to self-esteem.
There’s some more good news about your child’s development at this age: As they become more aware of and sensitive to the feelings and actions of others, they’ll gradually stop competing and will learn to cooperate when playing with her friends. They take turns and share toys in small groups, though sometimes they won’t. But instead of grabbing, whining, or screaming for something, they’ll actually ask politely much of the time. You can look forward to less aggressive behavior and calmer play sessions. Three-year-olds are able to work out solutions to disputes by taking turns or trading toys.
Learning how to cooperate
However, particularly in the beginning, you’ll need to encourage this cooperation. For instance, you might suggest that they “use their words” to deal with problems instead of acting out. Also, remind them that when two children are sharing a toy, each gets an equal turn. Suggest ways to reach a simple solution when your child and another child want the same toy, such as drawing for the first turn or finding another toy or activity. This doesn’t work all the time, but it’s worth a try. Also, help children with the appropriate words to describe their feelings and desires so that they don’t feel frustrated. Above all, show by your own example how to cope peacefully with conflicts. If you have an explosive temper, try to tone down your reactions in their presence. Otherwise, they’ll mimic your behavior whenever they’re under stress.
When anger or frustration gets physical
No matter what you do, however, there probably will be times when your child’s anger or frustration becomes physical. When that happens, restrain them from hurting others, and if they don’t calm down quickly, move them away from the other children. Talk to them about her feelings and try to determine why they’re so upset. Let them know you understand and accept her feelings, but make it clear that physically attacking another child is not a good way to express these emotions.
Help them see the situation from the other child’s point of view by reminding them of a time when someone hit or screamed at them, and then suggest more peaceful ways to resolve their conflicts. Finally, once they understand what they’ve done wrong—but not before—ask them to apologize to the other child. However, simply saying “I’m sorry” may not help your child correct their behavior; they also needs to know why they’re apologizing. They may not understand right away, but give it time; by age four these explanations will begin to mean something.
Fortunately, the normal interests of three-year-olds keep fights to a minimum. They spend much of their playtime in fantasy activity, which tends to be more cooperative than play that’s focused on toys or games. As you’ve probably already seen, preschooler enjoy assigning different roles in an elaborate game of make-believe using imaginary or household objects. This type of play helps develop important social skills, such as taking turns, paying attention, communicating (through actions and expressions as well as words), and responding to one another’s actions. And there’s still another benefit: Because pretend play allows children to slip into any role they wish—including superheroes or the fairy godmother—it also helps them explore more complex social ideas. Plus it helps improve executive functioning such as problem-solving
By watching the role-playing in your child’s make-believe games, you may see that they’re beginning to identify their own gender and gender identity. While playing house, boys naturally will adopt the father’s role and girls the mother’s, reflecting whatever they’ve noticed in the hemworld around them.
Development of gender roles & identity
Research shows that a few of the developmental and behavioral differences that typically distinguish boys from girls are biologically determined. Most gender-related characteristics at this age are more likely to be shaped by culture and family. Your daughter, for example, may be encouraged to play with dolls by advertisements, gifts from well-meaning relatives, and the approving comments of adults and other children. Boys, meanwhile, may be guided away from dolls in favor of more rough-and-tumble games and sports. Children sense the approval and disapproval and adjust their behavior accordingly. Thus, by the time they enter kindergarten, children’s gender identities are often well established.
As children start to think in categories, they often understand the boundaries of these labels without understanding that boundaries can be flexible; children this age often will take this identification process to an extreme. Girls may insist on wearing dresses, nail polish, and makeup to school or to the playground. Boys may swagger, be overly assertive, and carry their favorite ball, bat, or truck everywhere.
On the other hand, some girls and boys reject these stereotypical expressions of gender identity, preferring to choose toys, playmates, interests, mannerisms, and hairstyles that are more often associated with the opposite sex. These children are sometimes called gender expansive, gender variant, gender nonconforming, gender creative, or gender atypical. Among these gender expansive children are some who may come to feel that their deep inner sense of being female or male—their gender identity—is the opposite of their biologic sex, somewhere in between male and female, or another gender; these children are sometimes called transgender.
Given that many three-year-old children are doubling down on gender stereotypes, this can be an age in which a gender-expansive child stands out from the crowd. These children are normal and healthy, but it can be difficult for parents to navigate their child’s expression and identity if it is different from their expectations or the expectations of those around them.
Experimenting with gender attitudes & behaviors
As children develop their own identity during these early years, they’re bound to experiment with attitudes and behaviors of both sexes. There’s rarely reason to discourage such impulses, except when the child is resisting or rejecting strongly established cultural standards. If your son wanted to wear dresses every day or your daughter only wants to wear sport shorts like her big brother, allow the phase to pass unless it is inappropriate for a specific event. If the child persists, however, or seems unusually upset about their gender, discuss the issue with your pediatrician.
Your child also may imitate certain types of behavior that adults consider sexual, such as flirting. Children this age have no mature sexual intentions, though; they mimic these mannerisms. If the imitation of sexual behavior is explicit, though, they may have been personally exposed to sexual acts. You should discuss this with your pediatrician, as it could be a sign of sexual abuse or the influence of inappropriate media or videogames.
Play sessions: helping your child make friends
By age four, your child should have an active social life filled with friends, and they may even have a “best friend.” Ideally, they’ll have neighborhood and preschool friends they see routinely. But what if your child is not enrolled in preschool and doesn’t live near other children the same age? In these cases, you might arrange play sessions with other preschoolers. Parks, playgrounds, and preschool activity programs all provide excellent opportunities to meet other children.
Once your preschooler has found playmates they seems to enjoy, you need to take initiative to help build their relationships. Encourage them to invite these friends to your home. It’s important for your child to “show off” their home, family, and possessions to other children. This will establish a sense of self-pride. Incidentally, to generate this pride, their home needn’t be luxurious or filled with expensive toys; it needs only be warm and welcoming.
It’s also important to recognize that at this age your child’s friends are not just playmates. They also actively influence their thinking and behavior. They’ll desperately want to be just like them, even when they break rules and standards you’ve taught them rrm birth. They now realize there are other values and opinions besides yours, and they may test this new discovery by demanding things you’ve never allowed him—certain toys, foods, clothing, or permission to watch certain TV programs.
Don’t despair if your child’s relationship with you changes dramatically in light of these new friendships. They may be rude to you for the first time in their life.Hard as it may be to accept, this sassiness actually is a positive sign that they’re learning to challenge authority and test their independence. Once again, deal with it by expressing disapproval, and possibly discussing with them what they really mean or feel. If you react emotionally, you’ll encourage continued bad behavior. If the subdued approach doesn’t work and they persist in talking back to you, a time-out (or time-in) is the most effective form of punishment.
Bear in mind that even though your child is exploring the concepts of good and bad, they still have an extremely simplified sense of morality. When they obey rules rigidly, it’s not necessarily because they understand them, but more likely because they wants to avoid punishment. In their mind, consequences count but not intentions. When theybreaks something of value, they’ll probably assume they are bad, even if they didn’t brea it on purpose. They need to be taught the difference between accidents and misbehaving.
Separate the child from their behavior
To help them learn this difference, you need to separate them from their behavior. When they do or say something that calls for punishment, make sure they understand they are being punished for the act not because they’re “bad.” Describe specifically what they did wrong, clearly separating person from behavior. If they are picking on a younger sibling, explain why it is wrong rather than saying “You’re bad.” When they do something wrong without meaning to, comfort them and say you understand it was unintentional. Try not to get upset, or they’ll think you’re angry at them rather than about what they did.
It’s also important to give your preschooler tasks that you know they can do and then praise them when they do them well. They are ready for simple responsibilities, such as setting the table or cleaning their room. On family outings, explain that you expect them to behave well, and congratulate them when they do. Along with responsibilities, give them ample opportunities to play with other children, and tell him how proud you are when they shares or is helpful to another child.
