The only rule to teaching your preschooler at home
Okay, okay. There really are no rules.
But this one strategy will make the MOST difference is teaching your child at home.
What is shared control?
Shared control is just that…sharing control with your child. Parents who share control with their children provide choices, listen to their children, and allow for flexibility in activities.
So let me break it down for you a little bit. I want my child to circle his name. But, nope, he wants to make lines. Okay, perfect, let’s make lines. I’m going to encourage him making lines. I’m going to talk to him about his lines. And once he’s done with the lines. I am going to encourage him (and maybe even model for him) how to circle his name. And if he REALLY REALLY REALLY doesn’t want to circle his name, I’m going to let it go.
This actually happened…see that picture above…it was happening right then. Lucas wanted to write the letter “L” over and over instead of whatever I was asking him to do. So I followed my own advice and let him do what he was SO excited about. By taking a step back and giving him the opportunity to make his own choice surely made him feel empowered and that empowerment translated into ownership. That means that Lucas doesn’t see our time together doing preschool at home as something that I make him do, it is something that he has a say in, as well.
A Little Bit of Self-Reflection
This is something you will hear me say again and again: if you don’t want to do it, neither does your preschooler.
Let’s apply this situation to your own life. You’re at work and you have a few tasks to do to get your day going. Do you want the latitude to choose which tasks to do first or last? Do you want the autonomy to do these tasks in your own way as long as they get done and done well and on time? Do you want to be able to decide to do something else completely and work on those tasks tomorrow?
I bet you would say yes to all of these questions. We don’t like being micromanaged at work. We want to be able to make choices about when and how we complete our tasks as long as we hit deadlines and perform well.
Guess what? Your preschooler wants that, too.
Imagine going into work and your entire day is preplanned for you. You’ve got to write emails from 9-10 and work on expense reports from 10-1130. Then you can get coffee and then you can make your phone calls for the next half-hour. Do you feel empowered in a situation like this? Do you take ownership of your work? Most times adults don’t. When we are in situations like this we often look for an exit.
We don’t want our children to look for an exit from learning at home. Really, we want them to look forward to this time. We want them to seek after this time. I always feel so privileged when Lucas comes to me and says, “Mom, let’s do my school”. Even if he makes missteps and even if I don’t share control perfectly or focus on his interests every time, I know I am getting some of this right because he comes back and asks me for more day after day.
And I know that’s what you want, too.
How Not to Share Control
Before I take you through the five strategies that will help you share control with your child, I want to highlight what NOT to do. Let’s go back to Lucas. I wanted him to circle his name and he wanted to write the letter L all over the paper. In this moment, I had a few choices to make.
Let me tell you what I did not do.
I didn’t choose to create a power struggle and try to FORCE Luc to circle his name. You know what? It’s not that important. We can circle on another day. We can circle later in the day. We can circle next week. I don’t want to micromanage Lucas and I don’t want to engage in a power struggle because a power struggle usually ends in him being upset, me feeling frustrated, and nobody learning anything.
Circling his name would be far less important than making his learning time exciting and engaging. When he feels successful and excited about what we are doing together, he will want to do it more. He will learn more. He will grow more. And in all of that, I will get what I want, too–a preschooler prepared for kindergarten when the time comes.
Don’t let power struggles derail creating a fun and engaging preschool experience for your child. That is easier said than done, though. Power struggles can be so common when working with preschoolers, especially our own preschoolers. Why? Your child has come into a time in his development where he has learned that he has a certain amount of control. And HE IS EXERCISING THAT CONTROL!
This can be especially frustrating, but we have to acknowledge that it is appropriate. At some point, children will learn that they are autonomous and have control. In fact, we want our children to learn this. We just need to help guide them along the way.
So, I’ve told you a lot about sharing control, but let me take you step by step through actually doing it with your preschooler.
Five Strategies to Use Right Now to Start Sharing Control
- Provide Choices
Building choice into whatever you are doing with your preschooler is a sure-fire way to share control. This doesn’t mean that your child has infinite choices–that wouldn’t be appropriate for a preschooler’s level of development. Providing choices with a preschooler may look more like, “which blocks would you like to use right now?” or “what do you want to play with first?” Even giving limited choices provides your child with some control. “Do you want to use crayons or markers?” “Do you want to paint with your fingers or use a paintbrush?” Permitting your child to make the final choice allows her to feel in control and creates that sense of ownership.
- Listen to your child
This may seem like a no-brainer, but I am guilty of this. In fact, Lucas just said to me, “Wait. I am trying to say something”.
And I felt like a giant dork!Giving our children the respect of listening to them when they talk is a pretty easy way to share control. When we make a habit of listening to our children to understand their point of view and to hear their ideas they grow to believe that their ideas are important which has all sorts of positive learning benefits:
- Development of a growth mindset
- Increased ability to take risks
- Confidence in their own learning/speaking ability
- Be Flexible
Sometimes we are doing things with our preschoolers and we haven’t built in choice–like when I asked Lucas to circle his name. There wasn’t another option. So how do you share control in those moments? You choose to be flexible with your child.
Lucas wanted to write letters and I wanted him to circle. Being flexible means that in that moment, Lucas got to write letters. Let’s say I planned an activity for us to build towers with blocks so that he could practice counting. I got all of the materials ready and shared my idea. And Lucas decided that he wanted to build a house for Spider Man, instead. If I am going to share control, I am going to be flexible here and switch gears. Cause you know what? Lucas can practice counting the blocks in Spider Man’s house, too.
- Allow Your Child to Make Mistakes
Of course, preschoolers will make mistakes.
But sometimes (and I must slowly raise my hand here), we forget that immense amount of learning that is taking place within our preschoolers..and we are quick to punish them.
I had a trainer once tell me something like, “we expect preschoolers to make mistakes with academic material but we often don’t expect them to make mistakes with social interactions.” That really hit home for me. Of course, preschoolers are going to mess up social interactions. There are many adults that mess up social interactions.
We can share control with our children by viewing their missteps as mistakes and taking the opportunity to teach them. Help them solve a problem they are having, help them come up with a solution before we jump to a punitive response.
- Focus on the Relationship
Lastly, treat your preschooler the way you want to be treated. You don’t want to be micromanaged, right? Don’t micromanage your preschooler. In respecting your child’s feelings, choices, and ideas you will continue to strengthen the loving relationship that you already have.
Relationships that are based on power and strict control are likely to breed situations where kids will misbehave because you’ve set up an adversarial relationship and kids are going to try to win.”–John Zola