People always ask me which age I prefer working with. While every stage in the early years has it’s moments, I can’t go past ages 4 – 5 when a child begins to form their own opinion along with the language and cognitive skills that allows them to discuss it. This may begin on a peer level where we as adults may catch a heated discussion between two kids that is both adorable and hilarious (See example: Sprinkling vs raining). The laughter soon ends when you are faced with ongoing disagreements from a newly enlightened (and stubborn) 4 year old.
Questioning authority is normal and a really important part of growing up but this can be hard to remember when you are running late and with a screaming toddler who refuses to wear clothes. We can be caught up between haste and frustration and in these moments, slip in to bad habits formed behind the ultimate position of – “BECAUSE I SAID SO”. Don’t deny it, we’ve all been there. It’s about recognising these moments and learning from them.
I’m far from perfect. Prior to being a nanny, I was lead educator in the kindergarten room and always find myself recalling one particular child as an example. Mat time always started the same, a current class interest explored through a story, song, or game to stimulate discussion and interaction. Some days went smoothly where I walked away elated and proud that I was raising our countries future leaders and other days I would walk away on the verge of tears because one simple ‘fart joke’ had derailed the entire group into a cluster of non-listeners. I remember the day I met this little guy in the playground. A colleague pointed him out stating “he’s trouble”. Over the course of the year we would have plenty of run-ins, some followed with the awkward afternoon hand over “Tell Mum about your behaviour today” chat, but aside from that I really connected to this kid, he was extremely intelligent. It was any normal mat time where we were talking about jellyfish where I found myself once again in a heated discussion with Mr “Trouble”. Full disclosure, I was having a particularly bad day and I found him with toys on the mat. I asked him to bring the toys up and asked why he interrupted the mat time and he responded quickly saying, “You interrupted my game before mat time”. Holy crap, he was right!
In that moment I made a promise to myself to put my pride aside! This 4 year old kid had the confidence to not only question my authority, but engage and defeat me with a logical debate – and I was trying to squash that out of him?! Some might say his manipulation skills were ‘naughty’ and his ability to turn a situation to his advantage was ‘trouble’ but what are we hoping for? A generation of kids that will do as their told without question? This kid needed to know that his methods of pushing the boundaries was not a bad thing and from that day on I was dedicated to making sure that I gave guidance in how to use this skill effectively.
Authority figures can be wrong or even corrupt at times and it’s important that children grow to learn their voice and opinion matter. We need to encourage free-thinking in children and equip them with the skills to disagree respectfully when they question things. This helps create their individuality and discover the passions that will drive them down the right path in life. Whether they are standing up for themselves or another within a group, we need to teach them how to be open-minded, constructive and respectful in how they negotiate
So, what can you do?
Put your pride, aside – If you find yourself demanding authority, take a deep breath and count to 10. This small moment of time out can help you remember what’s important. The long term effects of far outweighs the short-term satisfaction of being “right”.
Lead by example – This isn’t just when you interact with your children, this is every day life. Be a role-model of conflict resolution in all your interactions. Let your children watch you be constructive, negotiate, and compromise and they will follow your lead. Children will be more likely to respond if they respect you and respect is something you earn.
Keep your cool – During discussion a child’s reasoning can fly out the window when emotions become involved. This is because they are still learning to deal with their emotions but you as an adult already have coping mechanisms in place. When a child reaches a point of frustration, help them through it. If you punish them while they are learning to cope, they won’t learn to cope. Be the better person and recognise the cognitive advantage you have from age and experience.
Avoid contradictions – Think before you punish. What is fair? Do they deserve to be punished for what they have done, or are you punishing to help teach them, or are you seeking satisfaction from a feeling of “I’ll show them”? I mean, if you smack a child for hitting, you’re hardly making sense to them. Why not try explaining how them hitting you makes them feel.
It’s like I always say…