Parenting can be the most challenging job in the world; it is an all-day, every-day, in-your-face, in-your-home job that comes with no instructions.  If we are lucky, we had a good example when we were kids, but who can really remember that far back?  We may have even had a bad example when we were kids, which we are more likely to remember and naturally be inclined to make the same mistakes.  So, how can we best parent?  First, be well-rested.  Then, follow these 4 principles to succeed at parenting toddler and preschool aged children.

4 principles to succeed at parenting toddler and preschool aged children

  1. Have a relationship with your child.  Play is their language, and reading to them helps them make words their language as they grow.  Set aside time each day to give your undivided attention to your child.  Even 20 minutes a day of play time with you communicates to your child that you care.  Make it a positive experience by not judging his or her play.  With toddlers, you can tell the child about what he or she is doing (Siegel, 2012), mixing narration with interaction.  With preschoolers, be silly and join them in their worlds of imagination and exploration.
  2. Give your child structure.  Structure makes him or her feel safe by giving some predictability.  For example, interrupting your child to take a potty break during potty training is less upsetting if he or she knows it is coming and can expect it.  Similarly, giving preschool age children a two-minute “warning” that in two minutes their activity will change helps them to mentally ‘shift gears’ increases the likelihood they will cooperate when it is time to clean up toys and get ready for lunch, for example.  Structure can include a daily routine, including regular meal/snack/nap times.  A well-rested child with belly that is comfortably full is way more likely to have a good attitude and obey your directives.  
  3. We can influence our children’s behavior with positive reinforcement – encouraging good behavior by giving effective commands, establishing home rules, and using effective punishment procedures (Northey, Wells, Silverman, & Bailey, 2003) such as “time-out” for pushing a sibling.  When done correctly, time-outs actually teach children a life-skill of self-soothing while reinforcing that the behavior that resulted in the time-out is not acceptable.  A time-out can start at the same amount of minutes as the child’s age, but often a child can come down in less time, so adjust accordingly.  It should be in the same safe place in the home. Let it be a time-out…once the child is there and has been calmly told why, do not give him or her any more attention until the timer dings.
  4. Give your child some choices.  “Do you want grapes or a banana?” “Do you want to wear the blue pants or the green pants?” It gives them a sense of control so they are less likely to fight you when they do not have a choice, teaches them you value their opinion which encourages cooperation with you, and gives them practice in making decisions.


Julie Perron, M.S., L.M.F.T.A.


Julie Perron is a marriage and family therapist at Wright Directions Counseling in South Bend, IN.



Northey, W.F., Wells, K.C., Silverman, W.K., & Bailey, C.E. (2003). Childhood behavioral and emotional disorders. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 29(4), 523-545.


Siegel, D. J. (2012). The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press. ISBN: 9781462503902.