3 Common Preschooler Behaviors and 3 Ways to Deal with Them (While Connecting with Your Child)

June 28th, 2012 by Dionna | 8 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting

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Spitting. Potty language. Whining. Virtually every parent of every preschooler has had to deal with one or more of these three hallmarks of the preschool age.

All three of these behaviors are partially due to the preschooler’s age appropriate tendency to push against boundaries. Spitting can also be attributed to the preschooler’s intense motor drive – it feels good physically to make and hear that sound. Potty language stems from the normal fascination with the process of elimination. And whining – well, it’s scientifically proven to be the most annoying form of communication.1

As much as you might want to shut yourself in a room with ear plugs and a strong drink for your child’s preschool years, you’re going to have to come out sometime. Here are a few ideas that might help you emerge more willingly.

1. Be irreverent.

Don’t suck the joy out of life simply because you’re too cool to say poopy head – join your preschooler in their antics. Every once in awhile, let off a little steam by engaging in some blessedly immature fun.

  • Did you just get spit on for telling your preschooler no? Declare that the next ten minutes will be nothing but spitting. Set a timer. If anyone talks to you – spit. If anyone whines at you – spit. If the phone rings – answer it and spit. Is it gross? Yes. Will it make you both laugh? Yes.
  • Is your three year old calling you a stinky butt? Call her a silly face. Or as my husband might do – prove her right. (I’ll let you figure that one out.)
  • Is your four year old whining about dinner? Engage in some melodramatics yourself: fall on the floor, put on your best whine, and spill your troubles. Your four year old may forget about dinner, and you may feel better after your impromptu therapist session.

2. Take the “naughty” out of it.

Take a page from Playful Parenting and take the “naughty” out of the behavior. Here are a few examples:

  • When your four year old blows a raspberry, act momentarily horrified, and then say something to the effect of, “Well, you know I don’t like spitting, but I hope you never act like a monkey when you’re frustrated. I hate it when people act like frustrated monkeys! (Or some other behavior that will catch your child’s attention and that you can live with.) Alternatively, I love the suggestion from Terersa of Mom Grooves – their family was ok with spitting — outside. It gave the little ones an appropriate outlet while setting an appropriate boundary.
  • If your preschooler’s favorite word is poopy head, make it your super secret password with her. Use it in hushed whispers when getting in or out of the car or going into certain rooms. Or name the car poopy head, and refer to it as such in a very loving manner.
  • Nip whining in the bud by making a calm, simple request that any sentence in “whine” be translated into “song.” “I’m sorry, I do not speak that language, I will need you to repeat it in my native language – opera!” (Sang in a passable soprano, of course.)

For the most part, the above ideas should be interchangeable – have fun with them!

3. Turn tug of wars into hug of wars.

In the words of the great Shel Silverstein:

I will not play at tug o’ war

I’d rather play at hug o’ war,

Where everyone hugs

Instead of tugs

Where everyone giggles

And rolls on the rug,

Where everyone kisses

And everyone grins

And everyone cuddles

And everyone wins.

Turn moments of frustration into moments of connection – reach out to your little one and fill their cup.

  • Have a standing rule: the utterer of any potty words will be immediately bear hugged.
  • When you feel like yelling at the spitting, try turning into the silly hug monster instead. You probably need a squeeze yourself.
  • When whining gets you down, gather your preschooler into your arms for a few minutes of quiet connection. Turn on a song that is special to you both and rock together, or practice taking some peaceful breaths together.

Remember: You can always talk a little later (after everyone has stopped laughing) about appropriate ways to communicate and express frustration/anger. Remind your child that while spitting/potty language/whining are easy, they do not usually promote communication, understanding, or feelings of respect.

And keep your preschooler’s personality in mind. Of course not all of these suggestions will work for every child. Others may take a bit of finesse.

These are not our go-to methods for responding to our child most of the time when he does one of the the behaviors. Usually we are either gently reminding or talking to him about more appropriate ways to handle frustration. Other times we just ignore the behavior. But you know those days when you feel like every interaction you have with your child is a correction? And you find yourself getting more and more annoyed with everything they do? On those days, one of the ideas listed above can be just the impetus you both need to switch tracks and connect. (Also, joining your child in some of their irreverent behavior takes just enough fun out of it for it to be thrilling.)

Above all, seek a connection – it can help both you and your child feel better in the short and long term.

How do you handle spitting, potty language, and/or whining?



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8 Responses to:
"3 Common Preschooler Behaviors and 3 Ways to Deal with Them (While Connecting with Your Child)"

  1. Stephanie

    Love these tips! I have an occasional spitter/potty mouth. Yesterday he kicked at me and said “kick your a**!” I have no idea where he heard that and he’s barely 2.5!! :/

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Well, at least you can take comfort in the fact that he probably doesn’t know exactly what he’s saying with that phrase. Did you feel ok after he did it, or did it trigger any kind of reaction for you?

  2. I really needed this reminder! Thanks so much. THe spitting really gets me worked up – I truly hope the stage is well and passed, but if not at least I have a better response than I’ve used in the past!

  3. Heather   xakana

    lol, Brandon cannot abide spitting. He is disgusted at a skin crawling level. My kids are told where it’s okay to spit and if they can’t keep from spitting on us, they can’t be around us (we leave the room).

    As for potty mouth… I don’t care, but Lilly and Brandon do. Naomi’s favorite bad word? (as you asked on Twitter) It’s bastard. Followed by damn. Yeah. >_<

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      You know what Kieran does that creeps me out more than spitting>? He licks me. {shudder} It’s totally a playful thing, but I cannot stand it. (And I will not be licking him back.)

  4. Amy Willa   Amy_willa

    Oh, this could not have come at a better time for me and Jed and Abbey. . . spitting, potty language, and whining. Are you reading my mind or something????

    Wonderful suggestions, and Jed and I read it together and plan on trying some of these out tomorrow! Thanks, D!

  5. Harmony B   hburmeister

    Thanks you, I read this and tried some of the suggestions today. worked well

  6. Meg b

    Thanks for normalising spitting…. So many people have said to me, ” I’ve never heard of spitting at 3!”
    On another note, anyone have a spouse or a partner that’s having trouble with a gentle approach and just wants to yell the child into behaving???

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