Your preschooler has his first T-ball game and you are eager to see it. After all, you could knock it out of the park when you played T-ball. Then you realize he isn’t the least bit excited. As a matter of fact, he’s complaining of a stomach ache. Children avoid tasks when they feel there is risk involved. Your preschooler wants to please you, but he’s afraid he’ll let you down. Make sure avoidance behaviors don’t hinder his skill development.
Even at a young age, children want to protect their self-worth, says Dr. Kimberly Renk, associate professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. If your preschooler thinks he’s not performing up to par when playing the piano, he’ll not only shy away from piano but he’ll avoid other activities as well. Encourage him to approach new tasks with enthusiasm. Bend down next to the piano, look him in the eye and praise his improvement in playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Tell him you knew that song wasn’t easy, but you are proud of him for choosing to learn a new song.
You may love to play soccer, but the sport just doesn’t move your preschooler. Pay attention to his interests and steer him toward activities he will embrace. Using this strategy increases his motivation, says Dr. Renk. If he runs around the house imitating karate chops, that’s your sign that he may just enjoy a karate class. Expose your preschooler to many interests; some of them will eventually capture his attention. If he seems bored and disinterested in drawing pictures, add another component like finger paints to engage him.
When an adult, especially a parent, places emphasis on winning, a preschooler soon adopts that position. He develops a perfectionist attitude and thinks he has to win in order to succeed. Shape your child’s problem-solving skills as you help him engage in new tasks, recommends Dr. Renk. Teach him how to approach the task and remain persistent in it. Place emphasis on learning new skills rather than on winning. If you’re teaching your preschooler to bat, prodding him to hit a home run isn’t helpful. Just remind him to keep his eye on the ball and show him how to hold and swing the bat correctly.
Toddlers and preschoolers want their parents’ praise and approval. If you criticize your child, he may think he isn’t loved. For example, he has a friend visiting and the two boys are coloring. You say, “Look how nicely Joe is staying in the lines, Mike. That’s the way you should color.” He compares himself to his friend and thinks he doesn’t stack up in your eyes. This leads to frustration and a low tolerance for trying out new things. Think about how you value and encourage your child’s efforts. It will shape his behavior.