No-Stress Ways to Help Your Preschooler Right Now

Three simple ways to engage with your little one, shared by Kellye Wood, director of early childhood with Oakland Schools.

This COVID year has been especially rough on parents of preschool children. With many early childhood education sites closed or in virtual mode, parents worry about how the disruption to their child’s educational and social-emotional routines might have a negative long-term effect, says Kellye Wood, director of early childhood with Oakland Schools. Rather than stress about the day-to-day, take a long view and be reassured that ultimately, your child will get through this experience.

“Sometimes less is more and simple is best,” Wood says. “Try to have a basic daily schedule with reassuring routines and playtime for your child — yet know it’s all right when things don’t go as planned. Children are exquisitely sensitive to how their parents are feeling. Try not to keep adding to your adult to-do list.” 

Instead, include your child in your daily family activities by enlisting help with making grocery lists, planning simple meals and doing household chores like sorting laundry. “Your child can help figure out the answer to that age-old question about why that sock went into the laundry with its mate, but they never come out together,” Wood says with a laugh.

These activities seem simple enough, but they’re actually important for a young child’s development. “When children have little opportunities to talk about what they are doing, to make a plan and carry it out, this strengthens executive function, which is their air traffic control system for all the learning they will do well into adulthood,” Wood says.

What else can parents do to support their child’s early education during this time? Read on for three simple strategies that are important during regular times and probably especially beneficial now because they are grounded in relationship.

Say what you see

“Say what you see your child doing. Narrate it like a sports commentator giving a play-by-play,” says Wood. Maybe they are taping together a big box and a little box and you can literally briefly describe what they are doing.

“Children love this because it says to them what they are doing matters,” Wood explains. It is a subtle invitation for children to think some more and talk about what they are doing. This technique may also give parents a mini break from what can feel like relentless “adulting” during the pandemic. Parents may find themselves joining in with a play activity and seeing through the eyes of their child.     

Say what you hear

When your child says something, simply repeat it with just a little bit of paraphrasing. “Maybe your child says, ‘I want macaroni and cheese.’ You can say ‘You’d like orange pasta!’ This is affirming for children and may even interject a little humor for parents,” Wood says. This technique can also confirm to your child that you recognize their desires. “Maybe it’s time to clean up and get ready for bed, but your child says, ‘I’m still playing with my Legos.’ You can acknowledge, ‘You want to keep playing. You wish it wasn’t time to get ready for bed,'” Wood says. This acknowledgement often helps children transition to what adults need them to do next. 

Name your child’s feelings

“Little ones need adults to name feelings because they are not tangible, you can’t see them, and they are hard to understand,” Wood says. “When you name a feeling, you are saying what you are feeling matters.” This acknowledgment helps children modulate the often strong positive and negative feelings that they feel and proceed appropriately. 

These simple interactions are likely to stimulate back-and-forth conversations, which are beneficial for the development of vocabulary, comprehension and turn-taking, according to Wood. “This development boosts children to a higher trajectory for current and future learning,” she explains. Rather than ask a string of questions, “try a few conversational volleys and keep it light and playful,” she suggests.

Instead of worrying about formal instruction during this challenging time, recognize that for your preschooler, a little goes a long way. Young children learn mainly through their relationships with parents and others. You can take care of your child by using these relationship-based strategies, partnering with your child’s teacher if he or she is in a program — and by taking care of yourself. 

“I hope parents know they are enough and will take some time for their own self-care,” Wood says. “This is important in its own right but also helps children feel even more secure. When parents are doing OK — maybe with some blips, but for the most part OK — children are OK. Children will get through this time. In some ways, they can be more resilient, because they do not fully understand the situation. So, they take their cues from us and we can use these seemingly simple but profound strategies to care for ourselves and them, supporting their well-rounded learning and development.”    

Some additional resources:

  • Great Start Collaborative Oakland County: www.greatstartoakland.org
  • Help Me Grow Michigan: www.helpmegrow-mi.org or 844-456-5437
  • The family income limit for high-quality free Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) preschool has been lifted for this school year and children who were 4 years old by December 1, 2020 are eligible and can be enrolled with a caring teacher, space allowing. Parents can call the Parent Hotline at 844-456-5437 to find free preschool programs throughout Oakland County. 

Learn more about Oakland Schools at www.oakland.k12.mi.us.

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