Finally, it’s important to recognize that the relationship with older siblings can be particularly challenging, especially if the sibling is three to four years older. Often your four-year-old is eager to do everything their older sibling is doing; just as often, your older child resents the intrusion. They may resent the intrusion on their space, their friends, their more daring and busy pace, and especially their room and things. You often become the mediator of these squabbles. It’s important to seek middle ground. Allow your older child their own time, independence, and private activities and space; but also foster cooperative play appropriate. Family vacations are great opportunities to enhance the positives of their relationship and at the same time give each their own activity and special time.
It can be easy for parents to talk with their children about the differences between right and wrong, but it is often more difficult for parents to talk with their children about sexual development.
At a very young age, children begin to explore their bodies by touching, poking, pulling, and rubbing their body parts, including their genitals. As children grow older, they will need guidance in learning about these body parts and their functions.
Here’s some information and tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to help you tell the difference between “normal” sexual behaviors and behaviors that may signal a problem.
Here’s a list of what pediatricians say is normal, common sexual behavior in 2 through 6-year-olds.
When these behaviors happen, try to redirect your child’s attention to more appropriate behavior by saying something such as, “Grown-ups do that in private, and you should, too.” Reinforce that children should respect each other, and it is not OK to touch anyone else’s private parts. Also, remind your child to always tell you or another trusted grown-up if anyone ever touches his or her private parts.
Touching/masturbating genitals in public or private
Looking at or touching a peer’s or new sibling’s genitals
Showing genitals to peers
Standing or sitting too close to someone
Trying to see peers or adults naked
Red Flag Behaviors
Parents also need to know when a child’s sexual behavior appears more than harmless curiosity. Sexual behavior problems may pose a risk to the safety and well-being your child and other children and can signal physical or sexual abuse or exposure to sexual activity.
Sexual behavior problems in young children include any act that:
Occurs frequently and cannot be redirected
Causes emotional or physical pain or injury to themselves or others
Is associated with physical aggression
Involves coercion or force
Simulates adult sexual acts
Body Safety Teaching Tips for Parents
Parents should begin to teach their children about body safety between the ages of 3 to 5.
Use appropriate language. Teach children proper names for all body parts, including names such as genitals, penis, vagina, breasts, buttocks, and private parts. Making up names for body parts may give the idea that there is something bad about the proper name. Understand why your child has a special name for the body part but teach the proper name, too. Also, teach your child which parts are private (parts covered by a swimming suit).
Evaluate your family’s respect for modesty. While modesty isn’t a concept most young children can fully grasp, you can still use this age to lay a foundation for future discussions and model good behavior. If you have children of various ages, for example, it’s important to teach your younger children to give older siblings their privacy. Usually, older siblings will teach the younger ones to get their clothes on, for example, because they might have friends over or because they are maturing and feel modest even in front of their younger brothers and sisters.
Don’t force affection. Do not force your children to give hugs or kisses to people they do not want to. It is their right to tell even grandma or grandpa that they do not want to give them a kiss or a hug goodbye. Inappropriate touching—especially by a trusted adult—can be very confusing to a child. Constantly reinforce the idea that their body is their own, and they can protect it. It is very important that your child knows to tell you or another trusted grown-up if they have been touched. That way, your child knows it’s also your job to protect them.
Explain what a good vs. bad touches are. You can explain a “good touch” as a way for people to show they care for each other and help each other (i.e., hugging, holding hands, changing a baby’s diaper). A “bad touch” is the kind you don’t like and want it to stop right away (i.e., hitting, kicking, or touching private parts). Reassure your child that most touches are okay touches, but that they should say “NO” and need to tell you about any touches that are confusing or that scare them.
Give your children a solid rule. Teach them it is NOT okay for anyone to look at or touch their private parts, or what is covered by their swimsuits. It is easier for a child to follow a rule, and they will more immediately recognize a “bad touch” if they have this guideline in mind. Reassure your children that you will listen to them, believe them, and want to keep them protected.
Control media exposure. Get to know the rating systems of video games, movies, and television shows and make use of the parental controls available through many internet, cable, and satellite providers. Providing appropriate alternatives is an important part of avoiding exposure to sexual content in the media. Be aware that children may see adult sexual behaviors in person or on screens and may not tell you that this has occurred.
