- General Info
- 1-3 Years Old
- 3-5 Years Old
- Take Charge of TV
Helping Your Child
How well children will learn and develop
and how well they will do in school depends on a number of things, including
the children's health and physical well-being, their social and emotional
preparation and their language skills and general knowledge of the world.
Good Health and Physical Well-Being
Seeing to it that your preschool child has nutritious food, enough
exercise and regular medical care gives him1 a good start in life and lessens the chances that he will have serious
health problems or trouble learning later on.
Preschoolers require a healthy diet. After your child is
born, she requires nutritious food to keep her healthy. School-aged children
can concentrate better in class if they eat balanced meals that include
servings of breads and cereals; fruits and vegetables; meat, poultry and
fish and meat alternatives (such as eggs and dried beans and peas); and
milk, cheese and yogurt. You should see to it that your child does not eat
too many fatty foods and sweets. Children aged 2-5 generally can eat the
same foods as adults but in smaller portions. Your child's doctor or medical
clinic adviser can provide you with advice on what to feed a baby or a
toddler who under the age of 2. If you need food for your child, federal,
state and local programs can help. For example, the federal nutrition
program, called the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and
Children (WIC), distributes food to low-income women and their children
across the country. Food stamp programs also are available. If you want more
information or want to find out if you are eligible for food stamps, call or
visit your local or state health department. Your local librarian can help
you find names, addresses and phone numbers.
Preschoolers need opportunities to exercise. To learn to
control and coordinate the large muscles in his arms and legs, your child
needs to throw and catch balls, run, jump, climb and dance to music. To
learn to control and coordinate the small muscles in his hands and fingers,
he needs to color with crayons, put together puzzles, use
blunt-tipped-safety-scissors, zip his jacket and grasp small objects such as
coins. If you suspect that your child has a disability, see a doctor as soon
as possible. Early intervention can help your child to develop to his full
Preschoolers require regular medical checkups, immunizations and
dental care. It's important for you to find a doctor or a clinic
where your child can receive routine health care as well as special
treatment if she becomes sick or injured. Early immunizations can help
prevent a number of diseases including measles, mumps, German measles
(rubella), diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hib (Haemophilus influenzae
type b), polio and tuberculosis. These diseases can have serious effects on
your child's physical and mental development. Talk to your doctor about the
benefits and risks of immunization.2 Beginning by the age of 3 at the latest, your child also should have regular
Social and Emotional Preparation
Children start school with different degrees of social and emotional
maturity. These qualities take time and practice to learn. Give your child
opportunities at home to begin to develop the following positive qualities.
- Confidence: Children must feel good about themselves
and believe they can succeed. Confident children are more willing to
attempt new tasks-and try again if they don't succeed the first time.
- Independence: Children must learn to do things for
- Motivation: Children must want to learn.
- Curiosity: Children are naturally curious and must
remain so to get the most out of learning opportunities.
- Persistence: Children must learn to finish what they
- Cooperation: Children must be able to get along with
others and learn to share and take turns.
- Self-control: Children must learn that there are good
and bad ways to express anger. They must understand that some behaviors,
such as hitting and biting, are not acceptable.
- Empathy: Children must have an interest in others and
understand how others feel.
Here are some things that you can do to help your child develop these
- Show your child that you care about him and that you are
dependable. Children who feel loved are more likely to be
confident. Your child must believe that, no matter what, someone will look
out for him. Give your baby or toddler plenty of attention, encouragement,
hugs and lap time.
- Set a good example. Children imitate what they see
others do and what they hear others say. When you exercise and eat
nourishing food, your child is more likely to do so as well. When you
treat others with respect, your child probably will, too. If you share
things with others, your child also will learn to be thoughtful of others'
- Provide opportunities for repetition. It takes
practice for a child to crawl, pronounce new words or drink from a cup.
Your child doesn't get bored when she repeats things. Instead, by
repeating things until she learns them, your child builds the confidence
she needs to try new things.
- Use appropriate discipline. All children need to have
limits set for them. Children whose parents give them firm but loving
discipline generally develop better social skills and do better in school
than do children whose parents set too few or too many limits. Here are
- Direct your child's activities, but don't be too bossy.
- Give reasons when you ask your child to do something. Say, for
example, "Please move your truck from the stairs so no one falls over
it"-not, "Move it because I said so."
- Listen to your children to find out how he feels and whether he needs
- Show love and respect when you are angry with your child. Criticize
your child's behavior but not the child. Say, for example, "I love you,
but it's not okay for you to draw pictures on the walls. I get angry when
you do that."
- Help your child make choices and work out problems. You might ask your
4-year-old, for example, "What can we do to keep your brother from
knocking over your blocks?"
- Be positive and encouraging. Praise your child for a job well done.
Smiles and encouragement go much further to shape good behavior than harsh
- Let your child do many things by herself. Young
children need to be watched closely. However, they learn to be independent
and to develop confidence by doing tasks such as dressing themselves and
putting their toys away. It's important to let your child make choices,
rather than deciding everything for her.
