The “Real Little Person”
What's going on with a preschool-aged child? Are his fears genuine, or is he just pushing your buttons for the fun of it? Perhaps your spouse or another loving adult has pulled you aside and indicated — lovingly or otherwise — that your child is running the show and you're being manipulated. Is that true?
Inside the Preschooler Mind
Without a trace, your toddler has vanished. In his place is a preschooler who can empathize with others, show remorse, and have a fully fluent conversation that includes abstract elements. Yet he's still very much a little kid, dependent on adults for help with some or even lots of self-care, reassurance, and instruction in preschool skills, social skills, language, and other enrichment.
Between three and five years of age, children are learning to recognize and scratch out letters, use scissors, paint representative pictures, and use more specialized vocabulary, all important skills for school preparedness. So is the ability to master the native language (though mistakes are frequently made), using it to understand stories, interact with others, express needs (including emotional needs), and learn to be a part of a culture. Finally, social skills, including taking turns, sharing, respecting others' feelings, and respecting authority are important tools to learn during this age. As a parent, you must help your child develop these skills, and defiant children need extra help and strategy to develop social skills appropriately.
Why Three-to-Five-Year-Olds Defy Parents
There are two reasons kids in this age group defy their parents. The first is to mask fears, avoid unpleasant tasks, or gain some sense of control in a chaotic, adult-controlled world. If your child routinely refuses to comply with a specific task — putting his shoes on, for example — troubleshoot the problem and also ask your child why this is such a problem. Could it be because he can't find them, because they hurt his feet, because they are difficult to put on, or because he doesn't want to get ready to go to school? If so, explore some possible solutions: always putting the shoes in the same place when entering the house, checking to see that they fit correctly, buying shoes that fasten with Velcro, or addressing separation anxiety. Once you have found a reasonable solution, stick with it; you can continue to monitor it, but don't let your child know, because this could lead to the other reason kids defy their parents.
The second reason kids of this age set defy their parents is to get a reaction from them. This is obnoxious, defiant behavior that is done on purpose and ends with everybody angry and the whole family suffering. These behaviors include yelling and screaming indoors and just generally making home life unpleasant for everyone. When you ask the child to stop, the child refuses to comply, and you're left with a vicious cycle of defiant behavior and ineffective discipline.
Is my kid manipulating me?
If a loved one or a teacher has indicated you might be getting manipulated by your child, respect how difficult it probably was for the loved one to bring it to your attention, and consider the possibility. If, however, a stranger points it out, check with someone who knows you for a second opinion.