Review this information regularly with your children. Some good times to talk to your children about personal safety are during bath time, bedtime, and before any new situation. From child care to sports practices to dance classes, not to mention camps and after-school programs, children are meeting and interacting with many different adults and children on a daily basis.
Expect questions. The questions your child asks and the answers that are appropriate to give will depend on your child’s age and ability to understand. The following tips might make it easier for both of you:
Don’t laugh or giggle, even if the question is cute. Don’t react with anger. Your child shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed for his or her curiosity.
Be brief. Don’t go into a long explanation. Answer in simple terms. For example, your preschooler doesn’t need to know the details of intercourse.
See if your child wants or needs to know more. Follow up your answers with, “Does that answer your question?”
Listen to your child’s responses and reactions.
Be prepared to repeat yourself.
Talk with Your Child’s Pediatrician
If you are currently dealing with any of these issues or have additional questions, talk with your child’s pediatrician. He or she can work with you to distinguish age-appropriate and normal sexual behaviors from behaviors that are developmentally inappropriate or signal potential abuse. Asking for help simply means you want what is best for your child, and you will do whatever you can to help him or her succeed.
Did you know that injuries are the greatest threat to the life and health of your child? Injuries are the leading cause of death of school-age children. Yet you can prevent most major injuries!
At age 5, your child is learning to do many things that can cause serious injury, such as riding a bicycle or crossing a street. Although children learn fast, they still cannot judge what is safe. You must protect your child. You can prevent common major injuries by taking a few simple steps.
Your child should always wear a helmet when riding a bike. Buy the helmet when you buy the bike! Make sure your child wears a helmet every time he or she rides. A helmet helps prevent head injuries and can save your child’s life.
Never let your child ride a bike in the street. Your child is too young to ride in the street safely.
Be sure that the bike your child rides is the right size. Your child must be able to place the balls of both feet on the ground when sitting on the seat with hands on the handlebars. Your child’s first bicycle should have coaster brakes. Five-year-olds are often unable to use hand brakes correctly.
Your child is in danger of being hit by a car if he or she darts out into the street while playing. Take your child to the playground or park to play. Show your child the curb and teach him or her to always stop at the curb and never cross the street without a grown-up.
Now is the time to teach your child to swim. Even if your child knows how to swim, never let him or her swim alone.
Do not let your child play around any water (lake, stream, pool, or ocean) unless an adult is watching. NEVER let your child swim in canals or any fast-moving water.
Teach your child to never dive into water unless an adult has checked the depth of the water. And when on any boat, be sure your child is wearing a life jacket.
Household fires are a threat to your child’s life, as well as your own. Install smoke alarms in your house, and test the batteries every month to make sure they work. Change the batteries once a year.
Teach your child not to play with matches or lighters, and keep matches and lighters out of your child’s reach. Also, do not smoke in your home. Most fires are caused by a lit cigarette that has not been put out completely.
Car crashes are the greatest danger to your child’s life and health. The crushing forces to your child’s brain and body in a collision or sudden stop, even at low speeds, can cause injuries or death. To prevent these injuries, correctly USE a car safety seat or booster seat and seat belt EVERY TIME your child is in the car. Your child should use a car safety seat or a booster seat until the lap belt can be worn low and flat on the hips and the shoulder belt can be worn across the shoulder rather than the face or neck (usually at about 80 pounds and 4 feet 9 inches tall). The safest place for all children to ride is the back seat. Set a good example. Make sure you and other adults buckle up, too!
Children in homes where guns are present are in more danger of being shot by themselves, their friends, or family members than of being injured by an intruder. Handguns are especially dangerous. It is best to keep all guns out of the home. If you choose to keep a gun, it should be kept unloaded and in a locked place separate from the ammunition. Ask if the homes where your child visits or is cared for have guns and how they are stored.
Would you be able to help your child in case of an injury? Put emergency numbers by or on your phone today. Learn first aid and CPR. Be prepared…for your child’s sake!
There are many things that can cause a child to wake up during the night. Most of these happen when children are overtired or under stress. Keeping your child on a regular sleep schedule may help prevent many of these problems. If your child’s sleep problems persist or get worse, talk with your child’s doctor.
