As a busy mom of two, there are times my brain accidentally starts thinking like a four year old. I get absent minded and shed my responsibilities when I am sleep deprived. But as a parent, I find that it is vital to think like my four year old on purpose when trying to understand my child’s behavior.
If I try to approach my child from an adult perspective all the time, there will be a miscommuncation. So I turn on my four year old thinking cap and go into his world to see how to explain things better to him and to know what is going on.
My husband and I did this recently when going on a date night. Many people think it is good to sneak out and disappear to keep the child distracted when leaving, but knowing my kids, it is best to say good bye and reassure them of our return. Sneaking out will only cause them to freak out that they didn’t get to say goodbye. Even if there are tears when we leave, it is better for them to work through it then and not when they realized we left them.
I’ve noticed that many parents try to contain a child’s emotions because it is hard for the parents to see them feeling situation appropriate emotions. But in reality the child needs to sort through the feelings in order to become more emotionally mature. Feelings are a natural and normal part of life. Children need to learn how to comfort and soothe their own emotions without us always getting involved.
When putting on my four year old thinking cap, I realize that many things are a bigger deal than my adult brain gives them credit for. Being disappointed about small things is easy to brush off as an adult, but to a toddler, it’s not. Dismissing your child when they are upset, will teach them that their natural emotional response to a situation is wrong. To them it IS a big deal. Being dismissed will cause them to rationalize away their feelings. It is important to let your child feel the emotion and bring resolve in themselves.
When we send messages like “Don’t cry” or “It’s okay”, we are telling kids to not feel. To them it feels natural to cry and it’s NOT okay. Saying “I know it hurts when we fall” and “It sure is disappointing when things don’t happen the way we want them to” shows them we are empathetic and that we “get” them. It encourages them to have appropriate emotion.
Of course there are special exceptions with overly emotional children who need help with sorting out their feelings. In those cases finding a good play therapist to help you and your child can make a big difference.
When I think like a four year old, it helps me connect better with my son. Being stuck in my adult brain can do more harm than good for my kid’s emotional development. Plus it sure can be fun to play and imagine like a four year old again!
Written by Teri Claassen MSW, LCSW, LCAC
Teri Claassen MSW, LCSW, LCAC is a licensed therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. Teri enjoys doing marriage counseling, individual counseling, couples and relationship counseling. Teri also does family counseling, child counseling, and adolescent counseling. Imagine Hope serves the Indianapolis area, including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Zionsville, and Westfield.