Avoidance behaviour in a four year old

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Avoidance behaviour in a four year old

Postby motherchuditch » Thu 28 Feb, 2013 9:27 pm

My son, like most 4 year olds, has some trouble with following certain instructions, including those to pack away his toys. Today when asked to help pack away at the end of a playdate with a good friend (whom he played very well with for over an hour) refused to help, instead saying he was very tired and did not have the energy to help (a common excuse), then hid in another room while we started to pack away. When I told him his friend would not be able to come back for some time if he did not help, he came out of the room but then ducked away again, this time engaging his friend to also hide away and not pack up. He seems to be full of excuses when it comes time to tidy away his things and this has been an ongoing battle for as long as he's had toys to pack away.

We also had an incident of very poor behaviour earlier in the week when he refused to do a time out after hurting his little brother (a rather robust 8 month old). He has previouly been very remorseful for hurting his brother accidentally, but this incident occured after I had asked him to leave his brother alone and he was starting to get rough. Usually if he refuses to go to time out I physically carry him there, but as I was alone with the two of them, and trying to console his brother, I was unable to intervine this way. After several warnings I started to remove prilages and confisacate favourite toys, but he still would not stay in time out. I eventally gave myself a time out and took my youngest and I outside away from the poor behaviour so I could regroup mentally and stop the incident escalating further. When he came outside to play I told him that I had to sit and think about what to do next because he had refused to do what I asked earlier. He still though the whole thing was rather funny which just made me more frustrated. We don't need to do time out very often, only a couple of times a week, and he is usually very compliant.

So how can I help him to follow instructions to clean up his things and help him to see the serious side of his poor behaviour?
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Re: Avoidance behaviour in a four year old

Postby NgalaOnline » Sat 02 Mar, 2013 2:58 pm

Hi Motherchuditch

Thank you for your post. The behaviours your son is showing do sound like normal behaviours for a child his age, although these issues can be frustrating for parents. It is difficult for children to understand why cleaning up is required. It is sometimes helpful, at a time other than when you imminently require a mess to be cleaned up, to have casual conversations with your child about what needs to be done in a home to make it functional, and the roles and jobs that everyone has in the family. It is helpful to discuss how everyone is part of this family and has a role to play in contributing to making the house keep working, listing out the sorts of roles that mum and dad have and then asking the child to talk about how he can help to keep the house nice. It can be helpful to discuss what would happen if no one ever cleaned up, such as people falling over, toys getting broken by being stepped on or not being able to find special toys. This can help a child who may not understand why clean up is required to understand more about the neccesity of the activity. It is also a good time to teach the child about helpfulness and working together as a family.

When there is a big mess to clean up it is common for children to feel overwhelemed and unsure how to break the job down into managable chunks or where to begin. "Please clean up" can seem like an overwhelming request, but often giving children broken down responsibilities such as "it is your job to put all of these cars in this bucket" can make the job seem more managable to children. In many child care settings and kindergartens a "pack away" song is selected to either be sung or played on the radio, and children often learn quickly that once this music starts it is time to pack away. Positive reinforcement for the job they are doing well, and showing them the benefits of having a nice clean playing area "look how easily we can find your trucks now! Look at all the space you have to do your puzzle now" can be helpful. It is also helpful to make the packing away into a game, such as setting a timer and "racing" each other or against the clock, or having challenges such as who can find and pick up 3 blue cars first. Giving a warning that it will be time to pack up in 5 minutes is also helpful to prepare the child. If these types of strategies fail and you choose to give a consequence for not helping, it is best to have a short term consequence, as something like his friend not being able to visit again in the future may be too distant a prospect for your son to grasp or be concerned by.

Regarding the incidence where your son hurt his brother and was resistant to going into time out, often hitting out against siblings can be a way of getting attention from parents. Any type of attention is viewed as being worthwhile by the child, even negative attention, and this may be why your son persisted in trying to get your attention by coming out of time out. In some instances, if a child is hurting a sibling because they are having an occasion of feeling jealous or insecure and wanting parental attention, time out can exacerbate the child's sense of insecurity or want for attention. If your son hurts his brother it can be helpful to show that you are concerned for the child that has been hit and that your time and energy has to now be directed into consoling your other child. It can be helpful to get the other child to come over and look at the face of the child who has been hurt, or any injuries that the sibling has sustained and reflect on how the injured child must be feeling. "Poor Max, he has a red sore lump on his head. That would really hurt. His face looks so sad now. How do you think you would feel if someone pushed you over? Would you feel very sad like Max is feeling?" These types of discussion can help children to slowly begin to develop a sense of empathy and an ability to see how their actions can impact on others, although these concepts do take a number of years to fully form. Getting the child to help calm his sibling such as getting him to fetch an icepack or cold cloth to put on an injury, and getting him to hug the sibling and offer an apology can help teach the child about empathy and being caring. If you decide you would like to put your child in time out it can be helpful to let your child know that this will occur once his brother is calm, but that right now your attention needs to go to your child's hurt sibling. This allows you to deal with one child at a time, to reduce your feelings of being pulled in 2 directions and to allow you to give the hurt child the comfort he needs. If you feel yourself getting very angry or out of control of your emotions then it is a good idea to take the younger child with you and move away from your older child to give yourself some time to calm down and reflect, as you did.

In the instance of one child hurting another, once the emotions have passed over for everyone and you are both feeling calm it is often a good idea to have some "time in" with child who was aggressive. This may mean five minutes sitting together on the couch where you can calmly discuss what happened and what would be better choices next time (such as using words, moving away from a sibling if he is being annoying, or telling mum if the sibling is getting too close to his toys etc). At this time you can discuss the impact that hurting has on everyone, such as that it hurts his brother, makes you feel sad and angry, and means that you cant spend that time with your older son as you have to console the hurt sibling. "Time in" gives a child some attention and time with his parent which can help if his acting out is in response to wanting to get parental attention. Aggression between young children is very common at this age and often takes quite some time to overcome. These strategies are not likely to result in a quick solution, but do work towards helping your child to understand empathy, other people's feelings and emotions, and ways he can manage his own emotions if he is being irritated by a sibling or wanting parental attention. It is normal for children at this age to not have a developed sense of empathy yet, and to be very egocentric, only being able to see their own needs and feelings.

I hope this information has helped. Please ring the Ngala helpline if you would like more help and support. You may also like to attend the Parenting Workshop "Guiding Children's Behaviour" which is helpful for many parents. http://www.ngala.com.au/course/Parentin ... our-2-5yrs
This information is general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for the personalized assistance that can be received from the Ngala Helpline by telephone.

For families residing in Western Australia you can also contact the
Ngala Helpline
Telephone 9368 9368 or 1800 111 546 for country access
Available 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm
or request a callback online http://www.ngala.com.au/Ngala-and-You/Ngala-Helpline/Contact-Ngala-Helpline-Online

For helplines in other Australian states please follow this link
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