QUESTION: I am in need of advice about dealing with our eldest child, a boy, who is almost five. We also have a three-and-a-half-year-old boy and an 18-month-old girl.
The main issue is the way the eldest is behaving, mainly at home. He can act grown up and responsible sometimes, but when he and his younger brother are left to their own devices for longer than two minutes, all hell can break loose.
They pulled the blind off the window this week after breaking the car wiper last week. Our younger boy is no angel, but he is definitely egged on by his big brother.
We have tried everything: taking toys away, no treats, cancelling outings, ignoring, and shouting.
It's like they forget the trouble they were in and carry on wrecking the house, garden and our heads! We feel the elder boy knows what he is up to while his baby brother just joins in. He is also prone to tantrums, which we feel he should have grown out of by now.
He doesn’t care who witnesses these outbursts, and he gets so worked up he can’t stop.
School is going well and his teacher said he was very bright.
We can see he has an amazing memory, and he plays well with his peers. Any advice would be great.
ANSWER: I can imagine that life is very busy in your home. Three children under the age of five is plenty to keep an eye on. Unfortunately for you, keeping an eye on them is one of the key tasks of parenting at their age and stage.
You talk about your four-year-old as if he is more mature than he actually is.Four, almost five, year olds, are notoriously impulsive, excitable, energetic and full of devilment. He also isn't likely to be thinking very far ahead about the consequences of his behaviour. Because of this, parents have to be constantly alert to what children this age are up to.
We have to think ahead on their behalf, aware of what dangers or consequences they are likely to face.
He may well have been hanging from the blind, without realising that his weight (with his brother) would lead the blind to collapse. If you or your partner had been there, you would no doubt have intervened before the blind collapsed.
The boys sound like they want to have fun and are reliant on whatever limits you set to keep them on track and out of mischief.
You have to regulate their behaviour because at their age they cannot be expected to manage their own behaviour for long.
For example, how does a four-year-old get access to a wiper blade unless he was up on the bonnet of the car? The only way to enforce a limit of “no climbing on the car” is to be vigilant and to lift him down whenever he looks as if he is about to climb.
It is often the case that parents set limits, then simply use commands and directions to try to enforce them.
So parents might be saying “No”, “Don’t” or “Stop” without backing this up with some action.
Children those ages are exploring the world in a physical way. They are tasting, climbing, pushing, pulling, twisting, turning, rolling, kicking and physically manipulating everything they come into contact with. They don’t engage with the world in a cerebral or overly thought-out way.
We have to guide and direct them physically, too, and that means being present, monitoring and intervening before their exploration causes much damage.
Punishment for misbehaviour is not often very successful with pre-schoolers because frequently they don’t make the link between their misbehaviour and the punishment. For punishment to be effective it has to occur close to the misbehaviour and be a natural consequence. So losing out on treats or outings might be negative consequences, but by the time they miss out, will the children still remember why?
More importantly, will they be motivated to behave better next time, or will they be just learning to be cannier and to not get caught?
Rather than constantly teaching children what not to do (with punishment), it can be far more effective to show them what you want them to do. So positive reinforcement for good behaviour pays a dividend as children learn what is expected of them.
Moreover, they are more likely to be motivated to behave well rather than trying to avoid acting boldly.
Lively, energetic boys might also need lots of opportunity to let off steam in positive ways. Don’t be afraid to get them out, whatever the weather, to stomp through puddles, run through parks or whatever else will keep them out and active.
Be careful, too, of your expectations for your son.
He is only four and it is quite a natural response to have a tantrum.
Do any of us fully grow out of tantrums? Let’s be honest, most adults probably have tantrums every so often, although they do not lie on the floor kicking and screaming.
Try to understand why your son is having his tantrum. It could be his way of showing you that all is not well in his world.
If you can catch it early enough, you may find that empathy will help to divert him from a tantrum.
Because the boys are aged three and four, you still have to invest a lot of time in their care and supervision. By spending a lot of positive time with the children you will find that their behaviour improves because the opportunity to get up to mischief decreases. – Irish Independent