UNDERSTANDING YOUR PRE SCHOOLAR, MIDDLE SCHOOL GOER AND ADOLESENT CHILD
Your toddler is now preschool age — learn what behaviors to expect and how to nurture independence during the preschool years.
What defines a preschooler?
A child of 3 or 4 is considered a preschooler. So whether or not your child is attending a formal preschool program, he is no longer a toddlers. Preschoolers are different from toddlers in that they are developing the basic life skills, independence, and knowledge that they will need as they enter their school years.
What should my preschooler be able to do at this age?
Preschoolers are learning many new skills and stretching their cognitive abilities. Though these are the major skills to look out for, be aware that every child develops differently, and yours might accomplish one skill earlier than others. Don’t worry about small differentiations from the norm, but if you have concerns about the overall development, consult your pediatrician. “At 3, he should have the fine motor skills to dress himself and the gross motor skills to pedal a tricycle. Compared [with how he is at age] 2, a child is more interested in interactive play rather than parallel play. Kids at 3 should be asking deeper questions and be inquisitive about their environment. By age 4, a child should be able to dress and undress himself, cut basic figures out of paper and paste them on another piece of paper, draw little stick figures, name four or five colors, understand your jokes, and joke with you. At age 5, kids should be able to count, draw a person with the arms, legs, and body in the right places, exhibit imaginary and pretend play (sometimes with an imaginary friend), ride a two-wheel bicycle with training wheels, and articulate well enough to be understood.
How can I improve my preschooler’s behavior?
Every parent has been warned about the “terrible twos,” but many parents find that it’s actually the threes and fours that are more challenging. When it comes to temperament, “some kids can actually have a more difficult time during the threes than the twos,” as children this age want to assert their independence. They are more aware of their own needs and desires — and also aware when those needs and desires aren’t being met.
Is your preschooler’s behavior driving you crazy? Put a stop to tantrums and meltdowns by focusing and giving enough attention. “The most important thing is emotional connection, giving your child one-on-one attention,” Once an emotional connection is made, through spending special time alone with your child, “the most important thing to work on is training,” “If we take the time to teach them how to do things, from personal care to helping with dinner, they will feel more empowered and less likely to act out. The more time we spend on training, the less time we have to spend on correcting negative behavior.”
How can I help my preschooler become more independent?
The preschool age is a time for rapidly growing independence; your child learns to separate from you in preparation for attending school. During the preschool years, she will learn essential life skills, like dressing and feeding herself. Because children learn best when there are clear rules and expectations, establish regular routines. The morning routine can involve going to the potty, getting dressed, and eating breakfast — all skills that your child will eventually be able to do on her own. Give some specific tasks that will make her feel important and empowered, like feeding the dog or putting dirty pajamas in the hamper. Simple chores can help her feel as though she has a daily contribution to make.
How do I know if my child is ready for preschool?
Preschool can be excellent preparation for kindergarten and the school years beyond, but just because your child has reached the age requirement for a school program doesn’t mean she is ready. Kids develop at different paces and have different needs for social and intellectual stimulation. If you are considering preschool, think about your child’s listening, socializing, and communicating (or language) skills. Many preschools require that children be potty trained, so keep your child’s toileting needs in mind. “If a child has a lot of energy, and you feel she’s bored with you during the day, or if she’s not as tired during the day, she might be ready to go to preschool.” A child’s need for social stimulation is a factor, too. “If you have a very social, extroverted, outgoing child, it’s nice for [her] to be able to interact with other kids.
Understanding those on the verge of or in the trenches of middle school can be like finishing a complex puzzle only to realize there is a single missing piece — just when you think you have them all figured out, they pivot and leave you just as confused as you started. They sometimes feel like a walking contradiction: they want your love, but would prefer you did not show it in public; what makes them laugh one day, brings them to tears the next; going to school used to be the best part of their day, now they dread it. Whatever the contradiction is in your household, it is important to remember that the journey that these soon to be adults are traveling is a difficult yet AWESOME one. They are in a constant state of learning and discovery and as parents and guardians, we GET to be along for the ride!
Combine students’ physical and emotional changes with new school environments and increasing independence, and unique challenges for parents and children develop. Adolescence is a time of development, discovery and transition for kids. It is a key time for us to better understand how we increase motivation, build persistence, support the transition into a more independent experience, and prepare for future success.
As a middle parent our mantra should be patience and understanding. This is a time when they need support and guidance, but they also need the freedom to have experiences on their own terms. When it comes to education, middle school is an extremely important time.
