My husband and I survived the “terrible twos” without a problem. Truth be told, this stage was pretty fun for us, with the biggest challenges being potty training, the short-lived biting phase, and the constant insistence to do things “my big-girl self.”
Three years old was a different story, and we found that our daughter’s temper tantrums had escalated to a whole new level, thanks to an increasing vocabulary and strong-willed determination that everything must be her way. We had to step up our game and implement some consistent parenting strategies to combat the whining and meltdowns.
When I asked a friend what four years old was like, she paused and then responded thoughtfully, “There’s a lot of crying at age four.” Oh, great, I thought. When does it end?
Well, friends, let me tell you, it doesn’t end at age four, five, or six. We are currently parenting a six year old girl as well as a 14 month old toddler, and oftentimes, the toddler is the easier child in our household. Our main problem with our oldest? Power struggles.
Every day my daughter and I sit down to do her math homework. Depending on where you live, having daily math homework in first grade may or may not shock you. I have been honestly surprised by how challenging the concepts are for this class of six year olds; it is definitely much different than when I was going to school in the 1980s! The expectations for comprehension and mastery are much higher, which I think is ultimately a good thing for everyone, but the road to understanding has been a rough one.
My daughter is a highly sensitive perfectionist. If she doesn’t understand the problem, or worse, if she thinks she does and I have to tell her she is incorrect, she flips out. Being a lowly parent and not a teacher in her classroom, I find that I don’t always have the tools to help her through the problems.
“No Mommy!” she will scream at me, “You’re not doing it right! We’re supposed to use doubles!” She becomes hysterical, and more often than not, an unpleasant standoff results, and we both end up shouting or in tears. We both need a time-out.
Another source of tension is the fact that our oldest loves to pick up her younger sister and carry her around. Nearly every single time, it plays out the same way: big sister will grab her from behind, little sister will scream with frustration and I will yell, “Stop picking up your sister!”
My daughter will then pout and complain, “You always say that!”
“So stop doing it!” I reply. And on and on.
It seems that at this age, our daughter is experimenting with distancing herself from us as well. I learned a few of her favorite Katy Perry songs to play on the piano, and to my dismay, she refuses to sing them with me. “But, honey, I thought you loved to sing!” I protested when she declined my invitation to join me at the piano.
She shook her head. “I like singing by myself.” She replied. Ouch. I had to force myself to put my hurt feelings aside and not walk into another power struggle.
I guess, at six years old, our child is experimenting with pushing her boundaries. I think it is her job in some ways to see how far she can push, to “try on” different attitudes and word choices to see how we will respond to them. Perhaps this is her way of learning, of navigating her way through a stage in which she will emerge more independent than before.
So it seems that I don’t have many solutions for “Coping with Power Struggles,” as my title suggested. What I can offer is empathy and encouragement if you happen to be dealing with power struggles of your own. And, please, if you have wisdom and ideas to help us deal with this challenge, please leave them in the comment section below. We would all appreciate it!
Stephanie Sprenger is the mother of two young daughters, and lives in Colorado. As a board certified music therapist, she works part time teaching early childhood music classes. She is also a freelance writer and blogs at Mommy, for real.