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"Poopy." "Butt." "I know you are, but what I am!" Preschool lingo is going strong at my house these days. I know it's normal. My son just turned five, and 5-year-olds think anything that has to do with poop is hilarious.

But the silly behaviors—along with some pretty fierce opposition and frustration-based meltdowns—have increased tenfold during the last few months with school closures, self-quarantine and now a slow national reopening that doesn't feel anything like "going back to normal."

As a family therapist who has done play therapy with preschool-age kids for more than 10 years, and with three children of my own, I've heard it all. Preschoolers are adorable little people who are testing their worlds constantly, trying to figure it all out. Wise beyond their years when not talking about bathroom stuff, these kids are working overtime trying to keep up with everyone around them.

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But right now, little kids are spinning—learning a new normal, and trying to feel some sense of control in their lives.


In preschool, my son had 10 other kids the same height, who met him at eye level, who talked to him, not down to him. He had a whole group of other people who thought the same way, spoke the same way and played the same games. They communicated through toys, not words. They chased and jumped and smiled and laughed, and fell down and felt in sync with one another. He had his people.

Play is how kids experience, practice and master their world. Play is the tool by which preschoolers develop cognitive, emotional, social and physical skills while building imagination and creativity. Being able to play is the most important thing for young children.

By age 5, kids have developed real friendships and have preferences for how and what they like to play, and with whom. And the truth is, when preschoolers can't play with their classmates and friends, they miss them deeply—even if they don't know how to say that, and can't remember their names.

When my preschooler's "potty talk," meltdowns and outbursts were at a new high, I realized what he was missing.

We set up a Facetime call with his buddy Max, and I held my breath. When Max's little face appeared on the screen, my son grabbed the phone and scurried into the living room by himself. I followed, whisper-shouting, "Don't touch the phone! Just sit still!" Then I watched as he and Max rolled around on the ground together, each at their own homes, making silly faces, giggling, turning the phones in circles.

Then, of course, I heard my son say, "Poop!" but before I could correct him, I saw Max light up like a Christmas tree and say, "Pee pee!"

More laughter erupted. They were in heaven.

Somehow amid quarantine and the school demands of my older kids, I forgot that what my 5-year-old needed was some regular old play to keep learning and keep feeling calm and connected.

Here are a few quick tips for finding your preschooler on their level right now, to help balance out their world and keep calm in your home.

1. Play each day you can.

It doesn't have to be for hours. Thirty minutes is usually enough. Most importantly—play by their rules! Follow their lead.

The funny thing is, after that virtual playdate with Max, my son hasn't asked for another one. It's hard for kids to sit face to face with another kid and just talk. That's not how kids work. They connect by doing something together. For preschoolers, that is tough through a screen.

What is doable, though, is giving them a connection through play on their terms at home. When I started spending time down on the floor with toys and games for at least half an hour every day with my preschooler, I saw his frustrations disappear, his behavior change from negative to positive again.

2. Be silly.

When you hear, "Poopy!" they are saying, "Hey! I need attention!" Resist the urge to dole out a consequence. Get down on your knees, make eye contact, and tickle them as if your life depends on it. (If they don't like to be tickled, give hugs, kisses, scoop them up, fly them like an airplane. Whatever is playful for them, do it.) Then remind them poop goes in the bathroom, and they can ask for tickles if they want your attention.

3. Take their cues.

I know it is hard to stop what you're doing and repeatedly "come see!" all day long, but when a child is positively asking for acknowledgment, meeting that need forges bonds of steel, giving them confidence and the feeling that they are seen and heard. It reduces negative attention-seeking behavior, as well.

So follow their cues and take the opportunity to enter their world. You might even discover it's fun, and stay awhile.

Lace up your shoes: A baby on the move means a mama on the move!

Scooting, rolling, crawling—there is no denying that their increasing mobility makes your life a bit busier.

Gone are the days when your baby was content to hang out in one place to observe. And, really, who can blame them? With so much to discover, your curious little one's cognitive skills are booming along with their fine motor skills.

It's natural to feel as though everything revolves around your baby's schedule, wants and needs right now. But it's time for you to think of yourself, mama! Now is the perfect time to treat yourself to something that'll help you adjust to mom life. Maybe that's a cozy new outfit (perfect for Sunday morning snuggles), a product that streamlines your beauty routine, or something that'll motivate you to get back to regular workouts.

As you celebrate the 8-month mark, here are a few helpful items to toss in your shopping cart:

For a little jam session: Bright Starts safari beats

Sitting unassisted offers your baby an exciting new view of the world! Keep them encouraged as they build their sitting endurance with a toy that also introduces colors, musical sounds and more.

$9.99

For safe exploring: Skip Hop playpen

Skip Hop playpen

When your baby constantly wants to play with mama, it can be nice to give yourself a breather. A spacious playpen is a lifesaver when you need to keep them in your sights while crossing some items off your to-do list.

$159.99

Indestructible dinnerware: Cloud Island plate

cloud island

As your little one graduates from purees to more traditional dinner time fare, it's a nice time to introduce plates, bowls and cups—just not your grandma's breakable dish set.

$5.99

Follow the leader: Skip Hop crawl toy

skip hop

It's a fact that remains true throughout life: Getting moving is easier with proper motivation. If your baby is this close to crawling, give them a bit of extra encouragement with a toy that begs to be chased around the room.

$24.99

For keeping stairs off-limits: Toddleroo safety gate

Having a baby in the house certainly makes you look at things differently, like those stairs that now feel incredibly hazardous. On the flip side, since permitted people (like you!) will want to access the stairs regularly, it's helpful to have a gate that's easy to open with one hand.

$24.99

For looking cute in your sleep: Stars Above short pajama set

Stars above

If you've spent the past few months sleeping in milk-stained pajamas, you are due for an upgrade, mama. We're willing to bet that a special someone in your life will approve of this cute set, too.

$21.99

For supporting your ladies: Auden full-coverage t-shirt bra

t-shirt bra

Let's just call it like it is: Your breasts have been on quite a rollercoaster ever since that pregnancy test was positive. Whether you are nursing less frequently or exclusively bottle feeding now, you owe it to yourself to try out some bras that actually fit.

$14.99

To cover up household odors: Project 62 3-wick candle

Project 62 candle

One of the quickest, best ways to refresh a space? A candle with your favorite scents. Take a moment to take a deep breath in and exhale any tension—ahh.

$12.99

If you have to skip that shower: Living Proof dry shampoo

living proof

If a day of chasing after your baby means you have to pick between collapsing on the couch or taking a shower, just know we have zero judgment for the camp that goes with dry shampoo.

$23.99

For the nap time hustle: Merrithew Soft Dumbbells

soft dumbbells

Running after and picking up your baby is a workout all on its own. But if you also like a little dedicated sweat time for your mental and physical health, a basic set of hand weights is a simple (yet super effective) way to ensure you can squeeze in those at-home workouts.

$18.19

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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How often do we see a "misbehaving" child and think to ourselves, that kid needs more discipline? How often do we look at our own misbehaving child and think the same thing?

Our society is conditioned to believe that we have to be strict and stern with our kids, or threaten, shame or punish them into behaving. This authoritarian style of parenting is characterized by high expectations and low responsiveness—a tough love approach.

But while this type of authoritarian parenting may elicit "obedient" kids in the short-term, studies suggest that children who are shamed or punished in the name of discipline face challenges in the long-term. Research suggests that children who are harshly disciplined or shamed tend to be less happy, less independent, less confident, less resilient, more aggressive and hostile, more fearful and at higher risk for substance abuse and mental health issues as adults and adolescents.

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The reason? No one ever changes from being shamed.

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