Behavior in preschool children: some difficulties

The most frequent problems of young children are opposition to follow the rules, fears and feeding difficulties.

Between 3 and 6 years old, children develop very quickly in language and learning, with very important changes in their way of thinking and the expansion of their social circle, among others.

Children in preschool

What behavioral difficulties can children under 6 years of age have?

In many cases it is difficult to distinguish between “normal” and “pathological” behavior. Sometimes when children do not behave as expected, parents can feel guilty and think that it is all due to the style of education.

Among the most common problems of young children are opposition to follow the rules, excessive fears and difficulties with feeding and toilet training (stop peeing or pooping in the diaper, not urinating at night, no have unexpected losses, etc).

They may also have difficulties in relationships with others that, if associated with delayed development and language, should be suspected of autism spectrum disorder.

What factors are associated with behavioral difficulties in children? Young children are more sensitive to environmental changes, both positive and negative, than older children. For this reason, the preschool stage is a period of risk of situations of abuse or neglect, but also an opportunity for improvement, if protective environmental changes are established in the environment.

Some situations can influence the behavior of children:

  • Biological factors: changes during pregnancy and childbirth (low weight, prematurity, tobacco or alcohol consumption by the mother during pregnancy) and family history of mental illness influence children’s behavior; also the child’s own temperament during the infant stage. Shy or highly anxious children, for example, are at higher risk of developing depressive disorder and anxiety, while “difficult” temperaments (irritability, sleeping and eating difficulties) more often develop attention deficit disorders and hyperactivity (ADHD) and negativists – defiant.
  • Environmental factors: some of them are “normal life” situations that most children fit normally (birth of a sibling, change of school stage, return of the mother or main caregiver to work, etc). However, there are especially susceptible children, in whom these changes are enough to alter their behavior. There are also children with great adaptability, even in serious situations (loss of a loved one, presence of their own or family illness, separation from parents, etc.). Although the attitude of the parents is very important, in no case are the parents the absolute “culprits” that the child has behavior problems or anxiety. The efforts of professionals should be aimed at teaching parents what happens to their children, why and what they can do to improve it.
  • Unhealthy family environment

    How to prevent behavioral difficulties?

    All the interventions aimed at early detection and health promotion at these ages represent a great opportunity to prevent the development of mental pathology in the future. Taking care of mothers during pregnancies, assertive education guidelines , a balanced diet and healthy activities for free time, for example, reduce the risk of psychic pathology.

    The type of education is especially important for vulnerable children. Excessively authoritarian styles are not recommended (parents mark all activities in detail, correct errors by disqualifying children and give too many orders), or overprotective ones (parents consider their children as weak beings and facilitate or protect them excessively ). The assertive style of education is better , characterized by the presence of established routines, norms and limits, but taught with love, providing and reinforcing the positive behavior of children, facilitating communication and identifying inappropriate behaviors.

    What can be done?

    There are many professionals used to working with children who can help. Pediatricians and nurses know the child and the family first-hand. Kindergarten teachers, early childhood education teachers and school guidance teams can also detect difficulties and advise referring children to specialists in psychiatry or child psychology.

    How is it treated?

    In general, it is advisable to start with psychoeducation , that is, that caregivers know why the child behaves in this way and what they can do to help him. The psychotherapy can be performed in some cases directly with the child, but parents must be present always working. Training in child-friendly relaxation techniques can be effective for those who have acquired sufficient capacity to collaborate. Learning social skills , preferably in a group, can be very helpful in children with relationship difficulties.

    The medications to reduce anxiety or improve attention and hyperactivity in general are not indicated in children under 6 years, since there is no scientific evidence that they are effective in young children. However, in the most serious cases or in which psychotherapeutic measures do not work, a drug can be tried, starting with low doses and with frequent controls.