Monday, 18 July 2016

They Don't Warn You About 4

They warn you about babies. The sleepless nights, the feeding problems, the developmental leaps and teething troubles.

They warn you about toddlers. The terrible twos (they may neglect to mention that these actually start at about 15 months), the tantrums, the wobbles and falls, Teething Troubles 2: The Nightmare Continues. The fresh hell of potty training.

They warn you about 3. The emergence of the threenager, the relentless questions, the meltdowns, the power struggles. The continued hell of potty training.

They don't warn you about 4.

And actually, they really should.

4 is a sneaky little age. It seems so grown up. 4 year olds are articulate, curious, physically capable. Heck, they're on the cusp of starting school. That all seems pretty mature, right? So this should be a doddle, right?


What you actually have with a 4 year old is a child who can talk far better than they can listen. Who is curious but doesn't know how to reign in their curiosity within acceptable boundaries. Who is physically capable - of pushing away your efforts to hold them, of out-running you, of climbing anywhere thus making it impossible to put anything out of reach.

You have a child who has the outward appearance of being quite big, but the brain of someone still quite little. Their logical brains are still not fully formed but, because they look and sound like rational human beings, we treat them like that - then get frustrated when they act irrationally.

You have a child who, because they can express themselves so well, get cross when their ever-so-articulate expression of what they want is met with refusal, no matter how gently that refusal is phrased. Who is developing their sense of self, meaning they will disagree with you just for the fun of it, or ignore requests and rules, because they want to see what they can get away with. You have a child who can veer from loving and thoughtful to rude and inconsiderate - sometimes in the space of 10 minutes.

You have a child who is probably in some sort of educational setting - 'the big room' at nursery, preschool or even school - where they have to behave in a way they're not really capable of doing consistently yet. They have to sit still, listen, not shout out, not grab that interesting toy - but not keep it for too long when it's their turn either. They're surrounded by other kids and noise and it can all get a bit overwhelming but there's nowhere to break away to. It must be exhausting.

Speaking of exhausted - they're a bit too old for a nap but a bit too young to get all the way through the day, so by bedtime they're getting silly and easily distracted. And it just happens to coincide with the time of day when you're looking longingly at the clock hoping for some peace and quiet and adult conversation once they're asleep, so their dithering and silliness is met with frustration.

And we're not warned of this. This tricky limbo stage between preschooler and 'big kid'. And because we're not warned of it, we worry that it's just our kid, that we've done something wrong. But we haven't. They're fine. They're just 4.

Well if you have a child under 4 I'm warning you now. 4 is hard. But it's also funny and lovely and exciting.

And if your 4 year old can't sit still, or share, or go to bed without a fight - if they still have tantrums, or toilet accidents - if they're loud, argumentative, and pushing all the boundaries - don't worry, they're normal. They're just 4.

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