Your little person is growing up! How can you support them on this marvelous journey?

By Liz Paul, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

Your child is starting to become less dependent on you to meet all of his/her needs.  Sometimes this comes as a great relief and yet at the same time letting go can be so hard…  it can be a time of great anxiety for both you and your child.

Your child is about to discover who he/she is, to become their own person, to be autonomous and to be able to make choices.

How can you support your child through this stage of their journey?  Here are the key points I discussed in a recent presentation I gave to parents.

The amazing brain of a child

By two years, a child’s brain is already consuming as much energy as an adult brain.  By three years of age, the child’s brain is twice as active as an adult’s brain.  This high level of brain activity continues until about 9 or 10 years and then starts to decline to adult levels over the next 10 years.

Hence why these early years are SO important. As we talk with our children and play with them, we give them opportunities to have new experiences.  As we model desirable behaviours and attitudes, we are actually helping their brain development as new, useful connections are created, reinforced and laid down.

The importance of PLAY

  • PLAY is an essential part of brain development. The opportunities for teaching and influencing are greater in the early years than at any other time of life. BUT, don’t get too carried away with this information and program your child’s life with so many ‘enriching’ activities that they don’t just have time to just be a child and play by themselves.
  • PLAY, where adults don’t interfere, is crucial to well rounded brain development.  It helps children develop imagination and emotional strength as well as resilience.

The 3 temperaments of children

Temperament is hard-wired, but it can be influenced  by a range of social and environmental factors including parenting practices, gender, exposure to new situations, general life events and relationships with friends and siblings.  There are three main types of temperaments:

1. Easy going

Around 40% of children have an ‘easy’ or easy going temperament. These children are flexible in their approach to life right from birth. They respond to new situations in an easy manner. They have regular sleeping and eating habits and aren’t demanding or easily upset.

NB: Because these children are less demanding, you may be inclined to spend less time with them as they fit in so easily and because there are so many other demands in your life. Try not to fall into that trap.

2. Slow to warm up

Another 15% are described as ‘slow to warm up’.  As toddlers you may notice they tend to withdraw when they encounter a new situation. They may become anxious and even have physical symptoms.  These children tend to benefit from consistent, predictable routines. They may need extra time to finish a task or to establish a relationship. Don’t rush them; they’ll get there.

3. Active temperament

A smaller proportion of children (10 per cent) are ‘challenging’.  As babies, these children may have irregular sleeping habits, may be more difficult to feed and settle down.  As toddlers, they more be more prone to temper tantrums and harder to please. Some may have difficulty adjusting to school.  These children may need extra opportunities for vigorous play so they can work off stored up energy. Parents need to be flexible in their reactions to these children. They will benefit from exposure to a peaceful environment that will help them to calm themselves, such as in the transition from playtime to bedtime.  The child whose temperament produces strong feelings and intense emotions may find that these feelings may become part of their enthusiasm to achieve, their zeal to make a difference and their determination not to be defeated. These things can be encouraged as positive characteristics of their personality.

The remaining 35% of children are a mixture of all three temperaments, somewhere on the continuum.

Understand your child’s temperament

It is important to remember that although we can’t change temperament, we can modify behaviour. Parents can do this with:

–  clear, consistent communication
–  listening to and respecting their child’s opinions
–  having realistic expectations
–  setting clear limits which help them develop self-control
–  and, because children learn by imitating, by being a good role model.

Your temperament Vs your child’s

‘You’ have a particular temperament which you were born with.  Knowing your temperament will help you understand the areas where your child’s temperament and your own may clash.

You can then adjust your expectations to be more in line with your child’s temperament and capabilities i.e. you can modify your style to get a better fit between you and your child, rather than reacting instinctively and emotionally. Over time, your child should respond by modifying their behaviour.

Cautions

  • Don’t label your children. Children who are given labels may see themselves as not able to fit in, or as undesirable.
  • When there is a problem, a common knee-jerk reaction is to criticise, particularly if we regularly received criticism in our own childhood.
  • Correct the behaviour and work on a solution that will remove the child’s need for that behaviour while at the same time increase their skills and confidence.

Understanding your child’s behaviours

The first five years of a child’s life involve many changes and challenges that can result in strong negative feelings.

