Yes, this is the title of my post.
My friend was describing a wild and tired three year old who was smearing peas all over the kitchen and as fast as my friend was cleaning it up, there was more being smeared. We have all been there, haven’t we? My friend was stating the cause was that the child was transitioning out of naps during the day, leading to the afternoon “melt-down” phase. She was asking what would be a way to handle this situation.
This situation is so familiar! The transition out of naps can lead to the inevitable afternoon “melt-down” of the child that may involve the child getting more and more wild and into some kind of mischief that causes the parent to feel frustrated. Some tired children just wind up and up and up in the late afternoon, don’t they? And sometimes the parent is feeling tired and less patient at this time as well as they also may not be getting that typical afternoon break when a child no longer naps.
So, what to do with smearing peas or other melt-down kind of situations?
Well, this is just my opinion but here goes. There is a fine line between a time to distract and provide humor in order to set a boundary versus a time to just set the boundary. These meltdowns do happen when you are in the nap skipping stage to make nighttime better, and so it is great to talk about this! This is where the physical piece of parenting comes in and I don’t mean physically beating your child :); you will see what I mean in a moment. Donna Simmons actually talks about this quite a bit in her discipline work (see www.christopherushomeschool.org) and this is the piece which many parents are uncomfortable with, but it is so necessary with the three and four year old population (I think so, anyway, from my experience).
My thought would be to not say many words at all, not to really distract with humor or anything else, the answer really is just that this is not okay. If a child is doing something to hurt you, hurt their neighbor or just plain irritate you, and the child is wild, you need the physical piece beyond the words. Does the three- year- old or four- year- old do these kinds of things on purpose? No, of course not. But you can still guide the situation.
The physical piece in this situation may have been to softly cover the child’s hands, gently pry whatever utensil is in the child’s hands out of the hands, catch the child in the eye and say, “I think your hands forgot what they were doing.” Put the peas up! And then physically hold the child, and take the child with you to get two wet cleaning cloths or whatever and hand one to the child to help clean up. If the child cannot control herself enough to do that, then the child could sit on the counter or near you or whatnot while you clean and rhythmically hum.
Or the answer may have been to just take the child who was probably also pea-smeared to the bathroom and get cleaned up and leave the kitchen until a bit later (and if they had a dog, it may have solved the cleaning up part before they got back from the bathroom, right?) But the beginning steps would have been the same – gee, your hands forgot what they are doing, physically removing the child from the situation gently and then making the situation better.
Small children under the age of 7 in general and especially those who are being wild, (whether this is from being tired or not), do not need words. They need a loving, physical presence to help bring them back into themselves. And they need help to see if they can make the situation better. We should not be afraid of physically holding our children when they are wild or upset if this is what they need. We should not be afraid to physically help our children come back into themselves, whether this is through a hug or through helping them clean up a mess they made.
I think parents are afraid of the physical piece needed with small children so many times because they feel angry and they rightly don’t want to touch their child when they are angry. However, when you get good at it, you can still be angry or frustrated inside BUT have gentle hands and a calm voice with your child. You can almost be outside yourself, observing the situation, if that makes any sense at all, but still be present and doing what you have to do. Many parents who cannot do that do find if one can get centered then the physical piece works. If you have to get centered before you can offer that which is needed, then you can go off to the other room or just scoop your child up and both of you go outside till you are both a little more calm. Just stand against the back door so your child cannot go back inside and smear more peas while you are pulling it together :).
Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.