Nightmares are scary dreams that often happen during the second half of the night when dreaming is most intense. Children may wake up crying or feeling afraid and may have trouble falling back to sleep.
What Parents Can Do
Go to your child as quickly as possible.
Assure her that you are there and will not let anything harm her.
Encourage her to tell you what happened in the dream. Remind her that dreams are not real.
Allow her to keep a light on if it makes her feel better.
Once your child is ready, encourage her to go back to sleep.
See if there is something that is scaring your child, like shadows. If so, make sure they are gone.
Night terrors occur most often in toddlers and preschoolers and take place during the deepest stages of sleep. Deepest sleep is usually early in the night, often before parents’ bedtime. During a night terror, your child might:
Sweat, shake, or breathe fast
Have a terrified, confused, or glassy-eyed look
Thrash around, scream, kick, or stare
Not recognize you or realize you are there
Try to push you away, especially if you try to hold him
While night terrors can last as long as 45 minutes, most are much shorter. Most children fall right back to sleep after a night terror because they actually have not been awake. Unlike a nightmare, a child will not remember a night terror.
What Parents Can Do
Stay calm. Night terrors are often more frightening for the parent than the child.
Do not try to wake your child.
Make sure your child cannot hurt himself. If he tries to get out of bed, gently restrain him.
Remember, after a short time your child will probably relax and sleep quietly again. If your child has night terrors, be sure to tell babysitters what they are and what to do. If night terrors persist, talk with your child’s doctor.
Keep a Sleep Diary
If you are concerned about your child’s sleep habits, talk with your child’s doctor. Keep a sleep diary to help track your child’s problem that includes the following:
Where your child sleeps
How much sleep she normally gets at night
What she needs to fall asleep (for example, a favorite toy or blanket)
How long it takes her to fall asleep
How often she wakes up during the night
What you do to comfort and console her when she wakes up during the night
The time and length of naps
Any changes or stresses in the home
Track this information for 1 to 2 weeks and bring it with you when you talk with your child’s doctor. Keep in mind that sleep problems are very common, and with time and help from your child’s doctor, you and your child will overcome them.
At age three, your preschooler no longer has to concentrate on the mechanics of standing, running, jumping, or walking. Her movements are now quite agile, whether she’s going forward, backward, or up and down stairs. While walking she stands erect, shoulders pulled back and belly held in by firm abdominal muscles. She uses a regular heel-toe motion, taking steps of the same length, width, and speed. She also can ride a tricycle with great ease.
However, not everything comes easily yet. Your child still may need to make a conscious effort while standing on tiptoes or on one foot, while getting up from a squatting position, or while catching a ball. But if she keeps her arms extended and stiffly forward, she can catch a large ball as well as throw a smaller one overhand quite smoothly.
Your three-year-old still may be as active as she was at two, but she’ll probably be more interested in structured games at this age. Instead of running aimlessly or flitting from one activity to another, she’ll probably ride her tricycle or play in the sandbox for long periods at a time. She also may enjoy active games such as tag, catch, or playing ball with other children.
Your preschooler may seem to be in constant motion much of the time. This is because she uses her body to convey thoughts and emotions that she still can’t describe through language. Moving her body also helps her better understand many words and concepts that are new to her.
For example, if you start talking about an airplane, she may spread her wings and “fly” around the room. While at times this level of activity may be annoying and distracting for you, it’s a necessary part of her learning process and her fun.
Because your child’s self-control, judgment, and coordination are still developing, adult supervision remains essential to prevent injuries. However, it’s a mistake to fuss too much over her. A few bumps and bruises are inevitable and even necessary to help her discover her limits in physical activity.
As a general rule, usually you can leave her alone when she’s playing by herself in her room. She’ll play at her own pace, attempting only those tasks that are within her abilities. Your concern and attention should be reserved for situations when she’s around other children, hazardous equipment or machinery, and especially traffic.
Other children may tease or tempt her to do things that are dangerous, while machines, equipment, and traffic defy her ability to predict their actions or speed. And she still cannot anticipate the consequences of actions such as chasing a ball into traffic or sticking her hand into the spokes of her tricycle, so you’ll have to protect her in these situations.
