Skip to Content

Understanding Your Preschooler’s Mindset and Correcting Behaviors Accordingly

This post was originally published at Wiley Adventures, in February 2018.

Parenting. The art of figuring out little human minds, teaching, helping and shaping the person inside. Far from a simple task.

In the preschool years, there is a lot of learning that needs to be done as our children open their eyes wider to the world around them. Our babies are becoming more independent by the hour, and they test the waters. Some days they seem far more grown up than they should be, and others they seem to revert to their baby-like behaviors. Providing structure and discipline during these years is essential, but can also be quite the challenge!

There is a very big difference between a child that is acting childish and doing something foolish, versus one that is being defiant. And, the consequence needs to fit the crime. I find this topic to be so fascinating, because the reality is I see my daughter oscillating between these lands and it’s often hard to figure out which land she’s visiting at any given time: “The land of Childish Mistakes”, or the “Land of Defiant Misdeeds”. (Preschoolwise, pg 156)

So, let’s look at these two lands as described in the Preschoolwise book:

Childishness: “Innocent immaturity”. (pg 157) These are all of the accidental mistakes that our children make- they spill a glass of water, they run so fast out at the playground that they bump into someone, or they pick flowers from the neighbor’s yard. These are all completely innocent, and accidental mistakes. The child has no idea that they are only supposed to pick flowers that were not purposefully planted by someone else. When a child “does something without knowing it was wrong”, this is considered to be childishness, and not defiance. (pg 157)

Defiance: “Implies bad motives”. (pg 157) When a child knows that something is wrong, but chooses to do it anyway, it is considered defiance. I love how it is described in the Preschoolwise book.

“Childishness is usually a head problem- a lack of knowledge. Defiance is usually a heart problem- the child does not want to do the right thing.” (pg 157)

Both childishness and defiance need to be corrected, but the correction or consequence will differ greatly depending on if the child was being childish or defiant.

In the Preschoolwise book, Ezzo talks about the four laws of correction. These 4 laws will help you to administer correction that is fair and effective.

Law 1: Distinguish Between Childishness and Defiance
I tend to hold my daughter to super high standards. She’s smart. So very smart, and very mature. So when she does something she shouldn’t do, I have to really think hard about her intentions. She’s pretty rarely just childish. So rare, that when it happens, I sometimes don’t catch it. I have to make sure I catch those moments and address the action accordingly.

Conversely, many parents assume their children must not know better. Think again. Don’t always give your child a free pass for being childish, simply because of their age. Give them the credit they deserve and think about how often you’ve told them not to do something. If you’ve said it before, they are being defiant, not childish. Children have excellent little memories.

Law 2: All Correction Must Promote Learning
There are two quotes that I just love in this section of the book:

“Correction requires explanation. Without the why of wrong there is no correction, just a random redirection of behavior.” (pg 159)

“Children learn by gaining knowledge.” (pg 159)

I love these quotes so much. When parents simply say “because I said so” as an answer to a question, it isn’t doing much good. Yes, I get that we want our children to listen to us without demanding an explanation for our request. I get that parents want that respect. But, I’d argue that children are in this wonderful part of their lives where they want to LEARN.

We need to take full advantage of that. Let’s not view the “why” as questioning our authority. Let’s view it as a legit question and search for knowledge. And let’s take on the responsibility to teach our children. Whether the act was childish or defiant, the child needs to learn from their behaviors.

Sometimes natural consequences answer the why. Sometimes it’s taking the time to provide a simple explanation. “Consider the behavioral explanation you give today to be a deposit on tomorrow’s behavior.” (pg 160)

Law 3: Make Any Punishment Fit the Crime
Not all actions should be corrected with the same consequence. Some things to consider:

– The age of the child (a 3 year old should be given a different consequence than that of a 4th grader)

– The frequency of the offense (The first offense should be treated far differently than the tenth)

– The context of the moment (Was your child just following the social norm, or was your child leading the group- never is this an excuse, but just something to take into consideration. A child may know not to do something, but if everyone else in the room is doing it, they might be confused if they are 3 and just figuring out their worlds).

– The overall characterization of behavior (Is this the only behavior, or is it part of a larger pattern of behavior that needs addressing? Is it a symptom of a bigger problem?)

– The need for balance (Too harsh a punishment will cause a power struggle and lead to little learning, but too lenient will fall short of correction). Find what works for your family and be consistent.

Law 4: An Offense Against a Person or Property Requires and Apology
In our house, we require apologies. I know this is not the norm of today, but we have found that this is something we want to require of our children. Just as we require please and thank you to be said, we require apologies. Not only an “I’m sorry”, but an “I’m sorry for ___”. When our daughter was 2 we’d help her in this process. We’d identify the behavior she’d need to apologize for. Then we started asking if she could identify it. Now, at 3, she does it all on her own without any prompting.

The Preschoolwise book also suggests asking for forgiveness, and I have to say I really love this idea. Requiring a “deeper commitment, that of seeking forgiveness”. (pg 163) Ezzo even mentions to try this with your marriage. The next time you have an argument with your spouse, seek forgiveness instead of just saying I’m sorry. “Will you forgive me for ___?” Seems like quite the world changer to me!

This chapter has SO many wonderful things to take into consideration. I’d highly recommend taking a look at the Preschoolwise book. Not only does it expand on these sections above, it then goes into some specific correction methods. These books are just packed full of useful information, far beyond that of just schedules and sleep. 


Other Posts of Interest

Behaviors I “Go to the Mat” For– 4 Behaviors You Shouldn’t Ignore

Knowing and Teaching the Final Desired Expectation


6 Methods of Correction- Toddlerwise

4 Things You Need to Know about Disciplining Toddlers

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.