The Terrible Fours?

By: Kris Berry

My husband and I are perplexed.  We’re utterly confused.  I hope it’s not just us, and in talking with other parents I’m learning it’s not.  Why is it that people talk about the terrible twos, but fail to talk about what lies beyond that?  Is it so that parents will venture through the twos with hopes of a sunny three-year-old?  Well, I’m here to burst that bubble and get real.

I always considered myself lucky.  My boys have always been really good kids.  While they were always full of energy, they were sweet and good natured.  They listened, were kind to their sibling and went with the flow.  Then they turned three.  With that came a strong independent streak in both of them.  I hoped and prayed it was something they’d outgrow.  I woke up on their fourth birthday hoping I’d find two different kids.  No such luck.

Part of me really thinks it’s me.  Parenting used to be wrapped up a neat little package (other than the normal baby messes that is).  I could control it.  I could put their clothes and their shoes on and be places when I needed to.  Now, I have lost that sort of control.  Putting their shoes on seems to be a monumental task that can take 15 minutes.  I ask constantly for them to do things (put on shoes, put away toys, etc…) to no avail and I’m the only one who seems to be exasperated by my continual asking.  Again, it’s not that they are bad kids.  I feel like they think their father and I have a personal vendetta out against them.  It seems that whatever I am asking them to do it’s the wrong thing.  They will cry about something one day and the next day whatever it was that made them sad the day before is perfectly fine.  The whining and crying happens every day.  Maybe it is me, but something needs to change.

The thing that gets me down is I used to do this for a living.  Parents and teachers used to come to me for suggestions of ways to motivate children, ways to curb behavioral outbursts, ways to make children feel successful.  But now here I am, the parent who has no idea what to do to make our home run more smoothly.  I have been trying to reach down into my bag of tricks, only to find it empty.  I am at a loss.

Then it came to me.  Yes, I need more patience.  Yes, I need to ease up and realize that they are just 4 and nothing we have going on in our every day lives is overly pressing that I need to stress about it so much.  I also need some common language to help the boys when they are getting frustrated, to demonstrate to them that they are in control of their bodies and their emotions.  I don’t want to ever make them feel that it’s not ok to be sad or to express anger or frustration, I want exactly the opposite of that.  I want them to know that their father and I are always here.  We want to know what they are feeling and we want to know if we have done or said something that has upset them.  So, I thought about it a bit.

One of my boys wants to be a chef when he grows up.  I figured I could relate emotions and feelings to something literal-a boiling pot.  We had a discussion about when his anger rises his “pot” begins to boil.  Chefs never want their food to boil over, because it will ruin what they are cooking as well as make a big mess in their kitchen.  I demonstrated deep breathing and told him he has the ability to turn down his heat.  And you know something, it works!  Now, in our house “your pot” is a key phrase to everyone to take a deep breath and stop for a moment.  The boys ask me throughout the day how my pot is and I check in with them about theirs.  Not only has it been a helpful reminder to them when they are beginning to get frustrated, but it’s also been good for me.  I will clearly tell them that my pot is starting to bubble if I feel my patience beginning to wane.  It tunes them into my feelings of frustration as well.

Parenting is hard, it’s harder than I ever expected it would be.  We have great days and we have not so great ones.  I am sitting here tonight writing this post feeling exhausted, worn out, and defeated.  But I know tomorrow gives me another chance to feel more successful as a parent…I just need to watch my pot.


3 thoughts on “The Terrible Fours?

  1. I love the “pot” analogy. With my older son I found that “taking deep breaths” was incredibly helpful in heading off a meltdown. After that, he could better articulate the problem. I also feel a kindred spirit about the struggle when you have been trained and practiced helping other children, with success!! and then your own seem immune. My mom says 4 was her least favorite age with all of her grandchildren, fwiw. After that it seemed to generally get easier. Good luck!

  2. Thanks for the great advice. I also want you to know that you’re not alone. I also suffer from a lack of patience, and find myself getting frustrated when I feel as if I’m talking to the wall when I ask my girls to put their things away. And I suppose that they get frustrated too. Especially the little one, because she can’t do as much as her older sister. My two girls are past the age of 4 (they’re five and seven), but the younger one still has problems with accepting that she can’t do everything she wants to do when she wants to do it, and will collapse in a heap (literally) when we try to get her to do something she doesn’t want to do, or tell her she can’t do something she wants to do. I like the pot analogy, and I think it’s something I can use to help her accept her own limitations, and to not feel so frustrated and helpless all the time.

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