I had lunch with a friend last week who I hadn’t seen in a while. As is always the case, after spending a few minutes catching up on each other, we spent the rest of the meal talking about our kids. She has a child around Annabel’s age, so we talked extensively about life with four-year-olds.
My friend’s kid is a lot like Annabel: articulate, charming, and smart. When they’re good, they are amazing. When they’re having a bad day…look out. It’s always nice to have someone else say, “No, you are not the only person who experiences INSERT PARENTING STRUGGLE.” We both have some big struggles with our four-year-olds. They both act older than they actually are, and I think a lot of our frustration with them stems from that. We get used to that maturity and when they act like, you know, four-year-olds, we’re stunned. Of course isn’t entirely fair to the kids, but it’s hard when you know how good they can be. And, as my friend said, “It’s exacerbated by how quickly they go from awesome to awful.”
My friend went on for a while about her kid’s epic meltdowns. The most difficult thing about the meltdowns is that they’re rarely caused by anything immediately fixable. Four-year-olds are emotionally unstable little creatures who can freak out because the sun rose and the air tastes weird. You can do everything right: make sure they get enough sleep, take away external influences, give consequences, etc, and the meltdown will still go on full-force. There’s no reasoning with insanity, and four-year-olds have insanity coursing through their veins.
The hardest thing for my friend is how quickly her child recovers from the meltdowns. The kid will go from shrieking incoherently to acting pleasant in the blink of an eye, practically giving my friend whiplash. “I don’t know how or why, but as soon as s/he finally gets over whatever the injustice du jour is, s/he’s ready to move on like nothing happened.” Which is all well and good, except my friend struggles with bouncing back. “The kid is skipping around and playing and being delightful, and I’m sitting there seething…basically holding a grudge against my four-year-old.”
I totally get that. I’ve had to quite literally shake myself to stop holding onto anger. There is no point in staying angry over something that a four-year-old has gotten over because as far as the kid is concerned, it happened one million years ago. At lunch time I could say, “Annabel, I am upset about the tantrum you threw at breakfast this morning,” and she’d reply, “I had breakfast today?” But still, it’s hard to not grab the kids by the shoulders and shout, “I want you to acknowledge the emotional turmoil you put me through!!” Sometimes (okay, lots of times) being the grownup is lame.
If I didn’t have my commiserating time, I know I’d feel totally alone. The good thing about four-year-olds is that they eventually become five-year-olds, etc, and I’m sure by the time they’re teenagers they’ll totally have this whole emotional thing worked out, right? Super-excited!
Mel G says:
Emotionally stable teenagers? Yeah, let me know how THAT works out for you! Lol
I think that was tongue in cheek. ;-P
Mel G says:
Oh I know. As the mum of a 17yo boy and an 11yo girl, my tongue was firmly planted too
Debbie A-H says:
I remember that feeling so well! And I did get an emotionally pretty stable teen, so, yes, it really can get better.
Ha ha ha ha ha (hysterical laughter) coming from the Mom of a 16 year old and a 19 year old…
Well, about that teenage stuff…I have one so far who has not managed to shake the meltdown stuff. But you’ve got a 50-50 shot at it!! 1 of 4 isn’t bad.
Oh yes, the teenagers in my house are totally rational beings…(please note the sarcastic tone…)
Thank you for the awesome laugh. My 5 year old is like Annabel, wise beyond his years and I too find myself getting upset when he acts like a 5 year old. My three year old is the temper tantrum diva and I keep telling myself she’ll get it all out of her system now and be an amazing teenager. It is the only thing that gets me through the days sometimes and I will not let anyone break down my fantasy — hold onto yours!!!
Heather, your readers don’t seem to be getting your sarcasm.
Jackie C. says:
I think they all get it, they’re just being sarcastic as well.
I’m so happy you are having this issue! I’ve been stewing since an incident we had on Tuesday. I took my daughter to a dr apt, then we had a cute lunch just the two of us, and shopping. She got lots of new things, then in the drive thru of the bank she lost.her.mind. I’m still shaken. She turned into a howling rabid little beast. Needless to say after the afternoon we had I was not expecting this at all. Her issue was a scratched dvd. She had a bag full of non-scratched dvds but the one she wanted was not working. I can’t even tell you how happy reading that post makes me. She acts older too and sometimes I do forget that. Great reminder! Maybe now I can stop stewing about what went wrong and being fearful for future trips! =)
Oh yes…it’s Betty Draper with Bobby and the sandwich at the farm. I spend much of my days trying to remember not to be Betty Draper. Not to stew and not to hold grudges and let their little KID things set me off for the the entire day — it’s so hard, but I’m trying.
So what I’m saying is, you most definitely are not alone in this.
i wonder if you’ve heard of this book?
it’s really a darling, fun story that talks about feelings that are tough to control, but in a way that four year olds can understand. i think that your Annabel might enjoy reading it. just a thought! best of luck.
All I can say is, it will serve her well when she gets older……By the way, I never failed to tell them how their behavior made me feel. Never hurts to remind them that moms are human.
Shannon O says:
I remember those days too well. My daughter is 14 now, and the moods have started again. The good thing is my sons both are so much easier (emotionally). I think God knew I could only handle one emotional girl.
Oh boy can I relate, my 7 yr old granddaughter threw a tantrum after I played a game with her for like an hour. She went into a total b@#$%$#. I was so made I carried the grudge and had trouble when after maybe 20 minutes she was all back to her sweet loving self and I couldn’t get there. I had to “let it go”!!!! Not fair they bounce back way too quickly, while we have to get our emotions under control. Good luck with the coming years, LOL
I am in the middle of this with my four year old son right now and wow, this was a timely post.
