Living with a preschooler can be entertaining and unnerving at the same time. But some of your child’s wacky and weird behaviors are actually signs of developmental progress. Get the scoop:
1. What they do: Lick food to lay claim to it
When: Anytime something extra tasty is around (think: gummies, chocolate bars, or birthday cake)
Why: Preschoolers are still little enough to be interested in exploring the world with their mouths (like babies who gnaw on everything from teethers to dirty shoes). But they’re also savvy enough to realize that once they’ve licked something, no one else in the family will want it.
What to do about it: Stay calm—little kids love a big reaction! So don’t give in to the attention seeking. Take away the ruined item, and give its rightful owner something better in exchange (while the licker gets nothing).
2. What they do: Gleefully run around naked
When: Not just after a bath, but any old time they can get away with it
Why: They don’t yet have any inhibitions about privacy or body image; some kids may also have sensory aversions to the texture of their clothing.
What to do about it: Allow some naked time at home if you can, while explaining that in public places, nudity isn’t appropriate (or legal!) For a sensory-sensitive kid, you may need to seek out soft, lightweight, loose clothing, and remove scratchy labels.
3. What they do: Collect tiny things, like itty-bitty action figures or even scraps of seemingly meaningless paper
When: Whenever they can get their hands on them
Why: Kids feel like big shots when they have their very own stuff, and lots of it; the tinier the object, the easier it is to accumulate more.
What to do about it: As long as the collection isn’t hazardous (like moldy food), it’s fine to allow it and even encourage it. Forming a collection helps kids work on academic skills, such as classifying (helps with math) and distinguishing differences (helps with reading).
4. What they do: Repeat things, repeatedly
When: When it’s time to watch a movie or get dressed (in the same T-shirt as yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that)
Why: Repetition is comforting. Kids like knowing exactly what to expect.
What to do about it: It’s OK to accommodate these repetitive streaks when you can; eventually the phase will pass. With clothing, you may have to keep duplicates of certain items. Or try to work up to a rotation of several favored items so you can keep things clean. That goes for movies and books, too: branch out from the favored one with something related—say, stories about the ocean or exploring if your kid can’t get enough Moana.
5. What they do: Become obsessed with poop
When: Usually around potty-training time, but can continue for months—and years—after
Why: During the baby and toddler years, you spent a lot of time discussing pee and poop with your child—remember? Once he’s mastered using the toilet, his pride in his accomplishments can show up as a fascination with those bodily functions: thinking about them, talking about them, and especially laughing about them.
What to do about it: Be matter-of-fact: Yep, everybody poops. But not everybody talks about it, so explain when it’s OK to do so (at home, but not at the dinner table) and when it’s not (in public, at school). And if your child is still learning to use the toilet reliably, it’s best to let the potty talk slide. Discouraging it could stop him from telling you when he needs to go.
6. What they do: Pick their nose
When: If they have a cold, or just anytime their fingers feel like doing some exploring
Why: As with nakedness, kids don’t have a sense of shame about this behavior. A nostril is just another hole for them to poke their fingers in out of curiosity.
What to do about it: Show your child how to use a tissue and explain that she’ll need to have one in hand when she is excavating her nose. Teach her how to blow her nose into a tissue (most kids can start to do this at about two or three years old) and make a big deal about how it’s a grown-up skill to master.
7. What they do: Experiment with gender roles
When: At playtime or when dressing
Why: In the preschool years, kids are still learning what makes someone a boy or a girl, a man or a woman. So they may enjoy trying out clothes or toys typically designated for the opposite sex.
What to do about it: Nothing; this is developmentally normal, and allowing it helps discourage harmful stereotypes. In fact, make sure kids do get the chance to play with all kinds of toys. Little boys need to nurture baby dolls (it helps build empathy and emotional skills) and little girls should get the chance to play with tools and trucks (to strengthen spatial skills).
8. What they do: Speak in rhymes at all times
When: After the language explosion of the toddler years
Why: It’s fun to play with language and say silly things.
What to do about it: If you can stand it, try not to reprimand it! Preschoolers often go on rhyming jags in which they reel off as many rhymes as they can think of, one after the other. Understanding what makes a rhyme is actually a pre-literacy skill, so if your child is doing this, he’s on the road to reading.