Discipline yourself, then work on your child.
-from Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Rebecca Bailey, PhD
|Noah in heavy negotiation with a friend|
At age 3.8, so much is coming together on the interpersonal realm for Noah: He is able to clearly communicate his wants and needs, whether it's toast with butter and jelly for breakfast - no peanut butter-or that he doesn't want to go to dance class today. He likes certain kids more than others and can tell me why. He understands that there are rules and restrictions in this world, at school, and in our family (and they aren't all the same!), and these limits regularly bump against his desires. Psychologists call this stage individuation and it's a crucial time when children begin figuring out who they are as individuals. But I'm still his touchstone; my sweet boy needs constant guidance, physical closeness and emotional comforting. I love that he bursts into tears and cries freely whenever he wants. I think we would all be a lot healthier if we released our tensions and upsets so regularly.
My role, as the adult in this relationship, is to provide a secure, steady base to these big emotional ups and downs. Easier said than done - some of his behaviors trigger big feelings for me. And we haven't even experienced much in the way of hard core defiance, which is really hard for me to handle.
This stage of parenting gives me several opportunities every day to teach Noah powerfully important lessons about expressing feelings, communicating honestly and working through conflict. Raise your hand if you could use some help in these areas of your own life? Sometimes I feel like a fraud when I consider my own regular failings in these areas. I have so much work to do, just ask my husband.
In fact, I had a "look within thyself" moment the other morning, when M asked if I'd purchased him dance pants while at Target and I unleashed a monstrous flood of pent-up anger and frustration ("You expect me to be your personal clothes shopper as well as buy all the groceries, fall clothes for the kids, remember to get D batteries for the camping lantern and make dinner???!!!"). It got so heated we each urged the other to get out of the car. Funny now, but ugly then. I knew I was wrong even as I was in the throes of it, but it still took me several hours to apologize. I am a grown woman but I still have my temper tantrums, how 'bout that? Our children are our teachers, indeed.
Some of the emotional/social skills I am exploring alongside my almost-4 year old:
- identifying feelings, acknowledging them as all valid valid and expressing them in a safe, respectful way
- accepting disappointments and moving on
- being assertive and also kind in our requests to others
- making amends when we mess up