Parenting preschool age children is not an easy task some days. Parenting preschoolers with mental health special needs can be even more daunting. Preschoolers come with challenging behaviors already, but when a preschooler has mental health needs, the challenges can seem unending. There are three important steps to take when creating a healthy mental health environment in the home. Preschoolers need structure, clear expectations and consistent discipline practices.
Parenting a Preschool Aged Child: Structure for Mental Health
Preschool age children are most comfortable in a structured environment. A child needs to feel secure before any other need can be met effectively. By having a highly structured environment, it will help alleviate some of the anxiety that preschoolers with mental health needs have. Preschoolers with mental health needs are often thrown off by abrupt changes in schedule and different adults in the environment. Keeping a rigid routine will help a child with mental health issues be confident in their environment and what it coming.
Parenting a Preschool Aged Child: Behavior Expectations
Preschool children with mental health special needs often have many challenging behaviors. Clear, consistent behavior expectations will make life easier for everyone! Every adult in the environment needs to have the same expectations, which should be following the rules of the home. Children with mental health issues need to be taught the behavior that is expected. Punishment rarely works on these children. If the issue is cleaning up, then offer the choice, “You can have ___, when you clean up___.” Threatening to take away a preferred item or to spank a child with mental health issues will only create more anxiety for the child which will lead to more outbursts.
Parenting a Preschool Aged Child: Mental Health and Discipline
In many homes, there are time out chairs or areas of the house for a child to go to get themselves together. These are appropriate for children with mental health issues, but should be used in a cooperative way with the child. If a child is sent to a time out spot, don’t set a time limit. When the child is calm and ready to talk, have a conversation about what happened and how to fix it. Help the child fix the problem while telling them what you want to see happen. “When you clean up your toys, you are helping mommy/daddy” or “Let’s go tell ___ sorry for hitting, and then have safe hands when you are playing.” Encourage children to find adults to help solve problems. Preschool age children with mental health issues often have difficulty problem solving. Use encouraging and positive statements when solving problems. Most importantly, focus on telling children with mental health issues what you want to see, not what you don’t want to see. Preschoolers with mental health issues hear negative statements more than any parent would imagine. For example, “I told you no running!” could turn into, “Use walking feet in the house.”
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