When we find ways to personalize the learning experience for students we support their transition into more independence and help activate learning.
They need adults to teach them how the world works but also be conscious of how their brain is functioning. The teenage brain is prime for learning. Recent research has identified that the brain of adolescents is not yet fully developed—this actually doesn’t happen until the mid-20s. This means that, just as in early childhood, adolescents are in a critical stage where it is “easier” to learn and memorize. Teenagers also tend to be risk takers and are not as concerned with the future as adults are. This is largely due to the fact that a teenager’s frontal lobe is not yet fully connected. (The frontal lobe is associated with planning and motivation among other things!) This means that as much as we want them to be intentional in their social media use, in order to avoid any future repercussions. They may not be thinking of job interviews as they post pics and choose less than exemplar friends, so it will be our job to help them engage responsibly and use the channels to post the things that make them most proud. It is important that we support those conversations and help them make connections between their learning, their life and their future.
They should be held to high expectations, BUT allowed to make (harmless) mistakes. As a parent we want the best for our children. This is a good thing, but expecting perfection from your children will only lead to disappointment for you and your children. Outside of the school setting, learning by trial and error is not only acceptable, but it is encouraged. For some reason, that isn’t always the same in the classroom, where self-conscious students are often fearful of making mistakes. When students are able to make and learn from mistakes, they are able to discover concepts on their own and develop deeper understandings. The same is true outside of the classroom. Rules and guidelines are important since they set the stage for how to engage with the world, but we should never to enforce something that discourages our kids’ passions or limits their creativity. We should remember to have a positive reaction to mistakes — we should teach young people to reflect, reiterate and improve rather than just shut down. We should support a growth mindset that encourages them to be confident that they are in control of their intelligence.
They need support in thinking about the future, but also need to be encouraged to embrace the present. With the ever changing landscape of technology, the learning opportunities for may look much different than what was available to us. It may be college, but it may be another alternative. What will be most important is that at least starting conversations with them about what their futures will look like. They don’t have to follow the same path, but thinking ahead creates an opportunity to set goals and build motivation. That being said, I don’t want talk about the future to take away the value of learning for the sake of learning. Learning should feel good. And hope to create a home environment that enables them to learn about the things that interest them. (Finding a school that supports that sort of personalization will be key as well.)
They need you to be involved, AND they need to take ownership over their learning. If you can’t let go a little during adolescence, then you might just be way more involved than you want to in adulthood. But more seriously, this doesn’t mean that you can just turn off your parenting switch. The students that had the most degree of success were those who had parents who were involved. Involvement doesn’t mean helicopter parenting, it just means that you know what is going on in children’s lives. At this age, they will be testing limits and gaining a better sense of what and how they can control certain aspects of their life. We should help them develop their own sense of responsibility and ownership. We should do our best to help them find passion in what they do and model positive goal setting and reflection practices. Sometimes we don’t put enough faith in our students or our children. Give them the opportunity to speak their mind and then truly listen to what they have to say!
Adolescence, the period between childhood and adulthood, is rightly viewed as a period of enormous change.
Recent research, however, has established that hormones are not the only culprit. There are also many other elements of the body’s biochemistry and physiology that combine to make adolescence something of a ‘perfect storm’.
Here we explain more about the changes to adolescents’ brains and bodies, to help parents to understand more about why their children may behave in certain ways.
Adolescence: Brain vs. Hormones
There are two main elements that affect maturity of both body and emotions.
Hormonal changes lead to and guide the body through puberty, resulting in sexual maturity.
These include the sex hormones, estrogen in girls and testosterone in boys. They were once thought to be the main cause of most of the behavioral changes in puberty, particularly increased aggression and mood swings. There are, certainly, massive changes in hormonal levels during puberty in at least three different hormonal systems.
However, there is no link between blood testosterone levels and levels of aggression in young men.
So what is causing these behavioral changes?
The brain develops and changes throughout childhood and adolescence.
It used to be thought that the brain was basically mature from a very early stage, but recent research has found that, in fact, parts of the brain continue to mature well past the age of 18.
It is generally agreed that the brain kick-starts the hormonal surges that lead to puberty. It is not, therefore, the hormones that lead to changes in the brain, but changes in the brain that lead to hormonal surges and, ultimately, to puberty.
In young people who do not undergo puberty because of hormonal problems, the brain continues to mature perfectly normally, and their reasoning, ability to assess risks, and other thinking abilities, develop in line with their peers.
