We see it in different ways and “says”. Children who have reached four-years-old are wanting more power in their lives. They have reached the point developmentally where they are begging for less constant direction from Mom and Dad and more sense of control in their lives.
I heard a story recently about a 4-year-old girl, who being very independent herself, often tried to direct what others were doing besides. At times like this, her mom would tell her gently, “Just take care of yourself, Anna”. One weekend their family was out on a hike. As four-year-olds tend to do, this little girl was “bopping” along the trail, turning her head, checking out everything. Her mom, behind her, told her to pay more attention to where she was going, to which 4-year-old Anna turned and replied, “Mommy, you just take care of yourself”.
One Friday in Play Shoppe a grandma was sitting back watching her very competent 4-year-old granddaughter do an art project. She was experimenting adding a few more embellishments than the other children had done. Grandma asked her what she was doing. She quietly turned, looked directly at her grandma and very seriously said, “Never you mind” – a grandma expression if I ever heard one!
Of course very few of us get through parenting a 4-year-old without being told – with no two ways about it, –” I don’t need to listen to you. You’re not the boss of me!”
That can send most parents into a complete state of fear – what did we do wrong, what do we do now?
This, however, is actually a time to celebrate – this healthy strive toward independence – this drive toward relying on one’s self, trusting one’s instincts and showing initiative in making age-appropriate decisions.
Choosing outfits that suit his/her personality, taste and comfort (most of the time), letting children serve themselves at the dinner table, having healthy choices available so you know whatever snack choice your child makes will be a good one are all simple beginning ways to allow children the control they crave.
Asking fun questions within the family while driving or at mealtimes – where there is no right or wrong answer and everyone’s answer is acceptable is very empowering. “What’s your favorite color?” Ever notice how every child seems to have one at an early age? It’s a first step in building one’s own personal opinions/likes. “If I was a bird, I would be a ______. ” “My favorite flavor of ice cream is ______. ” ” When I grow up I want to _________.”
Questions where there are no right and wrong answers – just practice in sorting out and feeling a sense of confidence and power – “this is what I think without it being wrong”.
The other day my sister shared that she had just gotten a phone call from her 21-year-old grandson who will graduate from college in two weeks.
He asked her, “Gram, do you have any advice for me?”
I don’t know why that brings tears to my eyes, but I guess I sense the full circle – from the grabbing of control in “you’re not the boss of me” to the swagger of the teen years to the maturity and self-knowledge of this 21-year-old that he can actually seek and appreciate words of wisdom and advice as he faces this next independent developmental phase of his life.
A momentous time – one that takes the courage, confidence and independence, begun way back in those early years
If you are in the throes of dealing with a child exerting his need for more control and independence, and would like some help in sorting it all out, give me a call at The Parenting Place, 784-8125