What Is Normal Preschool Behaviour?

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      According to American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), normal behavior in a 4-year-old might include: wanting to please and be like friendsshowing increased independencebeing able to distinguish fantasy from reality.

      Early Childhood Behavioral and Emotional Disorders

      attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) autism spectrum disorder (ASD) anxiety disorder.

      During this year your child really starts to understand that her body, mind and emotions are her own. She knows the difference between feeling happy, sad, afraid or angry. Your child also shows fear of imaginary things, cares about how others act and shows affection for familiar people.

      Preschoolers are fascinated by the world around them, so you can expect lots of 'who', 'what' and 'why' questions. 

      You might need to allow more time when you're doing things with your preschooler – for example, so she can stop and look at a bug on the footpath.

      As they try to understand the world, preschoolers can sometimes get distracted. 

      It might seem like your preschooler isn't listening to you – but he might still be trying to figure out something you said five minutes ago.

      Independence is essential to preschoolers, who are very keen to do things for themselves. But your child needs your support to build confidence and self-esteem. Lots of positive attention, praise and opportunities to practise new skills will help.

      And preschoolers are getting better at self-regulation, which is great for getting along with others at preschool or playgroups. 

      But your child still needs your help with expressing strong feelings appropriately and managing behaviour, especially in challenging situations.

      Children are supposed to break the rules sometimes. Testing limits is how they learn about themselves and the world. The consequences you give them teach essential life lessons.

      Sometimes, however, behaviour problems can be a sign of a more serious issue. 

      When differentiating between normal and abnormal behaviour problems, it's essential to know about child development. What's normal for a preschooler isn't typical for a teenager.

      What Defines a Preschooler?

      A child of 3 or 4 is considered a preschooler. So whether or not your child is attending a formal preschool program, he is no longer a toddler. 

      Preschoolers are different from toddlers in that they develop the essential life skills, independence, and knowledge that they will need as they enter their school years.

      Normal Preschool Behavior

      As preschoolers seek independence, it's normal for them to argue and exercise their right to say "no." 

      They commonly vacillate between demanding they are a big kid who can do everything on their own to using baby talk to declare they need help with a simple task.

      Preschoolers may exhibit the occasional tantrum, but they should be gaining more control over their emotions and impulses than when they were toddlers. 

      Any temper tantrums at this stage should be shorter and less intense than the toddler years.

      Children of ages 4 and 5 may exhibit some minor aggression, but they should be learning how to use their words instead of violence.

      How Do I Know If My Child's Behavior Is Normal?

      Parents often have difficulty telling the difference between variations in normal behaviour and genuine behavioural problems. 

      In reality, the difference between normal and abnormal behaviour is not always clear; usually, it is a matter of degree or expectation. 

      A fine line often divides normal from abnormal behaviour, partly because what is "normal" depends upon the child's level of development, which can vary significantly among children of the same age. 

      Development can be uneven, too, with a child's social development lagging behind his intellectual growth or vice versa. 

      In addition, "normal" behaviour is in part determined by the context in which it occurs - that is, by the particular situation and time, as well as by the child's specific family values and expectations, and cultural and social background.

      Understanding your child's unique developmental progress is necessary to interpret, accept or adapt his behaviour (as well as your own). Remember, children have significant individual variations of temperament, development and behaviour.

      Three Types of Behaviour

      Some parents find it helpful to consider three general kinds of behaviour:

      Some kinds of behaviour are wanted and approved. They might include doing homework, being polite, and doing chores. These actions receive compliments freely and easily.

      Other behaviour is not sanctioned but is tolerated under certain conditions, such as during times of illness (of a parent or a child) or stress (a move, for instance, or the birth of a new sibling). 

      These behaviours might include not doing chores, regressive behaviour (such as baby talk), or being excessively self-centred.

      Still, other kinds of behaviour cannot and should not be tolerated or reinforced. 

      They include harmful actions to the child's physical, emotional, or social well-being, family members, and others. 

      They may interfere with the child's intellectual development. Therefore, they may be forbidden by law, ethics, religion, or social mores. 

      They might include aggressive or destructive behaviour, overt racism or prejudice, stealing, truancy, smoking or substance abuse, school failure, or an intense sibling rivalry.

      Child Behaviour Concerns in the Preschool Years



      Anxiety is a normal part of children's development, and preschoolers often fear things like being on their own or in the dark. 

      If your child worries too much or shows signs of anxiety, you can support her by acknowledging her fear, gently encouraging her to do things she's anxious about and praising her when she does. If stress is affecting your child's life, see your GP.


      Bullying can be devastating for children's confidence and self-esteem, especially in the preschool years. 

      If your child is being bullied at preschool, he needs lots of love and support, both at home and in preschool. 

      He also needs to know that you'll take action to prevent any further bullying.


      Disagreements and fighting among children are widespread. A few factors affect action – temperament, environment, age and skills. You can work with these factors to handle fighting in your family.


      Lots of children have habits, like biting nails or twirling hair. Your child's habits might bother you, but usually, it's nothing to worry about. Most traditions go away by themselves.


      You might have caught your child telling the occasional lie. But, unfortunately, lying is part of development, and it often starts around three years of age. 

      It's usually better to teach young children the value of honesty and telling the truth than to punish them for small lies.


      Shy behaviour is expected in preschoolers. If your child is slow to warm up, try to support her in social situations. 

      For example, you could stay at preschool for a while in the mornings during the early days. It's also good to praise your child for brave social behaviour, like responding to others, using eye contact, or playing away from you.


      If your child has tantrums, it might help to remember that he's still learning appropriate ways to express feelings. 

      If you work on reducing your child's stress, tuning into your child's feelings, and spotting your child's tantrum triggers, you should see fewer tantrums after he turns four.

      How can I improve my preschooler's behaviour?

      Every parent has been warned about the "terrible twos," but many parents find the threes and fours more challenging.

      When it comes to temperament, "some kids can have a more difficult time during the threes than the twos," Dr Meeker says, as children this age want to assert their independence. As a result, they are more aware of their own needs and desires and knowledgeable when they aren't being met.

      Is your preschooler's behaviour driving you crazy? Put a stop to tantrums and meltdowns by focusing and giving enough attention. "The most important thing is an emotional connection, giving your child one-on-one attention," says Amy McCready, a discipline expert and founder of Positive Parenting Solutions.

      Once an emotional connection is made, through spending particular time alone with your child, "the most important thing to work on is training," McCready continues.

      "If we take the time to teach them how to do things, from personal care to help with dinner, they will feel more empowered and less likely to act out. The more time we spend on training, the less time we have to spend on correcting negative behaviour."

      When to Worry

      These general warning signs may indicate more severe behaviour problems, especially when viewed than what is developmentally appropriate. 

      If you have concerns about your child's behaviour, talk to your child's doctor. They can help you determine whether your child's behaviour is normal or whether a referral to a specialist is needed.

      Difficulty Managing Emotions

      Although it is normal for preschoolers to have occasional temper tantrums, older children should cope with their feelings in a socially appropriate manner. 

      If your child can't control their anger, frustration, or disappointment in an age-appropriate manner, they could have an underlying emotional problem.

      Poor Impulse Control

      Impulse control develops slowly over time. Children who become aggressive after they begin school, or children who yell at their teacher as teens, likely need help developing better skills.

      Failure to Respond to Discipline

      It's normal for kids to repeat their mistakes from time to time to see if a parent will follow through with discipline. 

      But it's not normal for a child to exhibit the same behaviour repeatedly if you're applying consistent discipline. 

      If your child continues to exhibit the same misbehaviour regardless of the consequences, it could be a problem with the oppositional defiant disorder.

      Struggles in School

      Behaviour that interferes with school is not something that should be ignored. On the contrary, this misbehaviour may indicate an underlying behaviour disorder or learning disability. 

      Getting sent out of class, getting into fights at recess, and difficulty staying on task are potential warning signs.

      Trouble With Social Interactions

      When behaviour interferes with social interaction, this is a cause for concern. 

      It's normal for kids to have spats with peers, but if your child's behaviour prevents them from having friends, that's a problem. 

      Children should be able to develop and maintain healthy relationships with their peers.

      Sexualized Behavior

      Sexualised behaviours that are not developmentally appropriate are a warning sign, often of exposure to trauma or sexual abuse. 

      It's normal for kids to be curious about the opposite sex and to want to know where babies come from. But sexualised behaviour should never be coercive at any age.


      Anytime anyone (adult or child) engages in self-injury, you need to pay attention. Banging their head, burning themselves, or cutting themselves are all behaviours that need to be evaluated by a mental health professional.

      It's also essential to have a child evaluated by a professional if there is any talk about suicide.

      Your Response Plays a Role

      Your parental responses are guided by whether you see the behaviour as a problem.

      Frequently, parents over-interpret or overreact to a minor, average short-term change in behaviour. 

      At the other extreme, they may ignore or downplay a severe problem. They also may seek quick, straightforward answers to what are, in fact, complex issues. 

      All of these responses may create difficulties or prolong the time for a resolution.

      Behaviour that parents tolerate, disregard or consider reasonable differs from one family to the next.

      Some of these differences come from the parents' upbringing; they may have had very strict or permissive parents, and their children's expectations follow accordingly. 

      Other behaviour is considered a problem when parents feel that people are judging them for their child's behaviour; this leads to an inconsistent response from the parents, who may tolerate behaviour at home that they are embarrassed by in public.

      The parents' temperament, usual mood, and daily pressures will also influence how they interpret the child's behaviour.

      Easygoing parents may accept a broader range of behaviour as usual and be slower to label something a problem, while parents who are by nature more stern move more quickly to discipline their children. 

      Depressed parents, or parents having marital or financial difficulties, are less likely to tolerate much latitude in their offspring's behaviour. 

      Parents usually differ in their backgrounds and personal preferences, resulting in differing parenting styles influencing their behaviour and development.

      Tips on Helping Preschool Children Behave Well


      Use Reminders

      Preschoolers have short memories and are easily distracted. Therefore, you might need to remind your child about things several times. 

      For example, when it's nearly time to leave the park, try saying, 'Adele, we're going home soon. 

      Then give another reminder closer to when you leave – 'Adele, two more slides then we're going.

      Share Feelings

      If your preschooler understands how her behaviour affects you, she might be able to feel for you. 

      So you might say, 'I'm getting upset because there's so much noise, and I can't talk on the phone. 

      When you start the sentence with 'I', it gives your child the chance to change things for your sake.

      Change the Environment

      You can often prevent or minimise problem behaviour by changing your child's environment. 

      For example, if your preschooler is getting frustrated because your baby keeps crawling over his jigsaw puzzle, try to find a quiet spot where your preschooler can play undisturbed.

      What Should My Preschooler Be Able to Do at This Age?

      Preschoolers are learning many new skills and stretching their cognitive abilities. 

      Though these are the essential skills to look out for, be aware that every child develops differently, and yours might accomplish one skill earlier than others. 

      Don't worry about slight differences from the norm, but consult your pediatrician if you have concerns about the overall development. 

      At 3, he should have the fine motor skills to dress himself and the gross motor skills to pedal a tricycle. 

      Compared [with how he is at age] 2, a child is more interested in interactive play than parallel play. 

      Kids at three should be asking more profound questions and be curious about their environment. 

      By age 4, a child should be able to dress and undress himself, cut basic figures out of paper and paste them on another piece of paper, draw little stick figures, name four or five colours, understand your jokes, and joke with you. 

      At age 5, kids should be able to count, draw a person with the arms, legs, and body in the right places, exhibit imaginary and pretend play (sometimes with an imaginary friend), ride a two-wheel bicycle with training wheels, and articulate well enough to be understood.

      How Can I Help My Preschooler Become More Independent?

      The preschool age is a time for rapidly growing independence; your child learns to separate from you in preparation for attending school. 

      During the preschool years, she will learn essential life skills, like dressing and feeding herself. 

      Because children learn best when there are clear rules and expectations, establish regular routines. 

      The morning routine can involve going to the potty, getting dressed, and eating breakfast -- all skills that your child will eventually be able to do on her own. 

      Give some specific tasks that will make her feel important and empowered, like feeding the dog or putting dirty pyjamas in the hamper. 

      Simple chores can help her feel as though she has a daily contribution to make.

      How Do I Know If My Child Is Ready for Preschool?

      Preschool can be excellent preparation for kindergarten and the school years beyond, but just because your child has reached the age requirement for a school program doesn't mean she is ready. 

      Kids develop at different paces and have different needs for social and intellectual stimulation. 

      Think about your child's listening, socialising, and communicating (or language) skills if you are considering preschool.

      Many preschools require that children be potty trained, so keep your child's toileting needs in mind. Assess your child's personality to determine if preschool would be a good fit: 

      If a child has a lot of energy, and you feel she's bored with you during the day, or if she's not as tired during the day, she might be ready to go to preschool.

      A child's need for social stimulation is a factor, too. If you have an amiable, extroverted, outgoing child, it's nice for [her] to interact with other kids.

      Your Preschoolers' Behaviour and Your Feelings

      When your child's behaviour is challenging, you might feel angry or stressed.

      Looking after yourself by eating well, getting enough sleep and doing some physical activity can help. 

      It can also help to talk about your feelings with someone you trust, like your partner, a friend or your GP. Or you could call a parenting helpline in your state or territory.

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