During the pre-kindergarten years, children are learning very quickly. While children at this age may have short attention spans, they often learn best by being read to, playing pretend, and observing others, especially you. By setting a strong example, you can show your child how to be socially and emotionally intelligent.
At this age, your child should be able to make decisions based on your rules and values, like sharing with others and taking turns.
Your child is also learning how to recognize decisions that hurt others, like yelling at siblings and friends.
Your preschooler should be able to make decisions based on the options you give. For example, “Do you want to wear pants or a skirt today?”
Your child must weigh the impact of their choice on both themself and others. It is through making choices that he or she learns about hurting or helping others, and gains important relationship and problem-solving skills. Will she share a new toy with a friend? Or will he keep it all to himself? Preschool often marks a time when children are transitioning to a formal school setting, and in doing so, they are starting to make decisions based on their own interests.
When your child is this age, it is up to you to manage the choices he or she makes while also giving them the freedom to make their own choices. For example, “Do you want cereal or eggs for breakfast” is a better way to give small children a choice than an open-ended, “What do you want for breakfast?”
Keep in mind that every child develops at his own pace. Maurice Elias, director of the Social-Emotional Learning Lab at Rutgers University, recommends being watchful without overly worrying, as preschoolers are extremely different in their rate of development, and your child may even excel in one area and lag in another. The concepts highlighted in this section are based on the five sets of competencies developed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). If you have concerns about your child’s development, please contact your healthcare provider, his teacher, or his school counselor.
Learn more with our pre-K decision-making tips page.
Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Maurice Elias, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab; Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids; and Thomas Hoerr, Emeritus Head of School, New City School.