Character training in preschoolers really begins in toddlerhood. I know people often do not think of eighteen to thirty-six month olds as needing character training, but they really do!
In our parenting seminars, we teach that the first four “character qualities” for toddlers are contentment, cheerfulness, submission, and obedience. Thus, when we are looking for tips for character training of preschoolers, we really need to go backwards a little bit and be sure that we aren’t trying to teach responsibility or diligence to a darling just-turned-three-year-old who runs the other way when called.
There is a hierarchy in parenting that we often overlook—and it starts with those first four qualities with our little ones. Character training of toddlers and preschoolers is essential for their own character development, but it also plays a crucial role in our family dynamics.
We homeschooled seven children for thirty-two years when we graduated our last child in June of 2016. We were fortunate to get great teaching in our early parenting and homeschooling days in the areas of marriage, family living, parenting, character training, home management, and more. We will forever be grateful for the amazing help we had thirty years ago when many of these topics were not widely discussed yet.
Because we learned how to teach our little kids the aforementioned character qualities, our older children were very connected and close with their little siblings. The littles were taught to obey, and the olders loved having them around. They were a joy because they were taught character from early ages. Character training of young children has a huge impact on their development, our family unity, our older kids’ school, and much more.
I have many blog posts, charts, products, videos, podcasts, and more about teaching littles character. It was such a crucial part of our parenting for many, many years!
I will give you some of my best tips here and direct you to some links for more information.
1. Start adapting the toddler to your schedule and your family’s lifestyle as soon as you can (six to nine months) rather than making your family’s life revolve around the little one’s “wants.”
You want to enjoy your toddler within the dynamics that your family already has (with the addition of the joy and wonder that a toddler brings into the family, of course)—as opposed to making everything change to meet unnecessary and often chaotic demands that a toddler who is given his own way all the time can often make. See my Avoiding the Terrible Two’s teaching.
2. Remember that you are setting the stage right now for your child’s “tastes.”
- You can set his tastes for defiance (allowing screaming, throwing, thrashing, and “no” from him) or submission.
- You can set his tastes for selfishness and meanness (allowing hitting or other forms of striking, giving in to him when he wants something that someone else has, always making his surroundings whatever he wants (i.e. no bedtime, no sitting in high chair, etc.) due to “fits” or for kindness, gentleness, sweetness, and tenderness.
- You can set his tastes for hyper-stimulation and activity (too much running; no scheduled down times; television and videos all the time) or for simple things (books, healthy toys, rest, etc.).
- You can set his tastes to lack focus and not enjoy learning (again, too much video, not starting out with books and simple music; an avalanche of cartoons and children’s programming (some of which are developed in two second bits to keep up with short attention spans, thus, causing kids’ attention spans not to lengthen as they should) or a love for learning (via books, strong family learning, and discussion times, etc.).
3. Decide ahead of time what your “behavior absolutes” are.
- These are the behaviors or character that you absolutely will not allow in your home. What you allow now will become the “acceptable behaviors” to your child. These seemingly innocent actions include “fibbing,” hitting, running the other way when called, etc.
- For us, these “behavior absolutes” included talking back (no toddler saying “no” without being punished); lying or deceit; temper tantrums; and striking (hitting, pulling hair, throwing things at someone, etc.). Obviously, we wanted our kids to learn to obey and submit to us and to learn the many character qualities that are crucial to living a Christian life, but these four things were things we never wavered on—and things that we made huge deals out of when they were not adhered to by the toddler/preschooler.
4. Start showing your little one the joy of doing what is right.
Contentment in your own life, the blessing of work, the joy of loving God and His people—and all of the character that you want your little one to adopt in his life—love, longsuffering, diligence, responsibility, and more will more likely be realized in our kids’ lives when we ourselves embrace and model them.
5. Start the day out right!
Teach getting up after child asks only. Children running around in the morning unsupervised does not help with character training (and makes Mom a little harried too!). By teaching children to stay in their beds until they ask to get up, everybody starts on the right foot. (More about bedtime and structure HERE.
6. Provide structure for preschoolers.
While preschoolers do not need a minute-by-minute schedule, structure in their day will help their character training greatly. The days are long to little children. Breaks in the action, differing activities, etc., help this age greatly. I liked to think in terms of blocks of time of day and I even called them by their names. Teach character all the time!
- Morning routine
- Morning reading
- Content reading
- Bible time
- Morning chore session
- Play time
- Room time
- Listen time
- Lunch chore time
- Lunch time
- Story Time
- Free time
7. Add your preschooler to your school day and other daily activities as soon as it is appropriate.
I started out with morning routine time for them, then added chore time for them. As soon as they could play on the floor quietly, they were a part of our read aloud and unit studies. When you need focused time with your other kids, you can still teach your littles much-needed focusing skills by using room time and play time strategies.
8. Don’t rush academics in children who have not learned to obey first.
Once a kindergartner knows how to obey and cooperate, adding more academics will be easy. (Check out my preschool and kindergarten curriculum here.) Build a love for learning in them in low key ways .
9. Lastly, don’t lose hope!
Other Links You Might Be Interested In
What to Do With a Kindergartener
Common Preschool Problems
How to Prepare a Child to Learn to Read
Story time Q and A
Obedience Math Posters
Free Toddler and Preschoolers’ Activity List
Donna Reish is a homeschooling “graduate” of seven children whom she and her husband homeschooled for thirty-two years. She has written over one hundred language arts, writing, and reading books totaling 50,000 pages and dozens of parenting books, audios, videos, workshops, and downloads. She is the author of four writing and language arts series, Character Quality Language Arts (print books, complete language arts from a Christian perspective for grades two through twelve), Meaningful Composition (print writing curriculum for grades two through twelve), Write On, Mowgli; Peter Pan; and Beauty and Beast (fifteen downloadable one month writing books based on popular books and movies), and Really Writing (one or two week writing downloads for grades two through twelve). She and her husband teach homeschooling, parenting, marriage, home management, and family workshops. She and her husband are also Plexus Ambassadors and love helping tired mamas feel amazing and financially-suffering families make full time incomes while working part time hours! Donna blogs at Character Ink blog.