Your Four to Five Year Old Child
Your preschooler now has the coordination and balance of an adult. Watch him walk and run with long, swinging, confident strides, go up and down stairs without holding the handrail, stand on his tiptoes, whirl himself in a circle, and pump himself on a swing. He also has the muscular strength to perform challenging activities such as turning somersaults and doing a standing broad jump.
It will be a toss-up as to who is excited more by his progress—you or him. In your child’s eagerness to prove just how capable and independent he is, he’ll often run ahead of you when out on a walk. His motor skills are still way ahead of his judgment, however, so you’ll need to remind him frequently to wait and hold your hand when crossing the street.
The need for vigilance is just as important when he is anywhere near water. Even if he can swim, he probably can’t swim well or consistently. And should he accidentally go under, he may become frightened and forget how to keep himself afloat. So never leave him alone in a pool or in the water at the beach.
We aren’t just talking about academics. Your child’s social, emotional, and behavior skills are equally critical to school success, and too many U.S. children start kindergarten without them.
In this article, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) highlights rapidly expanding research on how you can determine school readiness and help your child prepare. (Hint: helping your child do well at school begins long before the first day of kindergarten).
By law, children must be enrolled in school or an approved alternative program by a particular age. In most parts of the country, these age requirements are 5 years old for kindergarten and 6 years old for first grade. The National Center for Education Statistics tracks state requirements;
According to the AAP report on “School Readiness,” young children’s experiences―beginning at birth―play a big role in how well they learn to handle their feelings, relate to and communicate with others, and enter school ready to learn and achieve their full potential.
What does “school readiness” mean?
The idea that some children are “ready for school” by 4 or 5 and others are not is controversial. Just as children begin to walk or talk at different ages, they also develop the psychological and social skills needed for school at varying ages.
The AAP supports wider access to quality early educationand equipping schools to meet the needs of kindergarteners at all levels of readiness. This is especially true for children who may need additional support due to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)or developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disordersand attention deficit hyperactivity disorders.
When you’re deciding when your child should start kindergarten:
Look carefully at your child’s development. Is your child able to communicate? How are his listening and social skills? Would he be able to get along with other children and adults? Is he toilet trained? What about physical skills like running, playing, or using a crayon or pencil?
Talk with your child’s pediatrician about developmental milestones and community resources that support them.
Ask your child’s preschool teacher and/or childcare provider for feedback. He or she can often provide some useful, objective observations, and information.
Trust your instincts—you know your child best!
School readiness milestonesImportant development milestones that help school go smoothly for children include:Sensory development―the ability to use touch, sight, and hearing to explore and figure out the world around them.Social, emotional, and behavioral development―such as being able to:focus and pay attentioncontrol impulses and emotions take turnscooperate and follow directionsmake friendsempathize with otherscontrol and communicate emotionslimit aggressive behaviorsEarly language, literacy, and math skills― such as being able to talk, listen, and understand concepts like sound-letter associations, numbers, shapes, and how objects are related to each other.
A word about kindergarten screenings or readiness testing:
Some schools may conduct their own tests to evaluate your child’s abilities. So-called “readiness tests” tend to look mostly at academic skills, but may evaluate other aspects of development, too. The tests are far from perfect; some children who do poorly on them do just fine in school.
The AAP believes kindergarten testing or screening should be used a tool to guide curriculum and instruction and support diverse groups of children rather than a gatekeeping test for children to enter school.
So, if the test or screening identifies some areas where your child seems to lag behind, use the information to help you and the school plan for the special attention he may need in the year of kindergarten ahead.
You are your child’s best advocate. By sharing information with your child’s teacher and other school staff, you can help them be ready for your child. At the same time, you are establishing a partnership for your child’s education that can and should continue throughout her childhood.
Limit preschool apps and shows–even if they are educational.Online preschool activities and educational apps and shows should not take the place of important learning that takes place with face-to-face interactions and real-life experiences. The AAP recommends screen time other than video chatting is best avoided for children under 18 months old. Use the AAP Family Media plan to help balance screen time with time spent exploring the world and communicating and socializing with people around them that’s so important to a child’s development.
