Whosoever coined the term ‘terrible twos’ perhaps did not last till ‘Fearsome Fours’ or just gave up all the hope till the child turned 6. That’s when I think a child really starts getting a hang on life, learns to behave and begins to understand how we operate in the adult world. But before the child turns six, there are many challenges to overcome. The worst being the Fearsome Fours - The term I have coined to describe children at -years-old. So, before I start to delve into how to handle this stage, let me brief you what really makes this age fearsome.
- For starters, a four year old is old enough to question authority but not mature enough to understand it;
- This is also the age when the child feels like she can do anything and everything. That includes frequent testing of boundaries;
- Increased peer influence translates into conflicts between parenting ideologies and your child questioning your approach;
- Emotions like anger, frustration, disappointment run high at this age and often result in back talk;
- They are a walking-talking complaint box.
What is even more surprising with the children of this age is that they do have (some) sense of right and wrong and yet choose to do wrong. Like they know shouting is a no-no and yet they engage in this very exercise as if strengthening their vocal cords for a future concert! These behaviors make up a nasty, mean kid who is forever ready to question authority and talk back.
Tough it might seem impossible to handle a child with the above mindset, my experience taught me that there is much we can do to combat this behavior. It is not easy but then we have no other option! A 4-years-old will constantly check your patience and test if the boundaries you have drawn still hold. So be extremely patient. What I learned is that it is futile to react to negative statements with a negativity. Two negatives simply add up and make the situation worse. Responding positively too is counter productive as it leads to arguments and fails at addressing the child’s emotions.
Now, where does it lead us? There are two options:
1. Ignore and Distract: This comes in very handy and is extremely helpful. Most of the parents forget the power of distraction by the time their child turns four. I ,somehow, mistook it for only 2 year olds.
When the child says ‘You are so mean’ instead of reacting to his statement, respond by ignoring and distracting him. Ask him if he remembers which was his favorite story when he was two or how he loved his blanket so much that he carried it everywhere with him. The idea is to displace the negative emotion by recalling a happy memory. This technique shifts the child’s attention from ‘you’ to ‘him’. Also, children love to hear stories about themselves.
2. Address the Emotion and Rephrase it: Children act nasty and disrespectful when they have trouble dealing with a complex emotions. Though you might have discussed how to manage emotions with your child, it is different game practicing it. They know the theory too well and would be the first one to remind you, should you ever lose your temper, but when it comes to application they need help. Such situations require the caregiver to identify the underlying emotion/need and respond in a kind manner. Consider these:
Child: You are mean.
Caregiver: You appear upset with me. Please tell me what did I do wrong to upset you? Allow me to make it right.
Child: Mommy, mommy, mommy (Yelling and Interrupting conversation)
Mother: You want me to talk with you, right? Please let me finish my conversation here and then we will snuggle and have a long chat.
Child: I hate her.
Caregiver: Oh! You sure are angry! She must have done something to annoy you so bad.
Child: You are always telling me how to do things.
Caregiver: I know you like to try things yourself but I am concerned you might get hurt. Let’s try doing it in supervision so I can help you, if need be.
Child: It is too tough. I can’t do it.
Caregiver: I know it’s tough and how much you want to do it. Perhaps with little more practice you will learn it. I too had tough time learning to do it.
Just like adults, it is calming for a children to feel heard and respected. When we constantly undermine and correct them, it lowers their self-esteem. They feel the need to prove themselves which leads to repeated behaviour, conflicts and disobedience.
Both these approaches require practice and patience. And it is all too natural to lose your calm in the daily chaos of parenting. So don’t worry if you can’t follow it through every single time. But following these steps has definitely made both me and my child calmer, better behaved and more empathetic towards each other. So now, it is not just me who is practicing this approach but both of us. And that makes me all warm and fuzzy from inside.
Also read: Toddler Bad Behaviour: Red Flags!