A parent of a gifted five-year old wonders why her son often sounds unhappy and fears growing up.
Many smart youngsters can become easily overwhelmed by their brain’s capacity to think too big. Imagine you are only five and you’re thinking about the meaning of life, growing up and having to find a job, wondering what it would be like to be alone! Very young children have no real-life experience to put any of these big, scary thoughts into perspective.
I recommend not spending lots of time talking about these big thoughts with very young kids. That only reinforces them to feel worse. If your child isn’t sharing these uncharacteristic big (negative) thoughts away from you, that may be a sign that you are fueling those concerns accidentally.
Better to acknowledge big, scary thoughts fast, then put them in their place!
First explain that thoughts are in our control: “I know you have very strong feelings and worries. Sometimes your feelings get too big – but they are only feelings and they can change. We can make them smaller or turn them into happier thoughts if we want to…”
Then show your child how to control them: “Let’s move, let’s go outside, let’s do something real like play, run, wrestle, and that’s how we stop those feelings. We don’t have to think of them right now – but if later you still feel them – we can talk about them. We can find good ways (like drawing or singing or making a play about them) to make sure they don’t seem too big or stay around too long.”
One mom recently asked what to do when her five year old refuses to cooperate and tantrums when asked to simply sit for a few minutes each morning.
He actually said to her, “I will NOT poop – I will never poop again!”
Potty training is hard. Boys tend to learn it a year or so after girls. Boys also get into more struggles over sitting programs. Having worked with many such cases over the years, I’ve learned that a common feature is this type of control. These boys catch on early that refusing to poop (or follow a basic sitting program) makes them the center of the family universe.
Here’s a simple set of behavior approaches that work. If problems persist, make sure you check in with your pediatric specialist.
– Tell him it’s his choice to sit or not. You will give him one (maybe two) nice, calm reminders when it’s time to sit. If he goes in and sits like a big boy (he doesn’t have to poop… just sit), then he earns a reward. The reward can be something relatively soon after (15/20 minutes on iPad or TV show he likes), or after. When school’s in session, some play time on playground before class is a great reward. The reward can be a sticker on a chart that earns him something later that day or before bed. Anything that is relatively small (not expensive) will work. One parent I know has a prize bag on top of fridge that she can take down filled with small thcotchkes.
– You have to let him fail at this. And be prepared he will throw a tantrum. But try to move on with the day as best as possible. In time it will turn around as he starts to give up control and seeks the reward(s). When (if) he refuses to sit, make sure you calmly remove something important that day or week that’s scheduled. Let the consequences do the work.
– You have to start setting clear house rules. Say “in our house, boys and girls do not poop in their pants. Big boys at school sit on the potty…” Make it declarative (use 3rd person plural). Say it with conviction and power – not with anger – and saying this statement throughout the day here and there is key. You are the leader of your home. you are like his teacher (who he tends to listens to). You don’t take anything personally, You just announce the rules – deliver consequences – and children choose or don’t choose to follow them. This is where he has control, over his decision to join in or not with the rules. Tell him you have faith in him that he will choose the right thing and get his reward.
– When he has an accident, make him participate in cleaning up. He has to put his soiled undies in a special place (perhaps a bucket with a mix of water and light bleach). He has to get into the tub/shower and help clean himself (find ways to help him fix the problem). Kids who pee the bed at night, for example, do it less when they are responsible for helping to make the bed the next morning and change sheets… we want all consequences available to help him shift the behavior.
– Keep a chart – leave open spaces if he doesn’t sit in the morning – and put a nice sticker if he does the sitting.
– Finally, know that peer pressure can sometimes be a good thing. Time with peers (who are brutally honest about these issues) will push him into a better developmental path come fall.