- Encourage your child to play with other children and to be
with adults who are not family members. Preschoolers need social
opportunities to learn to see the point of view of others. Young children
are more likely to get along with teachers and classmates if they have had
experiences with different adults and children.
- Show a positive attitude toward learning and toward school. Children come into this world with a powerful need to discover and to
explore. If your child is to keep her curiosity, you need to encourage it.
Showing enthusiasm for what your child does ("You've drawn a great
picture!") helps to make her proud of her achievements.
Children also become excited about starting school when their parents
show excitement about this big step. As your child gets ready to enter
kindergarten, talk to him about school. Talk about the exciting things that
he will do in kindergarten, such as making art projects, singing and playing
games. Be enthusiastic as you describe all the important things that he will
learn from his teacher-how to read, how to how to count and how to measure
and weigh things.
Language and General Knowledge
Children can develop language skills only if they have many opportunities
to talk, listen and use language to solve problems and learn about the
Long before your child enters school, you can do many things to help her
develop language. You can:
- Give your child opportunities to play. Play is how
children learn. It is the natural way for them to explore, to become
creative, to learn to make up and tell stories and to develop social
skills. Play also helps children learn to solve problems-for example, if
her wagon tips over, a child must figure out how to get it upright again.
When they stack up blocks, children learn about colors, numbers, geometry,
shapes and balance. Playing with others helps children learn how to
- Support and guide your child as she learns a new activity. Parents can help children learn how to do new things by "scaffolding," or
guiding their efforts. For example, you as you and your toddler put
together a puzzle, you might point to a piece and say, "I think that this
is the piece we need for this space. Why don't you try it?" Then have the
child piece up the piece and place it correctly. As the child becomes more
aware of how the pieces fit into the puzzle, you can gradually withdraw
- Talk to your child, beginning at birth. Your baby
needs to hear your voice. Voices from a television or radio can't take the
place of your voice, because they don't respond to your baby's coos and
babbles. You child needs to know that when he makes a certain sound, for
example, "mamamamamama," that his mother will response-she will smile and
talk back to him. The more you talk to your baby, the more he will learn
and the more he will have to talk about as he gets older.
Everyday activities provide opportunities to talk, sometimes in detail,
about what's happening around him. As you give your child a bath, for
example, you might say, "First let's stick the plug in the drain. Now let's
turn on the water. Do you want your rubber duck? That's a good idea. Look,
the duck is yellow, just like the rubber duck we saw on 'Sesame Street.'"
(See “Baby Talk”.)
- Listen to your child. Children have their own special
thoughts and feelings, joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. As your child's
language skills develop, encourage her to talk about her thoughts and
feelings. Listening is the best way to learn what's on her mind and to
discover what she knows and doesn't know and how she thinks and learns. It
also shows your child that her feelings and thoughts are valuable.
- Ask your child questions, particularly questions that
require him to give more than a "yes" or "no" response. If, as you walk
with your toddler in a park, he stops to pick up leaves, you might point
out how the leaves are the same and how they are different. With an older
child, you might ask, "What else grows on trees?"
- Answer your child's questions. Asking questions is a
good way for your child to learn to compare and to classify
things-different kinds of dogs, different foods and so forth. Answer your
child's questions thoughtfully and, whenever possible, encourage her to
answer her own questions. If you don't know the answer to a question, say
so. Together with your child, try to find the answer.
- Read aloud to your child every day. Children of all
ages love to be read to-even babies as young as six weeks. Although your
child doesn't understand the story or poem that you read, reading together
gives her a chance to learn about language and enjoy the sound of your
voice. You don't have to be an excellent reader for your child to enjoy
reading aloud together. Just by allowing her to connect reading with the
warm experiences of being with you, you can create in her a lifelong love
of reading. (See “Read
- Be aware of your child's television viewing. Good
television programs can introduce children to new worlds and promote
learning, but poor programs or too much TV watching can be harmful. It's
up to you to decide how much TV and what kinds of shows your child should
watch. (See Taking Charge of TV.)
- Be realistic about your child's abilities and interests. Set high standards and encourage our child to try new things. Children who
aren't challenged become bored. But children who are pushed along too
quickly or who are asked to do things that don't interest them can become
frustrated and unhappy.
- Provide opportunities for your child to do and see new things. The more varied the experiences that she has, the more she will learn
about the world. No matter where you live, your community can provide new
experiences. Go for walks in your neighborhood or go places on the bus.
Visit museums, libraries, zoos and other places of interest.
If you live in the city, spend a day in the country. If you live in the
country, spend a day in the city. Let your child hear and make music, dance
and paint. Let her participate in activities that help to develop her
imaginations and let her express her ideas and feelings. The activities in
the next section of this booklet can provide your children with these
Please Note1: In this book,
we refer to a child as “him” in some places and “her” in others. We do this
to make the book easier to read. Please understand, however, that every
point that we make is the same for girls and boys.
Please Note2: Some parents and
doctors do not agree that immunizations are important. Others have
objections to them based on religious and cultural teachings.