Q&A: 4.5 year-old children are bananas

So grateful for the women who signed up for the What's Next Workshop right away. It feels good knowing I'm offering something useful! There are still plenty of spots for the rest of you, so sign up and/or pass the info on to friends. Someone asked if it was going to be painful, since there are some things she'd rather not think about. My answer is that it might hurt a little, but not so much, since we're going through it step by step and together over plenty of time. And it's always better to know, you know?

Now for the same question from two different people. Heather writes:

"My DS (4y3m) seems to have put his brain in a drawer and I want to know when it will come back.  The world is a total mystery to him, he has never seen socks before, juice boxes are beyond comprehension, flushing the toilet is poppycock!

Someone please tell me when he'll find his brain again!!!"

Hahahahahaha. It's funny 'cause it's true. Then Erica wrote:

"Seriously. He’s gone insane. He used to be a mostly pleasant little boy, and he still is, when he’s not being horrible. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he was PMSing something fierce. The smallest things make him lose it. Like last week my neighbor stopped by to borrow my cupcake carrier, and he just lost it---tears, screaming, just couldn’t calm down. And this led to everything else just not being right, some screaming, and finally me hauling him up to his room to calm down (during which he hit me). There are some mornings he wakes up and it’s just all tears and whining and nothing is right. But other mornings he wakes up and he’s funny, and cheerful, and cooperative. His personality is really coming out now—he’s funny and creative and active. There haven’t been any changes in his schedule or ours, so I just can’t figure this out. Some of my friends are saying similar things are going on with their kids. Any advice on age 4.5?  I’ll take anything."

Also funny; also true. Before I reveal that both these children are normal, can we look at the tone of these emails and compare them to similar emails about children at the 18-month, 2.5-year, and 3.5 year stage? Parents of 18-month-olds are bewildered and hurt; parents of 2.5-year-olds are gobsmacked and weary; parents of 3.5-year-olds are irate. By 4.5, though, you're just ready to say WTF??.

Anyway, these children are totally normal. Excruciatingly, annoyingly, why-don't-moms-take-uppers-anymore-like-they-did-in-that-Rolling-Stones-song-ly normal. Remember our SBFs Ames and Ilg: Yes, once again it all goes back to disequilibrium.

The Ames and Ilg magic theory (which they based on years of observing kids at the Gessell Institute) is that kids* swing back and forth approximately every six months from equilibirum, when they're fluid and learning new physical and emotional and mental skils lefft and right, and disequilibrium, when they start stuttering (mentally and physically) and are awkward and ill-tempered. For many children, the equilibirum phases tend to happen around the year mark, and the disequilibrium phases tend to happen around the half year mark.

So your kids can't really help it. (File this away for when they're teenagers. I keep telling myself that.)

They're not doing it on purpose. And there isn't much you can do except wait for them to swing back toward equilibrium. I do feel like a lot of kids go through one last hurrah of being babies at age 4 3/4 in which they're clingy and vicious and particularly difficult, and that they tend to release to move into big-kid-ness right after they turn 5. So it's all just time.

In the meantime, since they can't help it, and you can't help it, if you can focus on maintaining your emotional connection with them, so that you stay close, that's going to do the best in the long run. They are going to act up. Protect your own personal boundaries--no physical attacks, no hurtful things said, etc. But as far as keeping on top of them about other rules, well, they may or may not even register it at this point because they're all disconnected. So focus on relationship aspects (boundaries and closeness) and try not to be hurt by the other stuff, and know that all kids go through stages like this and yet most of us come out of them and turn into fantastic people. So how you react at this stage isn't going to make or break your kid.

Courage. Seriously. This stage is hard.

Readers? Comisseration?



* Adults too, maybe? I know we tend to have bad phases every seven years. But maybe we're on a six-month cycle, too.