Preschooler Behavior Tips

Preschoolers Dorothy, left, and Dezarae enjoy their play time in the preschool program in Diana, W.Va., on Thursday, May 23, 2002.
Dr. Sal Severe, author of “How To Behave So Your Preschooler Will Too!,” visits The Early Show to give advice to parents on how to get children to listen.

Severe addresses the special needs of parents with children between the ages of two and five, including: what developing children need, how children learn, how to adjust parenting to a child’s age, how to deal with tantrums and how to prepare children for school.

His previous book, "How To Behave So Your Children Will Too," was a New York Times best seller. And similar to that book, his latest title is based on the premise that a child's behavior is often a reflection of the parents’ behavior. So Severe believes that instead of focusing on what preschoolers do wrong, parents can learn what they can do differently to emphasize positive behavior consistently and with pertinence.

"There are so many developmental factors that affect a child's behavior,” said Severe. “Not all behavior or misbehavior is not willful conduct or deliberate. It may be a temperament issue or communication problem. Parents need to make a judgment call. So many things that look like misbehavior could be caused by these developmental problems.”

The doctor says a child who appears to be whining or nagging may have a feeling they can't express. This is where parents need to be more astute and have patience.

“I always ask parents what their top priority is, they say ‘their kids.’ Then they have to make time for them to solve the problem,” said Severe.

According to Severe, parents should start to teach their preschooler proper behavior when they start to learn language skills at about two or three years old. To do this, they have to teach their kids to use language as a communication tool. Tantrums are big with preschoolers. Parents will say no the first few times and then the parent gives in. The key is not to give in, says Severe.

If the parent doesn't want the child to have something (example: cookie before dinner), the parent has to want to distract the children from their focus and redirect their attention (offer to play with their favorite toy). But if a child wants something you should teach them to use their words to tell parent how they feel or what they want.


Most parents say their children do not listen. Severe says authoritative figure must make sure kids know that listening is important. When a parent calls their names they should respond and the parents must acknowledge the good behavior.

“I do not encourage parents to ask preschoolers ‘why’ they did something. It confuses them,” said Severe. “It’s more important to ask them what did they did and tell them what to do differently. Sometimes you have to give them the words.”


“How to Behave So Your Preschooler Will Too!” says children need to learn that rules operate the world for things to run peacefully. Schools have rules and they should know that mommy and daddy also have to follow rules. It shouldn't be just "you can't do this" and "can't do that." Guardians should establish rules that give kids structure.

If a child breaks a rule, you must determine how to handle it, says Severe. But a parent has to time to think about what is the cause of the problem. Parents should always try to explain the reason behind a rule/routine. When a child does something good parents should give them reinforcement.

“Each parent has their own parenting style, and it's usually comes from the way we were raised by our own parents,” said Severe. “Don't think of that as good or bad but think of that as my starting point and think about what you can do differently to get better out of your children."

Dr. Sal Severe has been a school psychologist for more than 26 years. He was president of the Arizona Association of School Psychologists, serves on the advisory board of Parents magazine, and is a member of the National Association of School Psychologists.