We are our children's first teachers. We sing and coo and narrate our every move until they go from babbling to chatting. We walk with a stoop for months until they are ready to toddle on their own. While helping a child grow from infancy to a fully functional member of society is no simple task, for the most part, I really enjoy this aspect of parenting.
But I've found that the preschool years take the challenges up a notch. It's no longer about how to walk and talk but about more nuanced life skills that no one prepares you for.
I'm currently helping my second child navigate the preschool years, and while it is generally a rewarding job, there are more than a few things I wish someone else could do for me. In fact, if there was some way to outsource the teaching of these five things, I would absolutely adore the preschool years.
1. The big wipe
You've survived potty training, but there's still a very big hurdle between you and total freedom from other people's poop. It is a skill that takes dexterity and diligence. Teaching a preschooler to wipe thoroughly is no easy task. It requires patience, dedication and an obscene amount of flushable wipes. The trouble is that no one is going to help you out on this. They don't teach it at preschool, grandma would rather just handle it herself and no nanny should be expected to tackle this task. If your child is ever going to wipe their own butt, it's on you, the parent, to take on such a delicate endeavor. I accept this responsibility, but if there was an app that could do it for me, I would buy it faster than you can say "Apple Pay."
I cannot tell you how many times I have pointed at something and my child has literally looked in the opposite direction.
2. Table manners
There is a point when sloppy eating goes from endearing to disgusting. One minute, you're taking a picture of them in their high chair covered in spaghetti, and the next you're begging them to sit up straight and use their fork. My preschooler still requires a full body wipe-down after each meal and I don't even want to talk about the state of the floor beneath his chair. Each dinner starts with gentle reminding and often ends with shouting and the mopping up of spilled milk. Anyone know if Mary Poppins is available at meal time?
3. Conversation etiquette
It's so exciting when they can finally use their words, but then they never stop. Being the person who spends the most time with my preschooler means it falls on me to teach him that he can't scream in the library or interrupt every five seconds. This agonizing process of constant mutterings of "shhh" and "wait your turn" can't be solved with a weekend away at conversation camp. Although, if anyone wants a business idea, take this one. I would be the first to sign up.
4. Getting the point (literally)
I cannot tell you how many times I have pointed at something and my child has literally looked in the opposite direction. Following someone's outstretched finger to a given location seems to be completely beyond his grasp. I am desperate for someone else to teach him this critical skill because no matter how hard I try, I fail miserably. This not being able to follow a pointed finger thing is complemented by an inability to find anything without help. Maybe he can start by trying to find my sanity because I think I lost it a few exasperated exclamations of "It's right there!" ago.
5. Personal space
I love cuddles from my kiddos, but it sure would be nice to have a modicum of personal space. It's a struggle to ask your child to stop leaning on you with their full weight without making them feel unwanted. Worse still, it's extremely difficult to explain that they need to respect others’ personal space. Nobody wants to raise a close talker, but teaching them to back off is a serious challenge—one I wish I could get someone, anyone, to tackle for me.
No one said parenting would be easy, but I am in awe of mothers who navigate teaching these lessons with grace. If you have managed the task without losing your cool or your mind (or both), my hat's off to you.
The next time you come across a mom of a preschooler who has mastered any one of the above skills, be sure to lay on the praise pretty thick. And if you figure out her secret, be sure to share it with the rest of us.
Building toys help preschoolers with fine motor skills and sorting as well as pattern identification and creation, says Jann Fujimoto, a speech language pathologist and owner of SpeechWorks, who has 15 years of experience working in preschools. This can be accomplished by giving them blocks, Legos or squishy Squigz objects that can suction to one another and be stacked.