How to stop repeating yourself with your preschooler. With your preschooler.

February 10, 2017



Is that a familiar refrain in your household? Or maybe there is little competition for toys and space at home but when your child is in a social setting, survival instincts kick in and you're surprised to see how territorial your child can be? 

Or do you feel like you are on repeat with a specific reminder? "Inside voice, please" "Wait a turn!", "Time to clean up" "We are leaving now". Most preschoolers are on their way to developing their ability to share, take turns, and exhibit mental flexibility, but it might be hard to recognize that developmental path in the midst of shouting, whining, grabbing, and stubbornness.


In the preschool setting, we are in favor of the use of mediators to support development: magical little tools that help to create a new habit and modify behavior. The goal is to use the mediator for a period of time, gradually reduce it's use, and eventually suspend using it all together. Much like a simple reward system ( the ubiquitous sticker chart), mediators fortify the parental toolbox and help kids to feel focused when waves of emotion make them want to explode like a volcano.


I know you want an Amazon link to "magical mediators", but I don't have that. The use of mediators requires a little more creativity and finesse. Here's a quick question checklist to guide the use of mediators at home:


1. Is the mediator intended for pattern behavior in a predictable setting?

2. What is the goal?

3. Is the intervention repeatable/replicable?

4. Is the mediator effective/did it work?


Here's an example:

Every weekday morning, your child begs to watch a show before school and you have a battle that results in tears for your child and a bad start to the day for you. Make a plan for the week, perhaps choosing one day that there could be a show (I'll use Thursday for my example). Draw a simple picture plan and hang it somewhere in the home, at your child's height. Use simple drawings, if possible, or words if your child is pre-reading/reading. Each time the question comes up, refer to the picture plan and ask your child to check if this is the show day.


You might use the mediator for several months or more or less. You may need to partner an incentive along with the mediator (like a sticker for each day that your child gets ready to go and cooperatively leaves for school leading up to Thursday), but along with positive reinforcement (You did it! I'm so proud of you!), it is likely that you will eventually no longer need the picture plan.


Other simple mediators can be:


  • Timers for turn-taking: decide together on a reasonable amount of time for using a much-desired toy; when the timer goes off, it's time to pass on to the next child. Some kids get anxious with the use of timers, so use your judgement if this is a good fit for you.

  • A little stuffed toy for transitions (or something small enough for your child to hold in their hand): "The bedtime bunny is out! What does that mean? It means we can play for one more minute before it's time to brush teeth and get ready for bed! Can you take care of the bedtime bunny all the way into your bed and then we can read a story?"


Consistency and positive reinforcement are key. Stick with the mediators and you will absolutely see changes in challenging pattern behaviors. And get creative! You know what will resonate best with your child; find the right currency to suit them.  Please share what works for you! Let us know and let your friends know what strategies you use that work well with your child. Remember: you are not alone in the challenges you face raising your preschooler.


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