Washington — Four-year-olds love to share their opinions, their bodies are largely at their command, and their creativity and imagination are at all-time highs.
But for all this growth, a 41/2-year-old is still immature.
This means she still wants what she wants when she wants it. She can be prone to fits and tantrums when life does not go her way. And this is really important: She cannot always hold on to her good intentions.
When you talk to her and she is nodding vigorously and promising, "Yes, Mommy, I will definitely not scream or stomp my feet," she means every word she says.
But when it's time to leave a play date, your daughter's immature mind is focused only on playing with her friend. Every promise she made is out the window. Your frustration grows because you have discussed this topic already, and it probably feels as if your daughter is yanking you around. But your daughter is not trying to humiliate you.
What are you supposed to do?
1. Stop thinking she is behaving like this on purpose. Even if her behaviour seems premeditated, it isn't. She is hyped up from the play date, doesn't want it to end and has forgotten her promises. Her tantrums and sass are not personal. Read that again and repeat as necessary.
2. If you accept that her behaviour is not personal and that she can't control her big emotions, your marching orders become clear. Who is the person who needs to change this situation? You. I can hear you sigh from here, but this is the easier of the two paths. Stipulate that all play dates must be at your house. It is much easier to control the end of the play date when you are on your own turf. Tell the other parents: "My daughter loves playing with Tonya, but we are struggling with ending play dates. We are practicing how to end them with a bit more... peace." I don't know a single parent who wouldn't understand this.
3. Mandating that play dates occur at your home may lessen the number of them, but that's okay. Four-year-olds (especially if they are in school) do not need play dates, and her spinning out could be a sign that her nervous system is hitting a wall.
We are borderline obsessed with socialising our children for fear that we will miss a magic developmental window and our children will become recluses. But that's not how it works.
Preschool-age children take their cues from the adults in their lives and are not meant to spend gobs of time with other children. Many 4-year-olds are easily overstimulated by the company of children (hence more out-of-control behaviour).
Your child cannot handle these play dates, and you need to act as her prefrontal cortex. Either stop them or slow them considerably. The alternative is that you keep waiting for a preschooler to "get it" and control herself. That's unfair to you and your daughter.
Does this mean she'll never have a play date again? Of course not. Start practicing maturity at home. Let's say a friend is coming over. Say to your daughter: "Tonya is coming over tomorrow. Let's start practicing the end of the play date." Then you script how the conclusion will look. Have your daughter walk you to the door, shake hands or hug, smile and say, "Thank you so much for coming." Practice this multiple times and then again at the play date. Before the parent arrives, have the friend and your daughter put on their shoes and coats, then take them outside to wait.
This way, you are moving the children out of your home and easing the path to the car, bypassing the shenanigans.
Expect that your child will forget and begin to stamp her feet. Pick her up, smile wide, thank Tonya and her parent, and get back into the house.
As long as you are in front of the other parent, you will feel out of control and more embarrassed, so get out of that situation. The end of the play date isn't the time for chitchat and in-depth discussion.
If you keep your boundaries where the play dates take place, keep practicing with your daughter and strongly reconsider whether she needs the play dates right now, you will find some ease in this drama.
Your daughter will outgrow this. Good luck.