The emergence of new verbal skills, self awareness and goal directed behaviour coincides with parents beginning to impose rules and limits. Thus, clashes are likely to be common during this period and children are likely to express frustration and anger physically.

Behaviours that might be labelled physical aggression typically peak between two and three years of age. Most children learn to regulate such behaviours and use alternatives by the time they reach middle childhood.

Why do kids kick, bite & fight?

  • Kicking and pushing others are common behaviours in young children, with one study indicating that 50% of children 17 months of age push others and 25% kick others.
  • When a young child fights with another child, it is likely they are having trouble expressing feelings into words.
  • This can be normal in the early years, as they are only beginning to expand their language and are having their first experiences of exerting their own will and dealing with strong emotions.

Tantrums are usually only a short term embarrassment for you

  • Tantrums are a natural part of growing up and are not usually cause for serious concern.
  • Tantrums are particularly common in children under the age of 3, but as children mature and their self control and understanding of the world increase, their frustration levels are likely to decrease, resulting in fewer tantrums.
  • For children between 1 and 2, tantrums often stem from trying to communicate a need – more milk, that toy over there – but not having the language skills to do it. They get frustrated when you don’t respond to what they’re ‘saying’ and they throw a fit.
  • For older toddlers aged 3 or 4, tantrums are more of a power struggle. They have grown more autonomous, and are keenly aware of their needs and desires – and want to assert them more. If you don’t comply? Tantrum city.

7 tips to modify your child’s poor behaviour

  1. Attention nourishes behaviour like food nourishes our bodies.  Starve undesirable behaviour of attention so it doesn’t grow.
  2. Pay attention to good behaviour so it will flourish.
  3. Children need boundaries and clear limits. By learning they can’t have everything straight away, children learn about waiting and how to develop self-regulation, which later develops into self-control.
  4. We often spend so much time trying to stop undesirable behaviours that, in the process, we are in danger of reinforcing that behaviour by giving it attention.
  5. It’s well worth spending time giving attention to good behaviours. This is the concept of ‘catching them being good’. It doesn’t take much time to say something positive. This helps turn the tables.  If children do not receive attention when their behaviour is good, then their only way of receiving attention will be to behave poorly.
  6. Decide what you can tolerate and what you can’t. And then only jump in when a behaviour really bothers you.  Otherwise it just gives your child more attention and wears you out at the same time.
  7. Initially, when you remove the audience (attention) the poor behaviour may worsen. It’s one last ditch action by the child to seize the upper hand and regain your attention. If you give in at this stage, your child learns the lesson that ‘If I really persist and put on a great show, I’ll eventually win.’

There is relief in sight…

Part of growing up involves learning how to regulate our behaviour. Such as learning to wait and take turns. Self-regulation is learned as children grow up with consistent but reasonable limits.  It’s harder for some children than others.

Children who can self-regulate become resilient. As they grow up, they learn to accept and work around the inevitable ups and downs that life will bring – and they are able to do this without feeling defeated.

Don’t sweat the small stuff…

It’s not uncommon for parents to take on their children’s problems. And while it may be a natural instinct, it doesn’t encourage children to solve their own problems.

‘Who owns the problem?’ When children learn to solve their own problems they develop confidence and self reliance. This doesn’t mean we can’t help guide our children.

You can be concerned about your child’s problem, you can offer advice, but don’t go too far. Rely on your child’s inner resources to work out an acceptable solution.

Lastly, choose your battles…

  • Some fights between parent and child occur over things of little consequence
  • Keep requests such as “stop” or “don’t do that’ to a minimum as it gives less opportunity for conflict with your child
  • Rules are for important things such as safe behaviour and not being aggressive to others. It’s here that the battles have to be won.


Liz Paul

Psychotherapist & Counsellor
Sydney Individuals and Couples Counselling
The Lotus Centre

Level 1, 2 - 13 Dale Street,
Brookvale, NSW 2100

Health & Wellness Australia Centre

Suite 2, Ground Floor, 83 Walker Street,
North Sydney NSW 2060

Ph: 0422 306 679

liz@sydneyindividualsandcouplescounselling.com

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