Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Ferocious Fours

My four-year-olds are at an age when I dread picking them up from preschool because I don’t know what is going to come forth from their teacher’s mouth. Most of the time, it’s “Austen had a bad day.” Yes, like many four-year-olds, especially boys, my twins are a real handful. Nonstop action. Tattling. Asking “why” constantly. Using “potty talk.” Wrestling and hurting each other. Not listening. This can be a real challenge for my husband and me because we’re both the kind of people who need some peace and quiet once in a while. I’ve always been amazed at the people who say they love the sound of chaos in their house.

Fortunately, I have older boys, so I know that it does get better. One of my teenagers was a real terror at age four, but is now perfectly calm and good-natured at fifteen. Being difficult at age four is completely normal, and is not necessarily an indication that you’re in for a lifetime of visits to the principal’s office. When I get another stern look from the teacher, I tell myself that next year will be better! When Austen gets me up in the middle of the night for the third time and says “I’m scared” or “I’m not tired,” I reassure myself that this will soon be a distant memory. (After all, my teenagers haven’t done that for years!) But until that day comes, I decided to see what the experts have to say about coping with four-year-olds. Here are some of their recommendations:

- Let their creative juices flow by giving them lots of material for art projects, such as play dough, colored paper, washable crayons, pipe cleaners, pieces of felt, stickers and more. Provide sidewalk chalk for drawing pictures outside.

- Take lots of walks with them, and encourage them to explore the great outdoors. My twins would rather go outside than sit in the house and watch a movie any day. Make sure they have lots of outdoor toys to play with, and don’t get too upset if they pick up worms and bugs. It’s all part of their great curiosity!

- Kids this age love projects. Let them plant a garden with you. Order baby caterpillars and “grow” butterflies! Make an ant farm.

- Four-year-olds relish pretend play. My boys still ask me to let them wear their Halloween costumes. And one of their favorite toys is a castle with plenty of knights and horses. Have plenty of things around that encourage your kids to engage in imaginative play.

- Teach them how to handle their anger. Four-year-olds can get mad easily when they don’t get their way, and they need to be taught positive ways to handle their anger. Their immediate instinct is to punch, hit or kick when another child has annoyed them. Teach them how to take turns, perhaps with a timer. And role-play the right words to use when they want another child to share.

- Read lots of books. My twins love going to the library and selecting books to read. The highlight of their day is sitting down to read with Mommy or Daddy before going to bed. Read with lots of emotion. Once you’ve read the book a few times, let your child “read” it back to you. You’ll be amazed at how much he remembers!

Despite the drama associated with raising four-year-olds, there are lots of benefits, too. I love to see their enthusiasm over something as simple as a banana milkshake! And the beaming smile they give over a few words of praise. Four-year-olds are full of life and laughter and love. Focus on these positive aspects and they’ll make those “tough days” a whole lot better.

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