I’ll let you in on a little secret. Until I became a mom, preschoolers kinda freaked me out.
Oh! They’re cute and cuddly and oh so adorable. But, they whine and cry and aren’t really very good at telling you what they want or need.
They look at you with those huge eyes as if to say “You’re an adult. Don’t you know exactly what needs to happen here?” Or, their eyes well up with tears and their nose starts to run and they are obviously distressed, but they can’t even tell you why!
Preschoolers! Who can understand them?
Over the years, both with my own child and the hundreds I’ve served, I’ve learned a few things. Let me share.
Babies: Well, they cry when just about anything happens that is not part of their plan. You hang out with one long enough and you’ll learn that each baby has a different cry based on whether they are hungry, tired, wet, or just plain annoyed. Listen carefully week after week and you will learn each baby in your “small group.” The other way they communicate is through their smile. They will bless you with one of those beauties when you have done something that makes them feel happy, comfortable or safe. Watch for them, and remember what to do to achieve them.
Toddlers: For younger toddlers, everything about babies applies. In addition, they can now understand much more than they can express. Some young toddlers might even be learning sign language at home. If a child starts making a hand motion over and over again, he may be trying to tell you something. Be sure to ask mom and dad if that motion means something in their house.
As toddlers mature, they learn words at an AMAZING rate. In fact there is more language learning going on now than will ever happen again. Every week, there will probably be new words to say. Toddlers are so proud of their ability to communicate and get their point across. However, here is where a majority of communication tantrums occur. I call them communication tantrums because these meltdowns occur when a toddler who thinks they are communicating quite clearing becomes extremely frustrated that you don’t get what they’re saying. I mean, think about it. You’re trying to order your favorite drink at Starbucks and the barista keeps punching it in wrong so every drink you get is worse than the first. You might have a tantrum of your own! Be patient with a child in this meltdown. They desperately want to talk to you so maybe go play with blocks or babies, something that you both know how to talk about.
Twos: Communication tantrums can continue through the twos depending on how fast a child’s language is developing. Now, because of their advancing language development, twos are able to reply with the Bottom Line when asked the Key Question in a small group setting. For example, they can answer, “God loves me.” to the question “Who loves you?” when it is modeled for them. They can also answer simple, concrete questions about a story. For example, you might say, “David was a shepherd and he watched over his what.” and get the answer “sheep.” The majority of twos could not answer the question “What did David do?” Simple and concrete review of the Bible story is important when playing with the twos.
Older Preschoolers: As preschoolers develop their language, their ability to communicate increases steadily. By age three, you can sit and have a lengthy discussion with a preschooler about something they think is important or fun. (A plug here to make sure your Bible lesson is seen as important and fun.) They are now even able to answer more of what and why questions. The older they get, the easier these are for them to answer.
Older preschoolers are so much fun to talk with. Their view of the world is so much simpler than our layered adult view. They remember a great deal of what they’re told, and they take everything literally. So be careful what you say, because mom and dad may hear your exact quote on Sunday afternoon.
The most important thing to know about preschoolers is that they are ALWAYS trying to tell you something. It’s our job as adults to make sure we’re listening.