Little Big Kid: 5 Years Old
If I had sat down and written this a few weeks ago it would have been a very angry, frustrated, sad post. A few weeks ago I was going through a rough spot with my daughter, EJ, now more than half way through kindergarten she is going through so many major changes. It’s had a huge effect on her behavior and therefore a huge effect on what I’ve had to sort out as a parent. EJ has always been a terrific, sweet girl, eager to share, playful and silly yet empathetic and caring. She was my sweet first baby that I showered with mountains of kisses and endless attention and doting from all the extended family for being the first spectacular grandchild on either my, or my husband’s side of the family. So having said that…
The Problem EJ started coming home from school grouchy, really annoyingly, unnecessarily grouchy. She started being difficult (and by difficult I mean, ‘pain in the butt’) in the mornings before school and all around her mood and behavior seemed completely different than the sweet kid that used to come home from preschool.
I’m almost embarrassed to say it took months for me to get tired of going in circles with disciplining the bad behavior and getting nowhere. Time-outs and toys removed and the bickering, oy the bickering was driving me crazy. I didn’t want to be that mom, I didn’t want to be the disciplinarian and the big meanie but I felt so incensed by her behavior and would not tolerate it. I felt very exacerbated by the whole situation so I decided to go read, read, read.
I read about typical five year old behavior, I read about disciplinary techniques for the five year old, and I read about other parent’s experiences. It helped a lot. I discovered one grand point: Kindergarten is a major game changer. Children are getting used to depending on different grown ups and their peers while they are away from you, they’re finding their place in the social fabric and they’re discovering more about themselves and others.
Age Appropriate Expectations. I realized from my reading that I had been too harsh on my daughter about lying, which for me is a big issue, but for my five year old is still a tricky area blurred with an amazing imagination and a bit of uncertainty about the mystical dreamy area that lies between reality and her pretend play. I looked at my tall kid, who spoke so astutely and seemed so bright and I just thought, surely she knows better, no she doesn’t, not yet.
When you get mired in the slop of telling your kid what not to do, make sure you take a minute to clarify what you do want them to do. I was so busy saying, “Cut it out.” and “Stop that.” that I wasn’t taking the time to lay out (calmly!) what I was hoping to see from my daughter. I needed to make clear to her what good behavior was and not just assume she would meet the (sometimes unrealistic expectations) I had of her at this age.
Get Used to Repeating Yourself. Another tidbit I gleaned from my reading was that it is normal to have to tell your five year old not to do something a hundred times. Actually I believe the article said 10 times but for some reason reading that was a huge weight off my back. I guess I thought she ‘should’ be listening to me, how many times do I have to tell her?! The answer, as it turns out, is about a million more times. You will have to repeat yourself for the rest of your parenting days until you’re a great-grandma telling your granddaughter what you suggest your great-granddaughter be doing. Ta-Da! Be at peace with that, do you hear me? Accept it I said! Own it, sing a repetitive song about it. Of course that’s only if you care, if you’re involved and in my opinion the more you put into it the more you get out of it, so yes, I care. So, so much.
So when my daughter’s behavior changed I was involved, sticking my nose in and trying to get to the bottom of it. One day my daughter tells me that her “Best Friend” (same kid she hugs everyday and begs for play-dates with), LT is a bully. It seemed hard to believe, I mean this is a freckle-faced, pig-tailed five year old girl. EJ told me that she is forced to play with this kid so we talked about ways to end that, I emailed her teacher (thanks technology!) who actually thanked me for the heads up about the situation, she talked to both girls individually and everything was addressed (with big drama from LT). EJ came home in a better mood but the next day chose to play with LT anyway! Same grouchy crab came home. So we got a few stickers as incentive to put on her calendar, pleeeease have a good day, I’ll give you a glittery pony sticker?!
Next step, I had to discuss a few things with my daughter. We talked extensively about choosing a friend that is fun and lets you play how you want to play. I told my daughter that she is a good friend and deserves to be treated well, that she needs to be aware of when a friend needs space or a break or are just grouchy and how she can get out of playing politely. It all started sinking in. My daughter came home in a beautiful mood one day. *Ding* pony sticker. Who did she play with? Other kids! A friendly girl and another nice kid and children that helped her come home acting like my sweet girl again. Phew.
Behavior Celebration. As soon as this situation was remedied, it made it easier for me to try out something else I knew I needed to do more, praise the good behavior. When there’s a fog of bad behavior it’s hard to do, we get so caught up in “Stop it!” and “Don’t!” but in my reading I kept seeing this idea of the importance of praising good behavior. So when EJ came home nice I’d express my appreciation to her specifically, I pointed out to her that her pleasantness effected mine, we walked from school to the car having a lovely conversation instead of squabbling at each other the entire time. I’m not totally diving into the category of, “Behavior Modification” which suggests that you actually ignore the bad behavior and only praise the good, but I like the second part enough to take away half the lesson.
The other thing that had diminished greatly were the hugs. I don’t know when it happened but at a certain point I became a much less huggy, physically affectionate person, so sad really. The baby girl that was born into a bowl of hugs and kisses from mom and dad had grown bigger and received wayyyy less of that. Sure to some extent the older they get the less they want their parents showering them with all that but at five, she still soaked it up and I needed to make sure that when I was assaulting her little brother with a barrage of smooches that I made sure she got a serving of them too. While I’m at it make sure to go love on that husband too!
Lastly, we cut down on morning aggravations by picking out the next days outfit the night before, at least whenever we can manage it. It actually made her look forward to putting on the outfit and some mornings, if she wakes early, she actually gets herself completely ready just for the ‘voila’ factor, “Look ma! I’m ready!” time for that praise of good behavior mom, “Honey! That’s awesome! Great job.” kisses, hugs, repeat.