Teaching Character to Three-Year-Olds

Different character qualities can be emphasized at different developmental stages. A newborn, for example, learns about love, trust, and a positive view of the world because of the loving care given by parents. As children grow and develop, new character qualities are added to the picture.

Preschoolers are at a strategic age to learn so much about life. Creativity, compassion, patience, confidence, and cooperation are just a few of the many new qualities that begin to develop during these years.

Two character qualities, in particular, become a focus in the parent/child relationship: Self-discipline and responsiveness to authority. But please don't think that teaching these qualities requires harshness, demandingness, or an authoritarian approach. Rather, these qualities can be taught with a loving firmness that prepares children for greater success in life.

Preschoolers learn self-discipline skills by coming when called instead of running away. These children also learn about a bedtime and how to hold a parent's hand in a store or out in public. Children resist these attempts to help them learn to give up their agenda, but that's what self-discipline is all about. Even adults resist a diet, staying on a budget, or an exercise program. If we can teach children self-discipline when they're preschoolers, they'll begin to develop significant tools for when they get older.

Talk about self-discipline with preschoolers. They may not understand the term yet, but they'll grow into it. We can teach self-discipline through a number of family rules. When we go into a store, we have the "No Touch Rule." When in a library or bank, we may use the "Don't be Wild Rule." When you first teach rules like these, start by making them fun. Teach the rules like a game, then put them into practice in life and enforce the new rules with repetition and practice.

"But my kids won't do these things," you may say. And maybe they won't unless you practice. But the preschool years are an excellent time to build some character qualities that will last a long time in a child's life.

What are some ways you've been able to teach character to your preschooler?

Milan Tomic

Hi. I’m Designer of Blog Magic. I’m CEO/Founder of ThemeXpose. I’m Creative Art Director, Web Designer, UI/UX Designer, Interaction Designer, Industrial Designer, Web Developer, Business Enthusiast, StartUp Enthusiast, Speaker, Writer and Photographer. Inspired to make things looks better.

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  1. Thank you for this post and all of the others that you share. They are very helpful.

  2. I read your posts regularly & am so encouraged & challenged by them. One way we've tried to instill character into our preschoolers (and now elementary age children) is to teach them the importance of working. Our family paraphrase of II Thess. 3:10 is "if you don't work, you don't eat!" Bedrooms must be tidied before breakfast is served & toys must be picked up before they eat lunch. Sometimes the whole family will work on a job together (ex. unloading the dishwasher, yard work, cleaning out the van, etc.) before a meal. It's been neat to watch all our kids catch on to this & become hard workers!

  3. HI Christa. Thank you for sharing. I too am convinced that teaching children to work hard starts when they are young. Thanks. --Scott Turansky

  4. If you share custody with the other parent or if your preschooler visits the other parent regularly, you may have a harder time instilling character into your children.

    It can be done and never give up. Your children may get confused but if as a single parent you are consistent in your home, it won't take long for your preschooler to realize how things must be at home.

    Even preschoolers learn what will be tolerated in different environments. When I owned a therapeutic child care we would have children be in control all day long but the minute a parent walked in the door the child would start acting out. One mom said to me, "I don't get it. You tell me Sarah is so well behaved but when I get here she starts running around yelling, taking the other kid's toys." Sarah knew what she could get away with when it came to her mom. She learned as a toddler what was expected of her at school and what was not expected at home.

    Like learning fun and be consistent. Stay on track and even though you may be exhausted, stay on track. It will pay off in the long run.