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Your Fearsome 4 year old

Posted Dec 02 2008 3:12am

Today I’m going out on a limb. As if talking about the fact that we make it all up doesn’t meet enough resistance, I’m going to boldly go where few dare. No, not politics or religion… PARENTING!

It’s interesting to me that there are so many different approaches to ‘parenting’… and how emotionally charged it all can be as we fall into the trap of thinking there is a “right” way to raise our children, implying there is a ‘wrong’ way that we all fear. Seems to me that simple observation easily proves otherwise. We have all heard stories about successful people who survived incredible challenges in their childhood… as well as stories of unusual tragedy despite loving, stable childhoods.

While I have the degree in Child Psychology, that only gives me a bit more trivia about the developmental process than the average person. It’s the experiences, observation and experimenting that comes from raising three sons as a single parent as well as working with young children for 25+ years that compel me to share what I’ve learned… as taught by the children and young adults in my life.

I’m aware that I have a bit of an unconventional ‘parenting’ style. I’m not so locked onto it that I feel I have any kind of “right” answers. Truly believing that we grow through conversation… and gain the most when others are willing to share their disagreement, I encourage you to leave a comment. Please, as you read my response to this young moms concern about her four year old, if you find yourself objecting to any of my comments… feel free to leave your own. Because if there’s one thing I do know… it’s that we all have more to learn!

Here’s today’s call for feedback:

I have a nearly 4 yr old little boy and he seems to be so angry towards me! I can’t seem to put my finger on what it is exactly making him so angry. I try to figure it out. He is totally defiant and was straight out telling me he hated me. He hasn’t been telling me he hates me lately as I wouldn’t accept that sort of behavior but getting to the bottom of this seems so hard. I am scared because i am 3mos pregnant w/my husbands baby (not my son’s real father). We have both been working hard to try to solve the problem but I feel I am not approaching it correctly. I want to see him happy and playful. I know life isn’t perfect and kids go through learning spells, its a part of life but this anger seems so great. He’s been this way for about….5 mos. I was previously working a job where I didnt see him a lot and was always exhausted and thought maybe that had something to do with his resentment or maybe he misses his dad but his dad has lots of emotional problems and is an explosive induvdual who can barely take care of himself let alone a little boy so I feel he is unsafe for my child. He abused me and I am afraid of exactly HOW he treats and takes care of my son. I am lost here…

As an Early Childhood Specialist let me give you some perspective by reminding you that we don’t call it

The Fearsome Four’s

for nothing. It’s the Wonderful One’s, Terrible Two’s, Terrific Threes, Fearsome Four’s and Fantastic Five’s… (are you seeing a pattern here :-)) so don’t take the 4 year old’s “I hate you” too personally.

That’s not to say dismiss his anger… honor him, he feels what he feels he feels. And understand that at age four… he’s getting adventurous, trying on a variety of expressions just to see what they feel like (It’s a big part of learning empathy)

Your response to his expression will have effects on how he interprets and integrates the experience… but here’s the good news and the bad news… all of this has nothing to do with you… unless you try to make it about you which is likely to bring up a lot of resistance and persistence from him. That’s a really hard thing for us (parents) to keep in our awareness. And it’s a shame because from my experience and observation… it is the common glitch in relationship with our kids regardless their age… parents get very confused and without awareness, they make everything about themselves … deluding themselves that they are doing it in the child’s ‘best interests’. (fyi… I’m not saying it should never be about you… I am saying you’ll develop a healthier relationship with your children when you’re honest and acknowledging that it’s about you when you feel it needs to be about you - for instance, when he wants to do something YOU see as ‘high risk’… you’ll try to convince yourself it’s about him and his safety… the truth is, it’s about you and your worries)

So… instead of going into a tailspin, why not give him some tools to manage his powerful emotions. Teach him how deep breaths can help him regain control of his vibration. As you learn to lovingly detach you can offer guidance and an open ear allowing him to express what he feels. When things are pleasant invite him to play a breathing game with you. Have him breath in deeply through his nose, hold it for a second or two…then breath it all out through his mouth. Point out what different parts of his body are doing while you are both doing this breathing together. i.e. is his chest rising and falling, belly going in and out. Join him in exploring whether it feels different if you’re laying down, sitting down, standing up, etc. You can have him visualize while he does the breathing. Speak to him at his level using words and images he’s likely to resonate with… i.e. if he’s a super hero fan he can ‘breathe in his super hero powers’ and ‘breathe out all the icky feelings that weaken his power’. Do this when you’re both in a good mood and enjoying one another… then when he really needs to find a way to get his body and feelings under control all you have to do is remind him.

It’s unlikely at four that he truly knows what ‘hate’ feels like. So when he tosses that phrase out at you, acknowledge that he’s feeling something big, encourage him to take a few breaths to get his body under control and then ask him to tell you more about what he’s feeling. If you can do this with love and a genuine curiosity you may be surprised, not only by how quickly he’ll learn to manage himself but also from the amazing insights you’re likely to hear coming from him.

Most of all… make and renew daily a commitment to find five reasons to adore this child. It’s a habit that will serve you both brilliantly.

Have fun!
–Mary K

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