I have a three year old granddaughter who was the sweetest baby. She always had a pleasant disposition when she was an infant. We thought we’d really lucked out again with a happy, healthy grandbaby. When her mom put her into daycare, we saw her picking up some unwanted traits, but not too bad really. Then, she turned 3. It didn’t happen overnight. We’d seen signs earlier on, but once we were firmly ensconced into her third year, we saw a distinct change. We cannot pinpoint exactly what happened, but monster child emerged and visits much too often. Granted, she is in our care from 8 am until almost 6 pm every day, so we probably are exposed to her behaviors more than usual. She’s very bright, which doesn’t help things, but whenever she is screaming about something, it’s time to move. Along with that scream, we will usually see or hear her kick, scratch, or hit one of her sisters or throw something across the room. There is no mistaking her anger. In the beginning, while still wearing diapers, we’d sometimes give her a little swat on the bottom to get her attention. We’d done it with our own kids. It would startle them, but not hurt them. It wasn’t long before we realized that it wasn’t working. She would get angrier. There was always that irony that you were hitting them and telling them they couldn’t hit rolling around in your head. We tried talking to her about how she shouldn’t do these things. She would say she was sorry and then turn around and do it again. We tried standing her in the corner for a few minutes. Even when we want to let her out of the corner, she is still so angry she will defiantly stand with her arms across her chest and stare you down, saying no, she’s not ready to be nice. It is now to the point, we just say ok and tell her she can go back to playing when she feels ready. I was really concerned about what would happen when she went back to preschool.
I started to realize that what she needed the most was to be heard. She lashed out in anger because of frustration. Her sisters don’t always play nice with her or they make her feel excluded. They like to tell her who she’s going to be or how she’s going to play instead of letting her decide or have input. They take things from her or won’t let her have certain things. It’s no wonder she’s angry! I’d be angry too. I don’t know why we can’t understand a child’s emotional reaction or why it turns into something larger than life. They are little people in a big world with lots of feelings they don’t know how to express and no way to release that anger, resentment, and frustration. We certainly don’t like it when other adults do those very same things to us.
So, we try to handle it differently now. In an effort to find solutions, we’ve considered using psychology instead of just reacting ourselves. We didn’t have to do this with our own kids, but she’s different. With mine, I was able to make them feel badly for disappointing me when they were not behaving. This one couldn’t care less! That means having to try new things. First, we ask her what’s wrong. Then we ask, what she’s feeling. Thirdly, we validate those feelings and ask her to help us figure out a way to make it work, all the while explaining that losing our temper and doing the things she does means hurting people and we don’t want to do that. If incidents keep happening, then we give her time outs and give her warnings like counting to 3 and reminding her she doesn’t want us to get to 3. Reaching 3 means one of the other mentioned punishments. It seems to be enough to nip things in the bud right now. I keep hoping she will turn a corner before we have to figure out what to do next if that stops working. We aren’t exactly pushovers, but after all, we are the adults and someone has to have control over the situation and it shouldn’t be her.
All of this made me think about how, by appearance at least, most people today are angry. I have blogged about it before too. Then I started thinking, “Could it really be that simple?” Are we angry people now because we are frustrated about the same things that upset her? Others don’t always play nice or treat us fairly or they make us feel excluded. They like to tell us who we need to be or how we have to be instead of letting us decide or have input. They take things from us or won’t let us have certain things. Even when we are nice, it doesn’t mean others are treating us nicely. Sometimes we feel like we have to fight for everything we get and don’t always win. It’s no wonder we get angry and want to throw things or hit people. Everything comes with a price. It can be too high at times. But, we know we can’t react the way a child does. And we have to be good examples. Yet, it doesn’t mean we don’t feel that the same way.
Maybe we just need to be heard. We need someone to ask us what’s wrong, how we feel, and what ways can we work together to fix it. We need to feel validated. We need to feel that what is happening to us matters. And in the grand scheme of things, maybe all we really are, is a child in a full sized body wanting everyone to play nice with us. Maybe we need to take our own advice to our kids.