About Boys Between Three and Six Years Old
Around three years of age a change takes place in little boys: Soft and cuddly babies who morphed into cute toddlers now turn into challenging and defiant little critters one minute while going into complete melt down the next. When this happens parents wonder what on earth has happened or what they are doing wrong! Nothing they have done is wrong; this behaviour is a symptom of little boys having reached the next growing phase.
It means that for the coming three years testosterone levels will be at its highest, NOT to trigger sexual maturity, but to assist the male species to grow more and stronger muscle mass. The side effect is that they will challenge the very people they will actually feel closest to and feel safe with, mostly their parents. They want to be strong, carry big things, are very pleased when someone remarks how their muscles have grown and they often want to do manual things they see dad or grandpa do, the more action the better.
Now is the time to somehow ‘shift gears’:
• Stay consistent with the rules one has set in the family, but check to make sure they are within the comprehension and ability of the child.
• The child will show tantrums or at least try, for that is part and parcel of this stage, a bit like premenstrual tension in girls, they really haven’t got much control over it.
• Important is to show empathy and affection when he seeks it, without shifting the boundaries, e.g. toys have to be packed up before dinner time. Child wants to keep playing, doesn’t respond to request. Rest of the family sits at the table to have dinner and child now wants to join. The answer is: NO, but…when you have packed your toys away and washed your hands you can come and join us. Suppose he throws a tantrum, drops on the floor, rolls around etc. That is quite OK, there is nothing wrong, carry on as if it is not happening.
• Suppose he now wants to have a cuddle from one of his parents, very likely from the one who has set the rule: this is a form of seeking reassurance that you’re still on his side! Give him the cuddle (that will calm him), then repeat the instruction.
• Here is where parents can really work in tandem: the other parent can now say: “Would you like me to help you? If we do it together it will be much quicker.” It is very likely that the child will accept this and this parent can now help pack up, be with him when he washes his hands and come back at the table together.
• The latter is a gesture of kindness and children get that! The very offer will already help to bring that feeling-of-chaos down.*
• Another example is when a boy deliberately challenges his mother. This is where the father calmly steps in, stops the child and says: “Don’t let me see you treat your mother like that again!” And wait to see how he responds. These are moments when boys NEED their dad, when they NEED to see their dad act in a way that they can model themselves on. Their impression is often that dad is usually fun-and-games, but when they realize that he can suddenly be serious and seemingly uncompromising when behaviour is displayed that is pushing the boundaries, it will make a big impact.
*The reason for this strategy is that, while one parents holds the ‘framework’ that helps the family function as a small entity, the other will accommodate the child (he is only little and as yet cannot fully control emotions) by staying with him. Keep calm and matter of fact till the action is completed; it will help the child streamline his emotions again. The parents’ calmness will rub off on the child (as well as on the siblings looking on) and it will decrease the adrenaline that has surged during the emotional outburst.
Mothers are usually having a harder time at this stage, for little boys will grow into men and this is the first time that instinctively and subconsciously, they are trying to separate from the ‘safeness’ of mum to the ‘adventure’ that dad seem to offer. Also, a mother’s face is very expressive and the child will regulate his emotions according to what he reads on his mother’s face and they end up in a vicious cycle feeding each other’s upset emotions. **
Therefore, I would suggest that, if the mother has truly had enough and the father is around, remind him that the child is his too and that he can deal with it for you are just going around the block to get yourself together! The child may well cry even harder, but that’s OK, dads have amazing creative abilities given half the chance and even more so when sometimes they are not given the choice! In an otherwise stable household with plenty of affection the child will settle and all dad has to do is just hold him.
Most 3 to 6 year olds love to do anything that involves using their muscles and it would be advisable to give them the chance to wear themselves out and spend that physical energy constructively, e.g. riding a bike, skateboarding, digging trenches across the backyard, carrying bricks to build walls…
Touch, a cuddle, just holding until they have cried themselves out, is often a good way to settle a child. Once they breathe normally again, offer a drink, a glass of water with the words: “When you drink this it will rinse all the upset feelings away and there will be room again for all the loving feelings and then you can think clearly again”. (Works with grownups too!)
**This pattern will get repeated when the boy hits puberty but on a different level. Mothers may find themselves in a heated argument with their teenage son, trying to make him see sense and even eventually burst out in tears saying: “If anything happens to you I just want to die, I cannot bear the thought!” only to hear this boy, who may well already tower over her, say: “Okay then” and walk away…And again, here is where a father can take over by backing up the mother, but also discuss ways and means with him when and under what circumstances the son can realize his desire.