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Playing Hard, Playing Fast: Taming Your Preschooler

Preschoolers tend to test their physical limits when they play alone. When they play with others, they might "dare" them to do dangerous things. Learn what you can do to prevent these dangerous behaviors.

Playing Hard, Playing Fast: Taming Your Preschooler

At the playground, your preschooler is safest when playing alone. She tests her physical limits, but for the most part stays within them. So let your four-year-old set her own challenges and try not to worry too much about her when she's playing by herself. Chances are, your child won't do anything that she really thinks is unsafe. She'll undoubtedly get hurt once in a while. But every challenge successfully mastered will build muscles, increase balance and self-confidence, and help your preschooler avoid further accidents in the future.


Pay special attention to ensure playground safety when your child is tired. Fatigue will make her more likely to have accidents. What's worse, because it will dull her safety instincts, fatigue also will make your preschooler more likely to take more dangerous risks as her frustration mounts.

When your child is playing with other children, however, you probably need to be more vigilant. Many preschoolers will do anything to avoid being considered a "baby" by their peers. Other kids can talk your child (or your child can talk other kids) into unsafe behavior. So keep an eye out and don't let other kids dare your four-year-old into doing something she wouldn't normally do on her own (and vice versa). You may need to remind your preschooler and her friends that foolish daring is not the same as bravery.

You need to keep an especially keen watch if your preschooler is playing with older children. Older children may be even more likely to talk your child into accepting a challenge she's not capable of doing—just for the "fun" of seeing what they can talk her into doing. Even if older children don't tease or dare your child, they can unwittingly prompt foolish disregard for your child's safety. Your four-year-old is a mimic by nature. She may try to imitate the daring exploits of older children that she sees.

Danger Is My Middle Name


Never applaud your preschooler's exploits—even if he successfully completes his mission—if you regard them as dangerous. Your apparent approval will be taken as encouragement. If he escapes a stunt unscathed, let him know that you think he was lucky, not skillful, and that his daring was not brave, but foolish.

What should you do if your child seems reckless? What if he seems to lack that inner voice that warns of danger? What if he doesn't have the sense to avoid risky adventures? Some preschoolers consistently climb too high, ride too fast, and jump too far. As a result, you will constantly be tending to scraped knees, bruised arms and foreheads, and perhaps even broken bones.

A reckless preschooler obviously still needs your help in setting limits. Try to devise interesting and fun physical challenges for him that are safe (like an obstacle course). At the same time, you'll need to continue to impose reasonable and consistent limits on the challenges he comes up with—just as you did when he was a toddler. As long as your limits remain reasonable and consistent, your child will likely accept them (perhaps even with some relief). In time, the development of your child's self-protective instincts may cause him to give up such reckless acts.

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