There is a huge difference between our children’s wants and needs. Their needs should absolutely be met. When we give in too often to their wants we are creating difficult problems for our children and for ourselves. So first let us ask ourselves, what are their true needs?

  • a sense of belonging and significance
  • perceptions of capability
  • personal power and autonomy
  • social and life skills

If we can help our children with these four needs they will be well on their way to becoming competent, resourceful adults. Chances are they’ll be happy, too.

Today, let’s look at the first need a little closer.

A sense of belonging and significance. This need seems pretty cut and dried. Of course our children need to feel they belong. And of course we know they belong. The question then becomes….do our children know that they belong? Just because we love our children does not mean that we help them to understand they belong. Belonging means to be unconditionally accepted for who we are, no matter our behavior. When children do not feel this sense of belonging and acceptance they become discouraged and often act out on these negative feelings. Here’s what I often see in the classroom:

John didn’t speak in full sentences when he first began in his new preschool at age 4 despite the fact that he was fully capable of doing so. He did not handle transitions well and needed a great deal of attention from the adults around him. During group activities he often had unusual behavior including refusing to follow directions, shouting out nonsense words, refusing to stay in his seat and generally being disruptive. John’s dad was a long distance truck driver whom he only saw a few times a month. John’s mom was responsible for the day to day activities of both her children as well as working long hours. John and his sister attended the before and after school programs – which means they were at school from 7:30a.m. until 5:30 p.m. most days. 

In situations like these the behavior of John and other students I’ve had in class show me that the student does not feel a sense of belonging. They act out to determine if they are really accepted. They often are sure they do not belong and try to ‘prove’ it before someone else lets them know. These children need additional attention, time and teaching. In most situations, the parents are doing their best and they know their child belongs but the child does not believe they belong. It could also be that the birth of baby into the family throws the child’s sense of significance into question. When this occurs (for simple to complex reasons) the child’s belief is often manifested through her behavior. 

In future posts I’ll talk more about what we can do to help but for now we can do the following:

  • Create and follow daily routines. Especially when a change occurs (like a new job or a new baby) children need to feel stability, that their lives have not changed. Routines help young children understand where they belong in the larger scheme of their family.
  • Let your child help. By allowing your child to help with the everyday activities of home you are instilling in her a sense of belonging (I help my dad!) and also providing her with a sense of competence. It is also a great way to spend time with your child. 
  • Spend time. Give each child just a little of your time without strings attached. No matter their behavior during the day, spend just a little one on one time with each child. This can be one story before bed, a cuddle after dinner or a walk around the block. Time is one of the most valuable commodities you can provide for your children. A little goes a long way. 

We all want to belong and feel significant to someone. It is a basic need of all people. Take a little time today to think about your children, your spouse or significant other and yourself. How do feel significant? What have you done today to help others feel they belong? What changes can you make for tomorrow?

~Information for this blog post was gleaned from Positive Discipline for Preschoolers by Nelsen, Erwin and Duffy.

A good friend just tagged this article to me on Facebook: Sweet Photo Series Reveals What’s in a Preschooler’s Pocket.To be honest, it made me laugh. I think a companion article should be ‘Sweet Photo Series Reveals What’s in a Preschool TEACHER’S Pocket.’


I have to admit that children are my passion. I live for them and live to understand them and to help them grow and develop. If you meet me at a party be prepared for me to bore you out of your mind with stories about children and how amazing they are. 

So, after seeing the above article, you may be thinking, young children steal lots of things from school? Well…yes…if you are thinking like an adult.

But really…no…if you can try to think like a young child. 

To think like a child you must understand her development. Preschool children are very literal and very self centered. They can not yet understand another person’s point of view. In psychological mumbo jumbo this is referred to as ‘Theory of Mind’. They are still learning that they can’t have everything they want when they want it.

So…in the classroom, when a child sees something he finds interesting he wants to take it home. He wants to show his brother or his dad or his mother. He doesn’t have the ability to think about the fact that what he is taking belongs to another person or to another environment (school). 

I have had several instances where parents of young children were horrified when they found objects from school in their child’s pockets or backpack. I’ve even had parents return to school the same day to return items!

Children in the preschool years are in the sensitive period for small things and order. Thus, it makes perfect sense that they are obsessed with those tiny objects they find at school. To be honest, if something small is lost, the best way to find it is to let the children know we are looking for it. They always find it. I never do.

So…back to the preschooler’s pocket treasures. I like to sit back and observe what the child has in his or her pocket. It tells me a lot about the child. It tells me where her interests lie, how I can use those interests to engage the child in learning and, perhaps, where we need more social learning.

If you are the parent of a child with a pocket full of contraband, take a moment to contemplate the items. What do they tell you about your child? How can you use this information to further your child’s education by honing in on his interests? Ask your child some open ended questions about these items. (Where did you find this? Tell me about this rock. What is this? Why do you think this (rock, sparkle, etc.) is interesting? ) Think on the level of your preschooler…’Hey, this thing is cool. I want to keep it.’ rather than, ‘I’m going to sneak this away from my class. Mrs. Bitts won’t miss it.’ 

