Understanding Your Child

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Emotions and Behavior

Understanding Your Child: Fun with DadAs your child grows older, and especially after they start talking, supporting emotional developmental and teaching appropriate behavior becomes as important as taking care of their physical needs.

Over the last generation, our society has gained a much deeper understanding of raising children who understand and exhibit internal control of themselves. This is a lifelong process; but, like so many things, parents are critical to getting children off to a good start.

Kids Health offers brief explanations of a full range of emotional and behavior issues that will answer your questions from now through your child’s teenage years. Some important topics during the preschool years are:

  1. Developing Your Child's Self-Esteem
  2. Separation Anxiety
  3. Sibling Rivalry
  4. Tantrums


Understanding your child’s temperament is invaluable, both in terms of how you handle your child, and how to teach them to cope with the world. Zero to Three defines temperament as:

“It [temperament] describes the way that she approaches and reacts to the world. It is her personal 'style.' Temperament influences a child’s behavior and the way she interacts with others. When we understand our child’s temperament, we can begin to anticipate what situations may be easy or more difficult for her.”

The factors contributing to your child’s temperament are:

  1. Emotional intensity
  2. Activity level
  3. Frustration tolerance
  4. Reaction to new people
  5. Reaction to change

Reading through Zero to Three’s Tips on Temperament will help you identify your child’s temperament, and start you, and them, on the path to effective discipline. For more in depth information, consult Tuning in to Temperament, also from Zero to Three. It covers the topics of emotional intensity, activity level, sociability, coping with change, and frustration.

Social - Emotional Development

What is this? Simply the ability to understand and express our emotions in ways that are not harmful to ourselves or others. To feel frustration without losing control. (Think minimal temper tantrums, no hitting, etc.) Look for “teachable moments” when you can talk to your child about what they are feeling, and help them work through it.

These two articles from Vanderbilt University will give you simple strategies for coping with those inevitable meltdowns:
Teaching your child: To identify and express emotions (PDF) and Teaching your child: To cooperate with requests (PDF).

Positive Discipline

How do young children learn to control and calm themselves, as well as ways to get along with others? It happens when parents and caregivers consistently set limits and encourage the behavior you want.

When making these decisions, you must ask yourself: Am I disciplining in a way that hurts or helps this child's self-esteem? Will my discipline help the child develop self-control?

Use the examples from Positive Discipline from KidSource online to understand how to avoid harmful negative discipline and use approaches that promote self-discipline.

Toilet Training

As adults, none of us remember learning to use the toilet. But, going through the process with your child will make you appreciate just what a big thing it is.  Potty training: How to get the job done from the Mayo Clinic has great tips for making toilet training a positive experience for everyone.

Answer your questions about preparing and training your child to use the toilet in either English or Spanish, with FamilyDoctor.org.

Baby Center’s Potty Training Basics gives you tips from both parents and experts, like how to help a child stop wetting the bed and when to back off on potty training.


Young children need a regular bedtime and lots of sleep to grow and develop. Parents need the same to keep their sanity. Easier said than done, of course; but everyone in the family will be happier (and healthier) once a regular schedule is achieved. Getting a reluctant sleeper to bed can be a time consuming task; one that can evolve into an extensive ritual. Try to enjoy both the challenge and the time spent with your child.

Kids Health explains the sleep needs of children at different ages, from infants to teens. Also available in Spanish.

Learn tips from Zero to Three on getting your baby to sleep, sleep safety precautions, and how to “co-sleep” with your infant.

Written for school age children, Sleep for Kids from the National Sleep Foundation will give you simple explanations about the how’s and why’s of sleep to share with your preschooler.

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