Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Secret Lives of 4 Year Old Girls

We've been focused on Ella's behavior and our reactions to her behavior over the last month. You think the terrible two's are behind you only to go through spurts of very trying behavior. I've done more reading, talking to other parents and finally talking to her teachers at our first parent-teacher conference on Friday (and yes, Nick did fit in those tiny chairs). I've been concerned about some of the things that Ella says her friends are saying at school. It just sounds so mean. My concerns ran in various directions 1) is she doing something to provoke these words from her friends; 2) is she saying the things that she is repeating to me; 3) is it normal that the kids are saying these things to each other? Her teachers reassured us that the girls are all doing well in the class. The kids are all learning a new social skills and testing the limits of their words and how their words affect others. The teachers assured us that in the classroom, the kids are all on their best behavior. On the playground, the teachers are aware of what the girls are doing and know when to redirect their attention and praise behavior they want to duplicate. In the meantime, Nick & I need to continue to NOT react to Ella's comments that "X always calls me stupid" or "Y and I are getting fat." But, as a Mom, hearing those words makes my heart ache.
On a lighter note, Ella is doing great in the classroom. Nick asked the biggest faux-pas question for Montessori - "How does she compare to the other children?" I think he meant, "are you concerned that Ella needs extra help in any area?", but Montessori is all about embracing individualism. The teachers assured Nick that Ella was not falling behind and suggested that we continue working with phonics & numbers (recognition of the higher numbers) as the class will continue learning to sound-out words & add/subtract through the year.
I took a stack of 4 months worth of magazines to the salon last week when I got my haircut. One article assuaged my concerns about Ella's behavior at home. We were on the right track with the whining. Our mantra of "I don't understand you" will continue as will the trips to her bedroom for unacceptable behavior. We just need to continue to be firm - a 4-year-old can sense hesitation from a mile away.
While Nick was out-of-town last week, Ella had a major meltdown that resulted in a time-out in her room. It took nearly 30 minutes, but Ella finally calmed down, apologized AND put away all of her clothes. After her screaming and yelling started, she realized that her promised treat from Nick was in jeopardy because she was not being good for me. I tried to talk to her about what she could do to make up for her tantrum, but she kept yelling & screaming that cleaning her room or putting away her clothes was boring & she only wanted me to do boring things. I left her alone in the room & kept sending her back into her room when she came out. Finally, she got quiet, so I peaked around the corner & saw her putting away her clothes. The rest of the night went smoothly. She even called Nick & told him about how she had a tough night, but she put away the clothes to help me.
I have also changed my response to her increasingly common complaints of boredom. Apparently, kids this young don't understand boredom and it is really an expression that means "This project is too hard."
"I'm lonely."
"I'm overstimulated."
"I'm sad" or "I'm mad."
I try keeping this in my mind and take the conversation in a new direction.
We are trying to be patient and use words (quiet words) to work through her difficult times. The weekend went well. Ella had a legitimate complaint that she has to put away her toys that Charlie & Greta get out. So, we have asked her to help us teach Charlie & Greta how to clean up. Greta is on-board, but Charlie is using his crawling as an excuse to not help with the clean-up. Ella likes singing the clean-up song with them. It's reassuring to know that Ella's behavior is a normal developmental phase & that we are on the right track with our reactions to her behavior. Here's to a good week!

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