Remember, preschoolers aren’t socially aware enough to be so deceptive. They are still acting on their immediate desires. We can talk to them about their feelings (I can tell you really liked this shiny star and wanted to keep it forever) and then gently talk to them about the social and moral issues (The rule at school is that we have to keep things that belong to the school at school. You would be sad if you didn’t have the ____ at school to play with. Why don’t you take it back to school tomorrow so someone else can enjoy it and you can share it with your friends.)

When we look through the lens of childhood and understand the developmental stages of our children, these seemingly large issues are put into perspective and make everyone just a little more understanding.


My mother used to tell me after the birth of my first son, “You’ve got it easy.” I have to admit I found this piece of information a bit irritating. The truth is, I really did have it easy. My baby was generally quiet, content and met all the developmental milestones on time. Then he turned into a toddler and his brother came along.

I have a vivid memory of being at the mall with my two boys, ages 2 and 3. I think I just wanted to look for some new curtains. We weren’t there long but by the end of the shopping trip I was carrying two screaming children out of the store, one under each arm like footballs. Not my most glorious parenting moment. 

I have quite a few of these unglamorous parenting memories now that my children are in their early twenties. Most parents do. Many of these baffling behavioral conflicts with my children occurred when they were toddlers and preschoolers. During the early years we get used to our children needing us and we sometimes forget that children begin the long journey to adult independence during the toddler and preschool years by starting to have a will of their own.

Children learn from their environment. Maria Montessori called the young child’s ability to pick up information from her environment the ‘Absorbent Mind’. We often hear people talking about children ‘soaking up information like a sponge’. It’s the same thing. Young children have a special ability to learn things unconsciously. It is the only time in our lives that we can and do.

Children also want to be independent beings from the time they begin to scoot across the floor. It is our job as parents and caregivers to help our children become competent, self-disciplined and independent by providing them with a safe and nurturing environment. We need to make sure we understand our children’s development (cognitive and physical) in order to provide them with the proper tools at the proper time.

Parenting is a long term commitment (I’ve been doing it for 22 years, I should know!). As our children grow and change and we struggle to keep up, having a few ‘tricks of the trade’ in our back pocket will help make those rough times more manageable. The book Positive Discipline for Preschoolers  by Nelsen, Erwin and Duffy is a great place to start. So what is Positive Discipline?

  • Mutual respect
  • Understanding the belief behind the behavior
  • Effective Communication
  • Understanding a child’s world
  • Discipline that teaches
  • Focusing on solutions instead of punishment
  • Encouragement
  • Children do better when they feel better

This is quite a list! In the next few weeks and months I’ll expand on these key points to help you better understand how to help your children. For now, let me give you an example from this past year.

Susan (age 4) entered my preschool classroom in tears one morning. The 8th grader who walked her from her car told her, “You’re ok.” The teacher next door gave her a sticker to help her feel better. She was sobbing so she clearly wasn’t ok and wasn’t feeling better. When she entered the room I took her into my lap  and we had this conversation:

“You look so sad. Can you tell me what happened?”

(Through her sobs) “My grandma unbuckled my car seat.”

“Oh, you are sad because your grandma unbuckled your car seat and you wanted to do it yourself.”


“I can tell that makes you very sad.”


“I know you know how to unbuckle your carseat yourself.”

“I do.” (sobs have ceased)

“What could you say to your grandma next time?”

“I could tell her I want to unbuckle my carseat.”

“That sounds like a good solution. Would you like me to walk with you to the coat closet so you can hang up your coat and backpack?”

“Yes!” And our day went merrily on it’s journey.

This interaction might not seem like discipline in the traditional sense of the word. Let’s break it apart a little. I have to admit that when my children were young my response to them in this situation might have been more like the 8th grader’s. ‘You’re ok.’ After all, this situation isn’t really a big deal. Who cares about the car seat unbuckling. Grandma was probably in a hurry. Well…Susan cared. In her 4 year-old world buckling and unbuckling her car seat is a big deal. She probably hasn’t been able to do it for  very long and it makes her feel competent and independent and just like her older brothers when she does it. We call that self esteem. And someone (not on purpose, of course) took that away from her. The teacher who gave her a sticker did so out of love and concern. She wanted to be able to make the child feel better because it hurts us when someone we care about is hurting. Unfortunately, we can not resolve issues and emotions through gifting. It doesn’t get to the root of the problem. Using the tenets of Positive Discipline paired with the Montessori philosophy shows us that by understanding the belief behind the behavior, treating the child with respect, understanding her world (and developmental stage) and providing her with empathy allowed her to feel heard and understood and ultimately to get on with her day. She also had a possible solution for the next time!

I have experiences like this with my young students all the time. I’m sure you can relate! By using Positive Discipline within our families we will not eliminate frustrations or tantrums but we will have the tools to handle them with confidence and to help our children become confident and capable.