I have gotten several questions from local mothers lately regarding their (usually four year old) lying or stealing…..And the mothers are rather frantic about this, and are convinced their children are going to grow up to be juvenile delinquents.
First of all, let’s take a brief peek back at the four-year-old, (because it usually is a four-year old): http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/02/04/fantastic-four-year-old/
Secondly, let’s veer to what Steiner says for a moment. In his lectures in the book, “Soul Economy”, he is very specific and clear that the child can only start to distinguish between right and wrong starting somewhere around five years of age. Traditional childhood development resources such as The Gesell Institute states that a child will “blame” every one else for what happens when they do something “wrong” – ie, “You made me do that!” In the Gesell Institute book “Your Seven-Year-Old” remarks, “Seven is definitely concerned about the wrongness of lying and cheating, especially in others. He is somewhat less likely to blame others for his misdeeds than earlier, but is quick to tatttle about any breach of the ethical code on the part of his parents and friends. If he himself missteps, he is very ready with an alibi: “I didn’t mean to,” “I forgot,” “I was just going to do it,” “That’s what I meant.” So what are you asking of your four-year-old?
From a Waldorf perspective we believe that the child under the age of 7 doesn’t have that individual consciousness yet, that a young child is in an imitative phase and that a young child is also in a phase of being physically in their bodies. In an example to illustrate this, Steiner spoke in one of his lectures about distraught parents who came to him because their under seven child was “stealing” money from a place where they normally stored it in the house. Steiner pointed out that the child had seen the mother take money from this place to pay for things, and that the child was simply imitating the mother. The Gesell Institute points out that even a seven-year-old is likely to pick up and play with whatever catches their eye – yes, a seven-year-old!
So here we go back to the question I pose nearly every post: Are you expecting your four-year-old to act like a ten-year-old? You cannot parent an under 7 child with verbal directives from a chair. Do not “ask” your four-year-old to do something, leave the room, come back and ask”, “Why didn’t you do why I asked?” They are going to say, “I did!” This is NORMAL from a developmental perspective.
The other issue is to know and understand when to make a BIG deal over things and when not to – yes, we need to guide behavior. But, we probably need to guide less of this then you think, at least in words. We tend as parents to be oh-so-serious about these issues in the three, four year –old. If you “Head Talk” to your under six child about lying, stealing, etc it will not make much of an impact at all because of the above things we mentioned developmentally – if you are physically there to help your child follow through with what you ask, if you do not draw so much individual consciousness to them at such an early age, if you remember normal childhood development, then your physical presence will hold the space and decrease these behaviors.
Your child is learning how to be a moral person in their early childhood and needs your strong, and warm physical presence in the Early Years. In Waldorf, we would work with this through less words, and more doing. More physical presence, more being there with the child, more being present. And knowing what to make a big deal of and knowing when to clean up the mess with the child and not talk it to death!
Please re-think your overly verbal and head-oriented approach to the child in the younger years as they develop their ethics and sense of morality. Reassure your child they are loved no matter what behavior that they try on, but SHOW them that you are the adult in this situation, you have the control, and you can help them by being there.