The best parenting style for preschoolers is one that builds self-confidence. Using Parental Intelligence always helps. Three and four-year-olds are very focused on being heard. "I" is a central word in their vocabulary. They are proud to announce: "I am Claire!" "I am Eddie!" They want you to listen.
Parents need to actively demonstrate that their child's questions, comments, and complaints are heard.
Complaints? Who wants to hear them? Listening doesn't mean you have to accede to every complaint, it just means you need to say something that demonstrates that you heard your child's wishes:
"You don't want to take a bath? I know. But you have to wash all that mud off."
"You want to keep playing? You are having so much fun. But it's dinner time. We'll leave your Legos set up for tomorrow. Let's go." (It should be so easy! Sometimes, it is.)
What Happens When Preschoolers Aren't Heard Too Often?
When preschoolers don't feel heard too often, they may become brooding and sad. You may notice gloomy, frowning faces. In the extreme, they may withdraw into a corner, freeze in one place, or wander around aimlessly. Sometimes, spunkier kids get defiant. After their raised voices and crying aren't responded to, they may start hitting or biting.
A parenting style that works under these circumstances is to take the vantage point that your poorly behaved child isn't a "bad" child; she is a distressed child trying to be heard. Preschoolers who aren't heard at home demonstrate or act out their distress in school when they either don't have the language to explain what's upsetting them or when their words have gone unheeded so often at home that they don't trust the teacher who says, "Use your words." Instead they use behavior, often misbehavior wishing to be heard. It's our job as parents to try and understand the message behind the behavior. We need to become "meaning makers" finding out what the child is intending to communicate.
The parenting style called Parental Intelligence encourages parents to understand their child's behavior before taking action to change it. These parents take a nonjudgmental stance by assuming misbehavior has meaning that needs to be found.
Reactions of Three-Year-Old Eric When He Feels Heard
Here's a brief story about a three-year-old who felt heard. Notice his reactions:
Three-year-old Eric was on a subway with his mother on his way to preschool in a big city. His mother was worried about him not staying by her side. Eric was rambunctious and enjoyed all the peoplel around him. He was wiggling in his seat and then got up to show his mother he could balance holding on to the pole.
"Eric," his mother said firmly, "Come back to your seat. You could fall."
Eric felt invincible. He was sure he wouldn't fall. He didn't understand why his mother thought differently. He believed everyone thought as he did because that's how three-year-old's children's minds work!
Eric turned to a stranger in the seat nearest to him and declared, "I'm superman!"
The stranger smiled and said, "Hey. Superman. Hold on tight."
Suddenly the subway car jerked giving Eric a start. He gripped the poll with confidence as his mother got up and held onto Eric's pole saying, "Hey, Superman, you sure can stay steady! Good for you. But sometimes, the subway car is shakes more than you expect. Let's sit down now."
Because Eric felt heard , he was ready to mind his mother's advice and returned to his seat. Eric's mother avoided a situation where Eric fell by standing up beside him. Because Eric felt his mother understood him--his belief in his ability to balance--he became ready to listen.
Understanding the Mind of a Three-Year-Old
Eric's mother knew her three-year-old very well. She used Parental Intelligence. She knew when he believed something, he thought everyone else believed it, too. She understood how his mind was working. Children this age are ego-centric and don't realize others think differently than they do.
There wasn't time for arguing from her point of view because the train was moving. She stood up, so he was safe. However, when he felt heard, he progressed in his ability to listen to her point of view. This was a milestone in his development--recognizing others have a different belief than you have. This occurred because he felt heard.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst with a recent book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior, found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Familius and wherever books are sold.