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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Preschool Pointers - 14: Get to the Bottom of It


You know, you never thought you'd have a child who lashed out physically as a way to combat overwhelming emotion and four-year-old strife, but here you are, at the school again, because your little one apparently has a healthy distaste for authority. You've told the kid a million times that she needs to use words. You've sympathized with her. You know how upset she can get. You've set up reward systems, you've disciplined, taken away privileges, and she'll be fine for a few days, but it seems almost every week she forgets at least once and allows the HULK SMASH to come out. What do you do?


Wouldn't it be awesome if the kid suddenly got the point and just stopped with the kicking or hitting? Just behaved like the other kids? Just understood that innate fear that you know you always had of grown ups?

Well, saddle up, because I've tried that, and it ain't happening.

While it's not okay to defend your child's brash actions to the death no matter what the circumstances, it is really important to look for clues and follow cues. If you know you have a child that triggers on a hair, it's up to you to help those around her not trip that trigger (while you continue to work on it at home. Ultimately, the kid has to stop throwing screaming tantrums when she doesn't get her way / can't verbalize her feelings. Never stop working on that at home.)

In our case, one of the girls will, about once a week, dissolve into a raging mess and physically hit or kick whoever tries to stop her. Both teachers and now the principal have been victims of it. She's not a bad kid (haha, says the mom), she actually loves all these people and will hug them and apologize when she's calmed down. She considers them friends.

So what's happening?

The problem is (well, besides the real problem which is my child's inability to keep control of herself when she gets frustrated), is that she doesn't want to move until people have heard her. But she's not talking. She's just crying. The teachers usually have to move to another area or room, and they can't just leave her there. They don't know how to get her to stop, so they try to physically move her. They go over to a kid who's out of control and try to pick her up. And they get a foot...somewhere. Because the girl doesn't want to be moved.

And she has a really strong sense of right and wrong and good and bad. When this happens to her (or when she does this...for those of you who are all about accountability in four year olds), she knows she's not doing the right thing, and yet feels powerless to stop it. This compounds her original problem and she jumps onto the nobody-is-going-to-like-me-now-anyway boat, making it her against the world.

As a parent, I can break through to her pretty quickly. Sometimes, I'll clash with her, show her that she's the child and I'm the adult and she needs to calm it down. But more often, I'll soothe her (without trying to pick her up or move her until she's ready). She wants to hear that she's still a good girl, that people still like her, that everything will be okay. She wants someone on her side. And once you can get her on board with that, the rage passes and you can work through it.

Is it ideal? No. Like I said, we're working on it.

But it's something at least. She doesn't want to lose control, and it's never aimed at a person. Even when she's fighting with her sister, if that rage thing kicks in, the sister is forgotten. It's just the one and her emotions, fighting each other.

I guess, the solution is to show your child that you're on her side, but you need her to work with you. If you can approach these situations with a little gentleness, you can usually stave them off or stop them before they even get off the ground.


1 comment:

  1. Dear You,

    I'm really touched by the love and understanding you show your child - knowing that she is lashing out not because she is a 'bad' kid but because she is overwhelmed by emotions. Your thinking is backed up by the latest in neuroscience that shows when we are flooded with feeling our pre-frontal cortex shuts off and we act impulsively. So your kind attention to your daughter at those terrible times when she's 'losing it' and lashing out is exactly what she needs to bring her back to her innate ability to co-operate and join in. Reading you blog I wonder if you have heard of the Hand in Hand Parenting approach to hitting and tantrums? It has made about %1000 difference for me in handling my little girl's tantrums! Check out Patty Wipfler's wonderfully helpful and practical article '3 Tools to Stop the Hitting':

    The ideas and tools described so clearly and compassionately in the article, based on 30 years of experience, will radically resolve the hitting and tension you describe your daughter carrying.

    Good luck, and courage, for all those hours of loving kindness you show your children - and all at the same time as thinking through the best way to show them that love. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in your blog,


    Anna Cole, PhD
    Licensed Facilitator of a Celebration Day for Girls &
    Parenting by Connection Instructor-in-training, 2012



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