A: Thanks for writing in! Issues involving transitions are common while raising children, so believe me, you are not alone in this struggle. What I like best about your question is that you ask how “to help all of us avoid this.” This way of seeing the issue is good because many parents spend a great deal of time trying to figure out the consequence for a child who is not transitioning well. And though it may seem as if punishment is in order, it won’t help the original problem.
Before we get to how to avoid the refusals from your daughter, let’s look at the developmental life of a 5-year-old. A 5-year-old, generally speaking, is lovely to parent. A typical 5-year-old is relatively agreeable, has a better command of her language, adores her family and is generally more cooperative. A 5-year-old loves her friends and pets, and especially the routines and closeness of her family. Though they can sometimes be demanding, the 5-year-old is beginning to understand other people’s perspectives and consider their needs.
Five-year-olds can also become demanding, stubborn and bossy. If adequate routines and boundaries have not been part of the child’s life up until this point, you will begin to see behaviors that people call “bratty” or “spoiled.” Many parents will say, “My child is too old to be like this,” or, “My child should know better by now.” Add to this any sensitivities, anxiety or learning issues, and you will begin to see the child separate from her peers in behaviors. This is often when parents begin to see specialists for their children.
I don’t know much about your family, but I do know some theory, and here are a few reasons a 5-year-old may not want to take direction from you:
1. You are too bossy. This means the parent is constantly commanding, demanding and making requests. This bossiness will cause two reactions in children: fighting back or totally ignoring you. It looks as though you may have the second, so ask yourself: “How would I feel about my requests if I were a child?”
2. You are giving your instructions in a way the child cannot receive them. This means you are calling out from another room, speaking to the top of her head or trying to talk to her when she is immersed in something she loves. Your daughter is literally not hearing the commands, so by the time you are ready for her to move, you have lost your cool and are grabbing her (which never leads to anything good).
3. You don’t have a developmentally reasonable expectation of how a 5-year-old takes instructions. Each child is different, but most 5-year-old children do not speedily drop what they are doing and run out the door at first request. Why? They are immersed in their own world and not all that interested in what you think or need. There’s nothing wrong with that; it is just the way it is for young children.
4. Your routine is not clear and/or your daughter pushes your boundaries too often. This means your daughter doesn’t know what is coming (which leads to insecurity and lack of cooperation), or when she pushes back against the routine, you give up (allowing her to feel as if she is in control).
5. Your daughter is bored and needs real work to help her belong to the family in a positive way. Not surprisingly, when children don’t feel as though they are contributing to the larger good, they become increasingly discouraged.
6. Your daughter, though she doesn’t necessarily like it, gets powerful attention from you when you move her from A to B, showing that she needs loving connection that isn’t based in conflict and deadlines.
So which is it? You may have many of the above issues. You may have another reason for your daughter’s lack of cooperation, and if that is the case, write that down. The more you understand the problem, the more easily you can solve it.
Now, you can work on how to prevent this transition problem from the start. Maybe, for instance, you realize you are too bossy and are constantly yelling commands from the kitchen or another floor. Your solution would be, “I need to go to my child, get down on her level, smile and let her know what we are doing.” You’d be surprised at how well children respond to this way of communicating.
Maybe you have realized you are disorganized from the moment you wake up, allowing your child to become immersed in activities that are difficult to break from. Your solution would be, “I need to wake up earlier, spend some quality time with my daughter, and move the morning along with more direction and confidence.”
Or maybe you don’t understand that your daughter needs more than a verbal reminder to move it along. Your solution may be, “I will use something like a timer to help my daughter see how much time is left before we move from one activity to another.” You get it? Identify the problem and create a solution that works for your family.
You can decide to what extent you want to work collaboratively with your 5-year-old to prevent these transition dust-ups. I almost always find that more cooperation occurs when there is shared decision-making. When you talk to your daughter, use “noticing” language. “I have noticed that we are having difficulty moving from the puzzle to the car in the morning. What do you think this is about?” You may have an idea of your own, but asking your daughter her opinion also sheds light on how to solve the problem. Maybe she needs more quiet time in the morning, or maybe she hates school because her friend is mean, or maybe she doesn’t want to leave her comfortable house. No matter her response, it will include important information to help you solve the problem with her.
A note about 5-year-olds and technology: If you are trying to move a child off technology and onto another task or activity, I virtually guarantee it will go poorly (unless you have a plan). Tech, especially gaming, is so seductive to the brain that even the most well-meaning child has trouble moving off a game and onto something else. Even if you speak directly to your child’s face, and the child seems to be responding to you, do not assume the child has heard you. Timers, warning sticker charts, promises and pinkie swears: Nothing trumps the power of an iPad. You need to be ready to physically and gently interrupt the gaming. There may be literal and metaphorical pushback; do not meet this resistance with anger. Just stay consistent until the storm passes and the child returns to herself. If you find that breaking your 5-year-old from technology is violent and upsetting, I would strongly recommend no tech in the morning. Period. I know there are families who rely on it for a variety of reasons, but I cannot stress enough how tech interrupts the flow of a routine for many children. It’s just not worth it.
So, take your behavior into account, work with your daughter, and stay flexible and positive! Good luck.
More from Lifestyle: