Of all of the different ages and stages we’ve experienced with my daughter thus far, four has by far been my favorite. I love that I can have full conversations with my little girl, I enjoy watching her try to figure new things out, I admire how head strong and assertive she is, and the sound of her voice screaming ‘mommy!’ at the top of her lungs when she sees my face at kindergarten pickup fills me with a kind of love and joy and happiness only a parent can truly understand.
But four has also brought about some changes I was not prepared for. I had heard through the grapevine that kids tend to become more opinionated and difficult at this age, but since I did such a great job cracking the code and finding coping strategies when my daughter was in the throes of the Trying Threes, I figured four would be a breeze.
I was so very wrong.
While the Terrible Twos and Trying Threes seemed to happen overnight, the Freaking Fours took a lot longer to take hold of our sweet bear, but by the time kindergarten started, they were in full swing.
Of course, full day school helps in that I do not bear the brunt of all of her outbursts, but the time we spend before and after school is so emotionally charged for both of us that I realized something needed to change as soon as possible.
So after a long session at the gym on a particularly bad morning, I grabbed a Starbucks and sat down to brainstorm some strategies to help us survive the Freaking Fours with our sanity still intact, and after chatting with some of my mom friends, I realized that this is a problem that affects many parents, and decided to share what has worked best for us so far.
1. LOOK FOR A COMMON THEME
When my daughter’s tantrums initially started, I got so caught up in trying to deal with them that I failed to look at the bigger picture and try to determine if there was a specific trigger that caused her outbursts. Of course, pinpointing the exact reason for a tantrum is difficult since kids aren’t able to express what is causing them to act out, but when I sat down to actually analyze the situation, I came to realize that her tantrums intensified during the last week of summer camp when she was staying an extra 2 hours each day, and got worse when full day kindergarten started. What this tells me is that she is struggling with the time away from me, and that I need to do a better job of giving her my undivided attention in the time we are together.
Which brings me to my second strategy…
2. WAKE UP EARLIER
Full day kindergarten allows me to go to the gym during the day instead of at 5:30 am like I used to, which means I am getting up later and feeling more pressed for time in the mornings. Admittedly, I was really enjoying the extra hour of sleep, but I find I am a much better mother when I have 30+ minutes to myself before starting the day. So I’m back to getting up before the sun each morning, which allows me to give my daughter more attention before I drop her off at school.
3. PENCIL IN SOME ONE-ON-ONE TIME
I was so used to running errands with my daughter after preschool that I started to do the same thing after I picked her up from kindergarten, which meant we weren’t getting home until 5:30 pm, giving us next to no one-on-one time before bed each night. Of course, life gets in the way, and there are days we still need to go to the grocery store on our way home, but I try really hard to set aside some time both in the morning and in the evening where I give 100% of myself to my daughter. Sometimes we go to Starbucks for an after school snack, other times we read books in bed, and when I’m feeling creative, we might get out the Lego after dinner. Whatever the activity is, I make sure that I am not distracted and that I’m only paying attention to my daughter and what she wants to do.
4. PUT YOUR SMARTPHONE AWAY
When my daughter was in preschool, we had a lot more time together, which made it less of an issue if I checked my email or sent a text message during the day. But now that we only get a small window of time together, I try my hardest to keep my electronic devices out of sight so she’s not competing for my attention.
5. KEEP SNACKS HANDY
When a gal in one of my gym classes found out my daughter was starting junior kindergarten this year, so told me to make sure I always had a snack in my purse when I picked her up at the end of the day. She said it took her ages to realize why her kids were so grumpy after school, but she soon discovered it was because they were starving, and found her afternoons were much easier if she greeted them with a hearty snack. I’ve been doing the same thing, and it definitely helps keep tantrums at bay!
One of the most challenging parts of the Terrible Twos and Trying Threes, for me anyway, was that my daughter couldn’t tell me if something was upsetting her, and rationalizing with her was completely out of the question. Now that she’s a bit older, I find I can discuss things with her a bit better, and that it’s really important to validate her feelings. I never belittle her fears, I never tell her something she struggles with is ‘simple’ or ‘easy’, and even when she’s being as ridiculous as she can possibly be, I try my best to understand how she’s feeling so we can find a way to make things better for her.
7. USE CONSEQUENCES
Some people have luck with time outs, but I feel they act as more of a bandaid solution for behavior rather than a long-term fix, and find using consequences to be much more effective. My only suggestion with this technique is to enforce consquences at the time the bad behavior occurs so your child forms a relationship between the 2 (example: I had a tantrum at Walmart, so we’re not buying the toy I wanted) and to make sure the consequence is relevant (example: I had a tantrum because I don’t want to share my toy, so the toy was taken away). I also issue a warning when I see bad behavior starting (example: if you throw the toy again, I’m taking it away).
8. FOLLOW THROUGH
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given about disciplining children is to always follow through. The more lenient you are when it comes to enforcing rules and consequences, the less likely your strategies are going to be effective. I try to be reasonable when I decide on consequences to ensure I can stick to them, which means you will probably never hear me tell my daughter I’m taking her iPad away for a week. :)
9. MAKE SLEEP A PRIORITY
I have always found that temper tantrums are more likely to occur when my daughter is tired, and that I am much less patient with them when I’m running on fumes myself, so I really try to ensure we’re all getting enough sleep. This rarely happens with me, but on days my daughter is extra fussy, I make sure to put her to bed early.
10. DON’T OVERREACT
I am the first to admit that I lack patience when it comes to bad behavior and tantrums, but if I’ve learned anything from reflecting on the causes of my daughter’s affair with the Freaking Fours over the last several weeks, it’s that she doesn’t care if she gets positive or negative attention from me. All she cares is that I’m paying attention to her. So I’ve been trying really hard not to get too worked up with her tantrums, and have instead been focusing on trying to avoid them from happening, and trying to deflect them with discussions and consequences when they do.
So far, so good.
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