When it’s 5pm and my kids have spent the afternoon fighting with each other, or throwing every last toy on the floor, seemingly for the sake of it, it gets all too easy to imagine my own private version of ‘Falling Down’. Every now and then I realize that while I love my children dearly, there are definitely times they stretch the friendship.
Psychologist and author of numerous parenting books, Renee Mill, says young children are still developing and therefore have poor control; which can take the sanity sapping forms of being noisy, disruptive, rude or messy.
“Children this age are developing autonomy, which means they like to do things their way. This can be infuriating when you have things to do and want to get them done in the usual manner, or you have a schedule that you need to stick to” Mill says. “Young children don’t think like adults, so they have no conception of the importance of sharing or being tidy or polite.”
If they are being noisy or messy, Mill says to take a deep breath and remind yourself they are acting in an age appropriate way, and bear with them – it is actually not about you. If you need to take a moment, walk away from the scene of the crime and return when you are calm (in three weeks time is, needless to say, not appropriate or advised – you’ve seen what they can do when you leave the room for two minutes, after all).
The next time junior is informing me I’m a butt-head, I’m advised to pull up my big girl panties and remind myself they don’t yet have the vocabulary to tell me what they are feeling in a less abrasive fashion. When I’m on the phone and receive a flying karate chop or lap full of ice cold water, I can consider this notice that it’s high time for some emotional attention.
This brings us to my biggest bugbear – the three ring circus that is bed time. This, says Mill, is the time to get savvy and realize the age old ‘I’m thirsty’ or ‘I need to go to the toilet’ may actually be young person speak for ‘I’m scared to go to bed.’ Of course, they may also just be trying to get out of going to bed and missing the action, but asking them if they’d like a nightlight on may be all the reassurance it will take to diffuse the situation.
Understanding it’s not personal and just a sign of their age, rather than a sophisticated plot to have you run screaming from the building can help. For the not so odd occasion this isn’t enough in the moment to cool you down, Mill has these tips.
• Breathe in and out slowly for ten seconds to give your head a chance to clear.
• Avoid raising your voice, it will make you feel angrier and less in control.
• Try and decode the message - instead of insisting your child cannot possibly be hungry, offer to read a story instead and see what happens.
• If appropriate, give your child a hug and giggle – laughter lightens the mood (obviously this isn’t a great move when it’s a behavior you don’t want to reinforce).
• Distract your tantrumming toddler with a story or some music.
If all else fails, you can steal my mantra, which I stole from my neighbor, who has four children under six. ‘This too, shall pass.”
Children this age are developing autonomy, which means they like to do things their way.