I’ve been struggling with my four-year-old son Hayden’s behavior recently. Four-year-olds can just be so challenging. When he was three, I kept waiting for him to turn a corner, thinking once he reached four, any attitude problems would dissolve or at least dissipate. So many friends had told me three was the worst. No such luck, so far for me four has been the hardest yet. I don’t feel like Hayden is a special case or anything; he’s just four and we’re all figuring out what that entails.
Today I feel like I had a breakthrough though. I’ve been reading and watching all the self-help parenting stuff I can find relating to our situation. He can be the sweetest, most kind, and helpful kid, but he can also be rude, uncooperative, and defiant. I’ve been desperate to find a way to diminish the latter. All the info out there is so overwhelming, and I have such a hard time remembering to use any of it when my kid is losing his mind.
Today I talked to a friend, who is also one of Hayden’s preschool Montessori teachers, who told me about the Connect Before You Correct approach to discipline. She also mentioned the author and child psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld. I listened to a few of his Youtube videos and downloaded his audio book Hold on to Your Kids. I’ve only listened to an hour of the book, which seems to deal primarily with older children, but the take away theme I’m getting is that children act out because their relationship with their parents or caregivers feels out of whack. They feel scared or threatened, so they go on the defensive.
By working on strengthening your relationship to your child and reconnecting with them personally, they will be more attached to you and will naturally want to engage and cooperate more. This was the missing piece for me! I read Joanna Faber’s book, How to Talk so Little Kids will Listen, and I loved it, but had trouble putting it into practice. The theories for Acknowledging Feelings and Positive Time Outs seemed great in concept, but I couldn’t figure out how to employ them when my son was purposely knocking down his cousin’s masterpiece tower or incessantly shouting “Professor Poopy Pants!” for (what feels like) an hour.
I felt like my instincts were telling me he needed some sort of immediate punishment, like a time out, but then why was all the research I was doing saying the opposite? I needed to see the WHY. For some reason it wasn’t clear to me before, I needed it spelled out, it needed to be clear as day, and today it clicked. The reason there’s a focus on acknowledging feelings and positive time outs is so we connect with our kids, so that we support their learning instead of alienating them from us and what we are trying to teach them; so that they realize that we’re on the same team and that we have their back.
Connect and then correct! This was the sound bite I needed! Thank you Christine! I’ve been searching for months for some little saying or slogan or something that I could actually remember in the heat of the moment, and this is it! I love when you find some piece of information that just clicks, something that helps everything else make sense. Granted it’s been only 18 hours since I had this epiphany, but last night we had such a fun engaging evening with our son. 18 hours in and I feel like a new mom…but I’ll keep you posted…
K, now it’s been close to a week since I had this epiphany and it is by no means an overnight fix to all four-year-old behavior issues, but it has been an overnight shift in my perspective on things. As my good friend Dana mentioned to me, she is the mom of 11-year-old twin boys and a 5-year-old son, kids do most of what they do because they are acting their age. They want our attention and often the easiest/fastest way to get it is to push our buttons in a negative way. My hope now is to be conscious of how much positive attention I can give, so that hopefully my children will be less and less likely to feel like they need to get it by acting out.
I need to consciously connect more. I know it should have been obvious, but I had to realize that for children our love isn’t a given, the way we may think it is. They need to see it and feel it every day, as well as hear it. For a child it is one of their greatest needs, like sleep, food, and water, and when you’re struggling with your kid acting less than exquisitely, your affection can slip and the negativity can snowball. The more love and support they can get, the more secure they can feel, and the less likely they should need to act out. Connect with them, play with them, love and cherish them. I know we will still have to work on many things for years to come, but now I hope my love will shine through my (hopefully less frequent) frustration.
Thanks so much for reading! 😃