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Growth and Development, Ages 2 to 5 Years - Common Concerns

It's common for parents to have questions about their child's sleep, safety, toilet training, and difficult emotions and behavior.

Sleeping

Preschool children need about 11 to 13 hours of sleep each day. Your child may go through phases when he or she resists resting.

To help foster good sleep habits, you can:

  • Set bedtime routines. Do things in the same order each night so that your child understands what to expect and associates these steps with going to sleep.
  • Handle sleep disturbances. Sometimes young children wake up and want attention or reassurance. Keep your response the same each time your child wakes up. If you go into your child's room, make the visit quick.
  • Help prevent nightmares. Preschool-age children's rich fantasy lives and active imaginations make them prone to nightmares. These tend to occur toward the end of the night or very early in the morning. You can help prevent nightmares by controlling what your child watches on TV. Also, encourage your child to talk about daily events to help him or her not feel confused or afraid.
  • Manage night terrors. Night terrors are different from nightmares because the child remains asleep and doesn't remember the episode in the morning. Night terrors tend to occur about 3 to 5 hours after the child goes to sleep. Your child may cry intensely and may be short of breath. Do not try to wake a child during a night terror. Instead, reassure your child and hold him or her to prevent injury.
actionset.gif Sleep: Helping Your Children-and Yourself-Sleep Well

Safety

To help keep your child safe, it's very important to be aware of your child's abilities and the environment, whether it is the home, a playground, or a public place. These abilities change as your child grows and gains new skills.

For more information on safety issues, see the topic Health and Safety, Ages 2 to 5.

Behavior

Children ages 2 to 5 have many intense emotions that they do not fully understand. As a result, expect your young child to not always listen to you. Be patient, and do your best to be consistent about setting limits to avoid some common issues. These may include:

  • Temper tantrums. These emotional outbursts are perhaps the biggest behavior challenge for this age group. Many 1- to 4-year-olds have temper tantrums at least once a week. For more information, including help on how to respond to tantrums, see the topic Temper Tantrums.
  • Thumb-sucking. Thumb-sucking in children younger than 4 years of age is not usually a problem. Most children stop sucking their thumbs sometime between ages 3 and 6. But children who suck their thumbs often or with a lot of force after the age of 3 or 4 may develop emotional, dental, or speech problems. For more information, see the topic Thumb-Sucking.
  • Breath-holding spells. These are periods when young children stop breathing, often causing them to pass out (lose consciousness). Breath-holding spells typically happen when a young child is angry, frustrated, in pain, or afraid. The spell is a reflex, not a deliberate behavior. For more information, see the topic Breath-Holding Spells.
  • Aggression. Some preschool children become aggressive and may hurt other children. Hitting, biting, pushing, and shouting are all common forms of aggression. Children's aggressive behavior usually is a normal variation of their temperament. Parents can encourage self-control by teaching positive behavior and how to channel feelings into words. For example:
    • Do not spank or hit your child. It usually doesn't work and only makes the child afraid.
    • Help your child calm down. Then you can talk about better ways to handle feelings.
    • Don't expect changes in behavior right away. It takes time, repetition, and supportive comments for a child to learn.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 22, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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