Preschoolers are at an in-between stage. At 4 years old, your child is starting to feel like a “big kid” and is looking for more and more ways to become independent — she wants to choose her outfit or help out with the chores. But, at the same time, children this age need mom and dad to feel safe and secure, so they can become clingy.
“It’s the quintessential ‘I am big and I am little’ stage,” said Meghan Leahy, a certified parenting coach who also writes for The Washington Post.
It's the stage that one pregnant mom was experiencing with her 4-year-old boy. “He can put on his own shoes and go to the bathroom himself - but he wants company to go to the bathroom. Or never wants to play alone,” she shared on a parenting Q & A session hosted by The Washington Post.
Because the family is expecting, the mom is looking for advice to teach her son to do things on his own and play independently. Both mom and dad are working parents — they are afraid quality bonding time may suffer since the new baby will need a lot of their time. So, in anticipation, they feel the need to prepare their boy so he doesn’t “[feel] set aside” when the baby arrives.
In a situation like this, there’s no easy shortcut, said Leahy. Teaching a preschooler to do things on his own will take time. But Leahy stresses, “No need to push him away or force him to be alone.” Separation can be scary for kids. You need a loving way to help ease his transition from always needing to have mom and dad around to gaining a little more independence.
When you’re busy in the kitchen and your preschooler is shouting for you, for example, try saying something like, “I'm chopping carrots, and I can't come over there. But I will talk to you from here,” advised Leahy.
The parenting coach points out that the child's first response is likely to scream, cry, beg, or all of the above. “Your job is not to apply unkindness, just lovingly hold the boundary,” Leahy explains. “Let him work through it by just standing nearby.”
Kids need to learn how to handle frustrations, she added, so judge whether you think your child can handle playing alone and when he needs you with him.
Remember to be patient because it will take some time, especially if your child is used to having you as a playmate, said Janet Lansbury, parenting advisor and host of the popular podcast Respectful Parenting. “There's going to be a rocky period of adjustment. It’s not going to be seamless and smooth.”
With a little perseverance and parenting resolve, you’ll be able to get the chores done quicker without interruptions and have more time to spend with your preschooler.