Anyone who has raised a preschooler or taken child psychology courses knows that preschoolers are egocentric. They see the world from only their point of view. The only things that matter to them are those things that impact them directly. This egocentric point of view skews the way they look at the world and their capability to react to events and people in it. As parents and educators, we sometimes wonder what the children are thinking and why they don’t seem to behave in ways that adults expect. When interacting with preschool age children, always remember:
- They will only remember things that are important to them. You can tell a preschooler the same thing over and over. If it isn’t important to them, they will not commit it to memory. Their egocentrism is the cause for having to repeat the same directive over and over again. I was recently outside a store when a child who was running, fell and scraped his knee. His mother said, “How many times have I told you to walk?” I’m sure she told him to walk quite often. Walking rather than running is simply not important to that child. Putting toys away may not be important. Brushing teeth before bed may not be important to your child. Being quiet in the library may not be important. When dealing with young children, be prepared to patiently repeat yourself. They are not purposely defying you. They just haven’t committed it to memory.
- They cannot be ready until they are ready. No amount of coaxing in the world will get a preschooler to move to the next thing until they are ready. It is true that they can be motivated. Seeing you leaving the room without them is a motivator. It can make them ready – or it can lead to a tantrum. Preschool children are not interested in your need to move on. They will move when they are ready. They will play with others when they are ready. They will read and write successfully and with purpose when they are ready. Until they are ready, trying to force knowledge into their heads is counterproductive. Academic activities will merely be imitation and done to please an adult. They will do what you ask so that they can get finished. They will do what you ask simply so they can move onto a more enticing activity. True learning can only take place when a preschooler is developmentally and emotionally ready to receive the lesson.
- They cannot be truly empathetic. Preschoolers cannot relate to someone else’s pain. When young children accidentally or purposefully hurt someone else, they often cannot tell us how the hurt child feels. The question needs to be rephrased to include them. We ask young children, “How would you feel if he did that to you?” When you ask the question that way, they will often say, “I would feel hurt” or “I would be sad.” The discussion about any incident regarding someone else is always most effective when we relate it to the child we are speaking to because they can only feel their own point of view. This lack of empathy also explains why children say things to others that seem mean. Children are very quick to point out when someone looks different from what they consider to be the norm. They cannot understand that the other person might not like the things they say. It is important to have the conversations about empathy to guide children and to help them see acceptable boundaries for behavior. The ability to feel empathy typically begins to be internalized at approximately age 5-6 when they begin to become much less egocentric.
When observing preschoolers, take time to note their behavior, modes of interaction and methods of play. There are a plethora of behaviors that are derived from their egocentric view of the world. I hope you will take time to watch the preschoolers in your life and add to this list by commenting on this article.
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For information about The Early Learning Center of Temple Shalom or Temple Shalom Religious School, contact Cindy Terebush at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 732-566-2961.