Posts tagged 3-4 Year-Olds
You know that feeling of panic that shows up when your child does certain things? It’s that feeling that shouts at you, “You need to nip that in the bud!!” or “Don’t let him get away with that!”
When your little one lies, you envision her in jail, the next Martha Stewart. When your three-year-old hits, you have visions of your child’s eighth-grade principal calling you to let you know she’s just expelled your little bully. When your little one is bossy or whiny or tattle-taling, or cries every time they get the tiniest bump, you worry that your child will grow up, lonely and miserable, with no friends at all.
That paragraph probably made you laugh, and realize how ridiculous these thoughts are, but for most parents, the feelings in the moment are very real, and those thoughts and feelings tend to cause us to overreact and then question our choices about how we responded to the behaviour.
Once you understand where the thoughts come from, it will be easier to figure out how to respond peacefully to your child’s behaviour. Read on.
There are two main causes of this feeling of panic.
First, if you’re like most parents, you are pretty committed to sharing certain key values with your child, especially the ones you have built your life and your identity on. When your child does something that is out of alignment with these key values, it can shake us to the core. “Oh my God!” our mind shouts at us, “If you can’t even teach THIS basic thing to your child, what kind of parent are you?” This hits us right in our self-image, and so we desperately feel like we need to do something drastic, STOP the behaviour, and make sure it never happens again.
We can also be triggered by behaviours that remind us of our own painful experiences, and make us want to protect our children from the same experience. If we were bossy and friendless in junior high school, or if we learned some other lesson the hard way, we don’t want our child to hurt like we did, so we feel a desperate desire to protect them from the pain and to teach them the lesson ourselves – before they get hurt.
I get that certain behaviours are just so serious for us, as adults, that when our children do these behaviours, it feels pretty important to send a clear message and make sure it NEVER happens again. But the key here is that these behaviours are serious FOR ADULTS. Your child is still exploring boundaries, experimenting with what is acceptable, discovering her personality, learning the difference between reality and fantasy, and/or learning how to manage big feelings and act on them in ways that are helpful, not hurtful.
And he or she will learn all of these things more easily if your emotional reaction isn’t clouding your delivery of the message around that certain behaviour.
When we respond to our three-year-old as if he is an ax murderer in the making, with an intense emotional response, with punishment, or by otherwise getting really, really attached to eliminating the behaviour RIGHT NOW, we miss the opportunity to address the actual developmental process that is happening for our child, and we miss out on a lot of joy.
In truth, (good news ahead!) everything that your child does now is NOT a harbinger of impending disaster, failure, and misery, in your child’s future!
Parents ask me all the time, “Is this normal? Am I the only one whose child (hits, whines, lies, etc)? My answer, 98% of the time, is “YES!” 98% of the time it is, really and truly, just a phase. In fact, it is a very important phase that the child needs to experience in order to become the honest, responsible, non-violent adult with friends that you hope they will become!
Remember that children need to do exactly what they are doing right now in order to learn exactly what they need to learn in order to take next steps towards becoming the person they are meant to be. And how you respond to the behaviour makes it easier or harder for them to learn it.
If you can respond peacefully, addressing the child’s emotional issue, underlying problem, or developmental question, instead of focusing on simply eliminating the anti-social behaviour, your child will move through the emotion, problem, or developmental stage that is causing the behaviour much more quickly.
When you come at it with the idea of “nipping it in the bud,” most often what you’re nipping in the bud is not the behaviour, it’s the child’s learning process. In fact, if your child has tried out a new behaviour, he or she is much more likely to repeat that behaviour if YOU give the behaviour power by responding to it with a big emotional charge.
So, the first step is to take a step back, figure out whether it’s a values thing or a protection thing, and compassionately recognize what’s going on for you. For example:
“Honesty is an important value for me. I want to teach that to my child. This behaviour triggers me.”
“Wow. I was really bossy growing up and it didn’t go well for me. I’m scared that if I don’t handle this, my child will lose friends like I did.”
The second step is to reassure yourself.
“Lisa Kathleen said that there’s a good chance that lots of children do this behaviour and outgrow it. My child is going to be okay. I need to develop a strategy to address this behaviour effectively so that I can help my child to learn another way to address his/her emotion/problem/developmental need.”
The third step is to respond thoughtfully and unemotionally to the behaviour.
“You really wanted another cookie, so you told me you didn’t have one yet. You really want it to be true that you didn’t have a cookie already!”
“You really want Suzy to be the little girl in your game! You want to be the mommy in your game!”
“Honesty is important so we can all trust each other’s words.”
“People don’t like being told what to do all the time. People like being invited to do something.”
If you do this, instead of “nipping it in the bud”, you will give your child what he or she needs to blossom and grow. <3
Need some help figuring out what’s going on developmentally for your child, or how to shift your energy around your child’s trigger behaviours? Give me a call to ask about coaching! I’d love to help! 403-607-1463
If your 3 or 4 year-old gets stuck in The Dreaded Mental Loop of Misery, there’s a good reason for it.
Your child’s brain is developing the ability to concentrate, to focus on one thing, to repeat and explore a thought. (This is also why they don’t always listen the first time – they’ve just figured out how to get lost in thought.)
One time my daughter and I were in California, heading out to get ice cream. There was grandma! Grandpa! Ice cream! Sunshine! The beach! Everything to be happy about, but no – she was stuck in the Loop of Misery, and nothing I could say seemed to help.
Just like my daughter at this age, your little one can now get stuck repeating a thought, over and over and over again. You probably know adults that do this – and they’re miserable, too. Now’s your opportunity to give your child the tools to cheer up, manage their feelings, and think positively, for the long term. There are two steps in the process.
