Many parents consider the preschool stage the most challenging season of childhood. That's because preschoolers are bundles of energy and curiosity, who demand copious amounts of their parents' time and attention. Finding enough activities for a preschooler - and trying to keep up with him or her - can frustrate any parent.
But you can beat fatigue and burnout while also giving your best to your preschooler. Here's how:
- Get enough sleep. This is possible, with a little creativity. Aim to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning, allowing for at least eight hours of sleep each night. Don't alter your regimen (even on weekends) so your body will adjust to it. Take naps yourself when your child naps. Trade off childcare duties with your spouse or another mom so you all can take turns getting the rest you need. If you don't have enough time to sleep, try to rest during the downtime you do have, focusing your mind on Scripture verses as you rest.
- Take advantage of the help that's available to you. Sign up for a mom's day out program (usually offered through churches or community centers), join a Mother's of Preschoolers group at a local church, hire a teen to play with your child one afternoon a week to free you up, or swap playdates with other moms (watching all the kids at your house one week, then having her watch them at her house the next week). Acknowledge your human limitations, and decide to drop one old responsibility for every new one you take on.
- Pay attention to your health. Exercise regularly, eat nutritiously (with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein) and drink at least eight glasses of water every day. Remember that, if you take care of yourself, you'll be better able to serve your child.
- Simplify your life. Try to minimize the amount of time you spend cleaning the house, such as by enlisting your child's help for tasks he or she can do and multitasking (cleaning the bathroom while your child bathes, organizing your child's toys while you're playing with him or her). Try to plan dinner in advance, and get started on preparation tasks like chopping up meat while you're doing other things in the kitchen earlier in the day. Consider simple meal ideas like frozen pizzas and salads that your family can help dress up. Take one day a week to observe the Sabbath by worshipping and resting.
- Use books and music to feed your mind and spirit. Inspirational, insightful books and music can keep you from feeling cooped up and give you more to ponder than what you and your preschooler can discuss.
- Use humor to cope. Write down funny things your preschooler says and does. Enjoy playing silly games with your child.
- Keep growing closer to God. Ask God to use your experiences as a parent to transform you. Carve out regular time to pray and read Scripture, even if you can only devote a few minutes each day to a quiet time. Remind yourself that God is present with you throughout your day.
- Understand how your preschooler thinks, and use that to your advantage. Realize that, because preschoolers live in the moment, you can easily distract them to move them along from one activity to another. Know that, because preschoolers often react to situations without thinking them through first, you don't need to take dramatic outbursts as seriously as they're expressed. Instead, use humor and love to calm your child.
- Be patient with potty-training. Understand that each child learns how to use the potty best on his or her own timetable. Try to relax and use gentle motivation and rewards.
- Avoid struggles over food. Don't force your preschooler to eat when he or she isn't hungry. But when your child is hungry, offer the most nutritious foods first. Supplement your preschooler's diet with a daily multivitamin. Try to present foods in artistic, fun ways that capture your child's interest. Let your preschooler help you choose food at the grocery store.
- Deal with biting. If your child bites another child (as preschoolers sometimes do), swiftly and firmly let your child no that biting another person is not acceptable behavior. Encourage your preschooler to "use words" to express frustration.
- Give your child plenty of opportunities for creative play. Make toys such as these available to him or her: Play-Doh, a sandbox, dress-up clothes, crafts, building toys (such as blocks), and puppets. Read to your preschooler every day, and discuss the illustrations you see inside the books. Enjoy music together. Allow your child (and your house) to get a little messy during the exploration process.
- Season your discipline with grace. Place as much emphasis on loving your children as you do on training them. Use positive reinforcement when you can. Consider whether you might be expecting too much of your child in a particular situation. Give your child - and yourself - enough downtime to prevent stress. Correct your child's behavior, but don't berate your child himself or herself. Be sure to apologize to your preschooler when you react too harshly. Handle tantrums by walking away (if you're at home), or taking your child to a private place (if you're out in public). Don't ever change your answer because of your child's tantrum; stand firm and tell him or her that you won't listen to whining or screaming.
- Get your child to bed effectively. Try to maintain the same bedtime every night. Establish bedtime rituals that help your child settle down, such as a bath, a snack, and a story. Consider letting your preschooler march through the house on a "Good-night parade." Sing to him or her, or play soothing bedtime music.
- Teach your child about God. Regularly pray with your child, you both can share that intimate time with God together. Let your preschooler overhear you pray sometimes; this will help him or her learn more about how God cares. Sing worship songs together. Read kid's devotional books together.
- Invite God to use your preschooler to teach you. Be alert for the many ways God speaks to you as you interact with your child, and seek to respond in ways that help you grow as a person.
Adapted from Survival Tips for Parents of Preschoolers, Copyright © 2003 by Becky Freeman. Published by Tyndale House Publishers.
Becky Freeman is the author of more than 20 humorous books for moms and kids, and a popular speaker at retreats and conferences, including Hearts at Home. She received the distinguished alumni award from Texas A&M for her work in early childhood education. Becky is the mother of four and lives in east Texas.