This morning as I was preparing breakfast, the two bigger kids (ages 8 and 5) wanted to build a train track, but the chest of train tracks was in their little brother’s room, and since I had a crying baby I couldn’t lift it and bring it out to the spot they wanted to build the train track on. Therefore, the oldest decided she could not wait for me to get the train tracks and she would do it little by little herself. After one trip into the bedroom to get tracks, she started saying, “But (little sister) NEVER helps! She never does ANYTHING to clean up or help! I guess I will do it all by myself!” and started yelling at her little sister to help her. In return, her little sister, who just turned five two weeks ago, promptly did a great version of “NANAABOOBOO” and started with the wonderful name-calling that every four and early five year old seems to know how to do.
I actually felt amused, because it provided me this great moment of epiphany: My oldest was using the wrong tools to try to get her little sister to help! First of all, yelling at someone never works; second of all, even asking and reasoning with a four or five year old to help is not going to work because they are moving beings not reasoning beings; and third of all, every four or five year old is going to react to being yelled at by their sibling with a version of “nanaabooboo” because that is their level of maturity.
So stop to think! How many times do we use the WRONG tools in parenting? When you go to discipline a child, do you ever stop to think if this tool that you are about to use is the right one for the age of your child? Do you understand where your child is developmentally?
Or are you flying about with no tools? Reacting by yelling is essentially flying without a toolbox. Yelling typically results from frustration, so double check if your expectations are truly in line with your child’s age. Are they?
The younger child did end up helping her big sister get out the train tracks. I gave the older one ownership of the problem (she could have waited for me to help her or she could do it herself happily or she could turn it into a game and involve the younger one in carrying the tracks). I guided the older one when she got stuck in frustration, and helped involve the younger one. This is the job of a parent; it is not to say “work it out” until you are certain they have the tools to “work it out”.
Yelling and blaming and spewing frustration at your child are not parenting tools, even though we have all been there and done these things. Be easy with yourself, and forgive yourself for these things that are reactions and not guiding. Being a gentle parent is so important, but luckily our children give us many chances to show better sides of ourselves!
Remember movement, games, reasonable expectations, a cheerful attitude on your part, restitution on the child’s part if something did not go well. There are wonderful tools for a wonderful future adult.