Hahaha, emotional meltdowns are a teen-age girls specialty!
Girl, PREACH! My 4 1/2 year old can go from a sweetheart to a beast in a matter of seconds. Usually over something tiny. You are not alone. Sometimes I want to grab her and shake her. But I don’t cause I have to remember that I am the adult and I don’t want Child Services knocking at my door. (that was a joke people) And it is super hard to not hold a grudge. Sometimes after she will come to me and say, mama I’m sorry for being bad. I won’t do it again. But then will be having a fit 10 minutes after. I guess it’s just life. Hang in there Mama. You aren’t alone. And thanks for sharing your story.
A friend of ours called them the F*%& You Fours! I couldn’t agree with him more when our son was 4. Now he’s almost 8 going on 18!
“But still, it’s hard to not grab the kids by the shoulders and shout, “I want you to acknowledge the emotional turmoil you put me through!!”
I never thought of it this way. I feel wounded by the emotional turmoil my 10 yr daughter puts me through with her angry outbursts LONG after she’s gotten over it and has gone back to being sweet. I had never thought of the fact that it is like me holding a grudge. Maybe remembering this will help me be more resilient next time it happens.
It helps to give yourself a time out either during or immediately after a meltdown, and let your child know why you are doing it. Five minutes can be sufficient to help you cool down and help your child understand that her antics have consequences. Tell her you need to be alone in your room because her behavior hurt your feelings.
Done that. It helps if you have just the one kid, but with two? You gotta take the other one with you and you can still get riled up by saying to the baby “Can you nelieve she SAID that to me?”.
hahahaha teenagers. I’m almost 22, and STILL can’t keep my emotions in check sometimes! Good thing by the time we have to be adults we tend to control it better. Mostly.
But really, if working at a daycare this summer has taught me ANYTHING, it’s that kids can flip on a dime. I’m still ticked off at how they behaved yesterday (they practically screamed and shrieked so loud during snack time that I couldn’t hear my co-teacher speak right beside me, then proceeded to ignore us when we said they were in trouble and decided to jump around the room while continuing to squeal.) While they received an epic 20 minute classroom-wide timeout, they’ve all probably forgotten by now. And then they were (mostly) delightful the rest of the day,being all cute while singing and dancing along to the Frozen soundtrack. All the while I was still seething mad at how disrespectful they were! Grr. I feel like I have emotional whiplash! Annnd we’re at the point in this lovely Tennessee summer where it’s so hot and humid by afternoon, we can’t take them outside to scream and run their energy off. LOVELY.
Thank you! I needed this – my darling 4.5 year old has literally turned into a teenager – when she gets upset it’s all stomping and grumpiness and oh the things she says! I don’t care Mum! No one will ever love you Dad. I’m only naughty because you are boring!
Last night I put her to bed – at the end of my tether. Slammed the door and told her to STAY there! All quiet – she fell asleep! And is her usual lovely self again today.
Oh my gosh. When my daughter was 4, I LOVED going to work. Work was a VACATION for me. I used to feel so terrible for thinking that way, but it was true. I couldn’t wait to get a break from her. She’s 8 now, and she’s my BFF. It DOES get better – and all the things that drive you crazy now, you will love about her as she gets older. I promise
My private theory is that four-year-olds, especially girls, are practicing for being 14! Then in lots of cases it goes underground for another decade…
But, my mother and I were at total odds when I was 7/8 and we got through the teen years pretty rationally. So sometimes it does work out!
We used to refer to our now 5 year old as the Tornado Rainbow, he would have a fit and make chaos of everything , leave the room and come back like nothing happened. He would be the rainbow after the terrible storm
Glad to know I’m not the only one left feeling whiplashed after a tantrum turns into rainbows and smiles within the span of a minute. If only we grownups could get over things so quickly, right?
It could be worse. She could just sail from tantrum to tantrum. That’s our 3 1/2 year old. If she’s having a wonderful day, she’s all rainbows and nothing keeps her down.
If she’s not, then she’ll be sad and mad and hungry and thirsty, and her baby brother is making too much noise, or isn’t sharing (because you know, sharing means she gets to have her way)…
The last time she did that, her dad put her in timeout, just so she’d have an actual, legitimate reason to be upset about something, rather than keep coming up for reasons to scream (and that game me shades of my own childhood, so I pretty much know we’re in for about another 20 years of this…).
Once again I feel like I could have written this post–you have such a way with words, Heather, and our girls sound verrrrry similar. Especially the older than they are aspect — which makes their 3/4 year old tantrums that much tougher to swallow because they’re so rational about so much else that it seems to come out of nowhere … anyway, just wanted to say — I feel your pain. And I think a lot of moms do It is SO hard not holding a grudge … but it’s part of growing up and just as they are learning, so are we. Give yourself some grace.
Another thing, which I’m sure you already know, if you can, walk away. Stay calm, and just give yourself a bathroom break, or just play close by with James. Keep your voice calm and normal, and let her calm down. Kind of like depriving a fire of oxygen…..
My four year old niece had a TWENTY FIVE minute tantrum the other day because her mother (my sister) went to pick up my other niece at school. She stood on the apartment terrace and sobbed the whole time (at one point she put a watering can on her head – I think to hear the difference in the sobbing sounds; I don’t know). I played with the cat. Eventually, someone outside complained loudly so she came inside and decided she was done and wanted to be cuddled on the couch. By the time my sister got back, my niece was reading a book with me and had totally forgotten the whole thing. Four year olds are weird.