First, lead the child through. One of my favourite ways to do this is to wait until the tone has shifted from the initial emotion (remember that?) and then ask the child to tell you ten things they love. You can also take turns with this. A great way to practice this skill is to play a game at bedtime. Hold your child’s hand, and have them squeeze your hand every time they think of something they love (or that makes them happy, or that is fun to do, etc). You are showing your child how to actively choose thoughts.
Later, talk to the child about choosing thoughts. Point out that continuing to think about something that makes them feel sad will continue to make them feel sad. Remind them about the 10 Things You Love Game, and how it cheers them up. Remember to only do this once the child has gone THROUGH their emotion. If you distract the child before the emotion has run its course, it will get stuck and keep coming back. This tool is for after the emotion has run its course.
As your child gets older, help them put their emotions in the context of The Serenity Prayer. (God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.) Teach this to your child, and help him or her decide whether the thing they are upset about needs their acceptance, or their courage. If it’s the former, go through the process above, and if it’s the latter, help them make a plan to make the changes that need to be made.
Emotional intelligence is the foundation of a happy life. Start now to give your child the tools to manage their thoughts and understand their emotions!
And check out the Big Picture Parenting Online Course – it’s packed full of concepts and hands-on tools that will change your perspectives, behaviours and experience of parenting, in such a good way.
Please comment below and let me know how these ideas work in your life!
Helping Your Child With Fears
Lots of children have a love-hate relationship with Hallowe’en, (not to mention animals, insects, and other common objects of fear). If your young child is experiencing fears, one of the most helpful things you can do is to affirm their feelings. Let your child know that everybody is afraid sometimes, and that you will be there for them.
When a child is pushed to get to close to something they are afraid of, laughed at, or scolded for being afraid, you risk having the fear become a phobia. This type of response will also damage your child’s trust in you.
Often, sharing knowledge about how other people do things can be very helpful. You might let your child know that, since lots of people are afraid of things, there are lots of ways that people can stop being afraid. Then you can try some of the ideas below together. Overcoming fears may be as simple as outgrowing them, or may be a more complex process.
If your child is afraid of something that you don’t like, make sure you let him or her know that you don’t like that thing, either. Your child will see your example of acting calmly even though you don’t like that thing, and that can help him or her to feel braver.
Since very young children are often afraid of faces that have angry expressions or that don’t look quite right, Hallowe’en witches, ghosts, skulls, or other scary masks or decorations can be especially frightening. For a child under three, the easiest solution is to do your best to avoid exposing the little one to things that you know he or she finds scary. The child will have lots of time to reach new levels of understanding and overcome these fears with time.
If your young child sees something that he or she is afraid of, as soon as you have affirmed the feeling, you can try to distract your child. “You didn’t like that at all! I don’t like those either. Hey, look! There’s someone dressed up as a chicken!” With older children (3 or 4) you can talk to them about choosing to think about something else once their initial fear has settled down a bit. The song “My Favourite Things” can be very helpful for this (even if you can’t sing like Julie Andrews;).
If your child is afraid of animals or insects (like the Hallowe’en spider), the fear can often be softened by reading books or watching you or someone else interact with the animal or bug. Again, if the child is too frightened, hold him or her close and stay far away unless the child agrees to move closer. You can also sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or other songs related to the specific fear.
As your child gets older (3, 4, or 5) you can give more information throughout the year about things like skulls and skeletons, witches and ghosts. The explanations that appeal to most children might be very scientific, involving feeling their own bones, or they might be more story-like, sounding something like this:
“People used to think that witches were people who could do magic by mixing funny things together and saying interesting words. Like…maybe the witch could mix the hair of a dog with a pair of someone’s socks, say “slitheraniffle” and suddenly the person would get hairy feet! Do you think that really happens? Probably not, but sometimes people like to pretend. People thought that it would be kind of scary for witches to be able to do those kinds of things, and they imagined people with super-long noses and green skin and called them witches.”
When talking about Hallowe’en, it also helps to explain that some people think it’s fun to be a little scared. You might say that people like to feel all of their feelings, and being afraid is one kind of feeling. I’ve also found it really helpful to use the phrase “Love is stronger than fear.” When children ask why people like scary things, it may be because people like to be reminded that love is stronger than fear, so to prove it, they do scary things and then laugh and have fun with their friends.
One of the best ways to help someone overcome a fear is to help them to take an action that addresses the fear directly. One possible action is to prepare the child with something to say to the thing they are afraid of. They might say “Hey, you skeleton! Stop scaring me!” or “Hello, little kitty, please be gentle with me.” They might also have a stuffed toy they like to cuddle that can help them to not be afraid, or at home, they might turn on the light, cover the book with the scary picture in it with a blanket, or dance the “Brave Dance”.
The son of a friend of mine had been stung by wasps, and was given a wing-flapping, cawing pterodactyl to frighten wasps away. When a wasp came near, he pushed the button and the thing went into action, sometimes dispelling the wasp, and usually dispelling the fear.
Another way to help overcome a fear is to offer your own physical or emotional support. If your child needs your support, you can squat down and reassure that you are close by, or allow him or her into your arms. If you are in a situation where your child is afraid to move away from you, you might consider giving him a rock or something else to keep in his pocket to remind him of you, or singing to him as he goes past the scary thing. My little one has been afraid of our cat at various times, and “singing her” through the house has often helped her to go somewhere that the cat may have been lurking.
For older children, it often helps to sit down together and write down the ideas you choose to try, then try out each idea several times to see if it helps.
I hope that these ideas help you to enjoy a fun and fearless Hallowe’en!