Misconceptions about “redshirting:”
Some parents consider delaying their child’s entrance into kindergarten even though they are old enough to start school, especially if they have a child with a birthday close to the school entry cut-off date. This is called “redshirting,” and it’s a practice that some states are considering legislation to end.
Parents who hold their children back from kindergarten may believe they are giving them a better chance to succeed in academics, athletics, or social settings if she is older than average for her grade. This isn’t necessarily the case.
According to the AAP, labeling children as “not ready” for kindergarten and delaying the start of school can prevent them from being in the best learning environment.
Although there is some evidence that being among the youngest in a class may cause some academic problems, most of these seem to disappear by the third or fourth grade. On the other hand, other research suggests that children who are old for their grade are at considerably greater risk of behavior problems when they reach adolescence.
Early education starts and ends at home.
You are your child’s first and greatest teacher. Put down your smartphone. Reinforce what your child learned in preschool. Find time to talk with your children about their respective days—including what they did at school. Plan some activities that you can do with your child—such as an art project.
If you have questions or concerns about your about whether your child is ready to start school, always talk with your pediatrician.
Is your child interested in learning the names of letters? Does he look through books and magazines on his own? Does he like to “write” with a pencil or pen? Does he listen attentively during story time? If the answer is yes, he may be ready to learn some of the basics of reading. If not, he’s like most preschoolers, and will take another year or two to develop the language skills, visual perception, and memory he needs to begin formal reading.
Although a few four-year-olds sincerely want to learn to read and will begin to recognize certain familiar words, there’s no need to push your child to do so. Even if you succeed in giving him this head start, he may not maintain it once school begins. Most early readers lose their advantage over other children during the second or third grade, when the other students acquire the same basic skills.
The crucial factor that determines whether a student will do well or poorly in school is not how aggressively he was pushed early on, but rather his own enthusiasm for learning. This passion cannot be forced on a child by teaching him to read at age four. To the contrary, many so-called early learning programs interfere with the child’s natural enthusiasm by forcing him to concentrate on tasks for which he’s not yet ready.
What’s the most successful approach to early learning? Let your child set his own pace and have fun at whatever he’s doing. Don’t drill him on letters, numbers, colors, shapes, or words. Instead, encourage his curiosity and tendencies to explore on his own. Read him books that he enjoys, but don’t push him to learn the words. Provide him with educational experiences, but make sure they’re also entertaining.
When your child is ready to learn letters and reading, there are plenty of valuable tools to help him—educational television programs, games, songs, and even some of the latest age-appropriate video games and DVDs. But don’t expect them to do the job alone. You need to be involved, too. If he’s watching an educational TV show, for example, sit with him and talk about the concepts and information being presented. If he’s playing with a computer program, do it with him so you can make sure it’s appropriate for his abilities. If the game is too frustrating for him, it may diminish some of his enthusiasm and defeat the whole purpose. Active learning in a warm, supportive environment is the key to success.
Even children in preschool can enjoy books and learn from sharing books with you. Sharing books with your children can help them learn to talk better and get them ready to listen and learn in school.
Making Books A Part of Your Child’s Bedtime Routine
Set aside 20 to 30 minutes with the TV off for sharing books as part of your regular bedtime routine. Regular bedtime routines started when children are young help prevent future bedtime struggles. Teaching your children how to fall asleep alone by putting them in bed awake helps prevent future night wakings.
4 Year Olds Can:
Tell you which books they want to share with you.
Pretend to read a favorite book aloud to you.
Tell you how a story is like things they have seen or done.
Ask you questions about books you are enjoying together.
“Correct” you if you skip a word or page in a favorite book.
Tell you the story in a favorite book in their own words.
What Parents Can Do:
Find a quiet, comfortable place for book sharing.
Ask your child to tell you about the pictures and the story.
Respond with enthusiasm to your child’s questions and comments.
Ask your child to show you all the things in a picture that are alike in some way. You can say: “Can you find all the blue things?” or “Show me all the things that can fly.”
Point out colors, shapes, numbers and letters in their books.
Take your child to your local public library to borrow books or to enjoy Story Time.