It seems, therefore, that although the brain and hormonal systems come together to create the various changes seen during adolescence, the majority of the behavioral changes are due to the brain.
Brain Changes during Adolescence
There are two main features of the brain that change massively during the maturation process. Both, unfortunately, seem to coincide with adolescence:
Myelin is added to neurons, which has the effect of speeding up neural messages: everything gets through quicker.
The brain seems to take ‘time out’ to rewire the pre-frontal cortex, the area primarily responsible for things like planning, organization and risk assessment. The huge number of neural connections is ‘pruned’, probably to make it more efficient, but while this process is happening the brain actually functions rather less effectively.
Together, these two result in some key behavioral changes that are seen during adolescence:
An increase in excitement-seeking.
This is basically down to an increased need for sensory input, because messages are travelling quicker. It may manifest itself as adrenaline-seeking, for example, through theme park visits or high risk sports. You may also see teenagers respond to louder music, or brighter lights: there is a reason why nightclubs target teens, and why clubbing becomes less attractive as you get older.
A decreased ability to plan, organize and assess risk accurately
The changes in the pre-frontal cortex result in a general inability to make good decisions, and particularly to assess risk. Unfortunately, since this coincides with the increased need for sensory input, it is also why teenage boys have a relatively higher mortality rate than they should.
A tendency to have more heightened emotional responses
Like the need to seek more sensory input, teenagers tend to feel things more extremely. They are more likely to become angry, sad, excited and happy: everything is more profound. This results in ‘mood swings’.
A focus on self, to the exclusion of others
Teenagers are not ‘being selfish’. They genuinely do struggle to recognize emotions in others, probably because of the rewiring of the pre-frontal cortex, which makes them extremely self-centered. They are unlikely to be able to assess the impact of their actions on others.
Adolescence and Sleep
One key issue which will be familiar to any parent of an adolescence is sleep, and particularly the need to sleep from 2am until noon. There seem to be several issues here.
The first is that teenagers have a physiological need for more sleep, probably because they are growing rapidly.
This generally manifests as increased sleepiness, and longer sleeping if the opportunity is offered.
At the same time, there is a change to the secretion of the hormone melatonin, which controls sleep.
This is released later in the evening during puberty, which means that teenagers are more likely to want to go to sleep slightly later. It does not mean that they have to do so, but they will tend to stay up later if possible.
This, of course, probably was not a problem a few hundred years ago. Adolescents would have been working, and would therefore have been physically tired. There was little to keep them awake after dark, so they would simply have slept.
Now, of course, there are multiple distractions. There is evidence that the light from computer and TV screens interferes with melatonin secretion anyway (there is more about this in our page on the importance of sleep), and the result is that teenagers are distracting themselves into staying up even later.
The third issue that coincides is one of habit, and is similar to jetlag.
Anyone who has travelled long distance will recognize that it is much easier to adapt to jetlag when travelling westwards: that is, if it involves a longer day, and later sleep times. Moving in the other direction is much harder.
The same thing applies to young people. Once they have slid gently into a later sleeping pattern, perhaps during a long summer holiday, with late nights and late mornings, it is much harder to get up earlier for school.
Our weekly pattern of work also means that just as their bodies start to re-adapt to ‘normal’ time again, the weekend intervenes, and they slip back into the later time zone.
Adolescence is a phase…
Adolescence is a difficult period for those experiencing it.
It can also be extremely difficult for those around them, particularly their parents.
It is important to remember that you, and your adolescent child, will get through it. Like everything else, this is a phase, a vital phase of development and it will pass. Stay calm and the storm will eventually be over.
HOW YOU CAN SUPPORT YOUR TEENS:
- Listen to their ideas without judgment.
- Allow them to pull away without feeling guilty.
- Don’t take most of their criticisms of you personally (even though that is hard sometimes).
- Encourage positive peer relationships.
- Allow a certain amount of safe experimentation with different value systems.
- Allow them to differ with you about beliefs.
- Treat physical growth as normal while expressing pride and excitement in their new maturity and development.
- Understand their feelings of awkwardness and discomfort with their new bodies, and be sensitive to it.
- Support their interest in age-appropriate opposite sex relationships, without pushing it on them and without instilling fear and distrust.
- Support interests and encourage involvement.
- Support them in solving their own problems.
- Give opportunities for decision-making.
- Guide them in setting and meeting goals: short, medium and longer-term.