Little Rebels: How do children feel during the challenging stage?


Your child runs away instead of wearing the jacket? Cry when you don’t get what you want? Between the ages of two and six, simple situations can lead to a violent challenge. For parents, the stage of autonomy, as the period of early independence is called, is often stressful. How do you react to tantrums? How do children learn to deal with emotional outbursts? Some expert advice.

Kids know early on what they want. And they made it clear. “Although it begins in childhood,” teacher and author Susan Mirao explains. For example, if he turns away and does not want to be rolled, says the expert. You are still able to distract the child. From the age of two it becomes more difficult. Language is added, children become stronger and have more motor skills. “No” or “I don’t want” can no longer be ignored out loud.

“The high point of independence efforts is three to four years,” says Sebastian Arnold of the Professional Association of Child and Adolescent Psychotherapists (BKJ). “Children learn during this time that they have their own will and can make decisions, but they reach their limits in their expression.” Parents should accompany this stage well. Because “the way children go through it has an impact on their whole lives,” says Mirao.

Accept anger – the child cannot do otherwise

Frustration and disappointment are part of the daily life of young children, as many new things are discovered. “The brain is still maturing,” Arnold says. Children must first learn to deal with their feelings. “The act of defiance is like a short circuit,” he says. The fuse has blown and there is no longer room to turn around.”

At the same time, the child learns a lot about his influence on others. “If kids annoy their parents, look in the background to see what they can do,” says the family therapist. Consciously provoking it is not behind it, and they can do it only at a later time.

Don’t fall into old patterns

So the challenge is not misconduct, but an internal need that must emerge. “When feelings are suppressed, they later return in the form of a surge,” Arnold says. These children are often most noticeable when they are in elementary school or puberty.

Susan Mirau cautions against old parental methods: “Children were used to obedience, they were not allowed to express their will, and if they did, punishments were used to suppress it,” she says. The words still resonate with us today.

Stay calm, take a deep breath, and be there

According to the expert, it is best to remain calm in a defiant reaction, take a deep breath and wait. “Sometimes it helps to sit in a tantrum and stay close to the child—like physical contact if you allow it,” he says. There is no point in talking to the child. “All words do not reach.” If the anger is physical, the parents should say, “It hurts when you hit me.” Raising your voice and getting angry at yourself is not a good idea. “This exacerbates the situation,” says Mirao.

Talk about anger

If the protest subsides, children should learn from their behavior. Arnold advises talking briefly about the situation to give them words to express their anger. Frustration elicitation solutions are also helpful. “Instead of hitting another child, they can stamp their feet or punch a pillow,” Mirao says. She says that when talking to their children, parents should “always show them their love.” “Although children struggle for more independence, they need a strong bond with their parents.”

Show understanding and offer alternatives

“Parents should also show that they understand their children’s feelings and say, for example: I can understand that you love eating chocolate,” advises Arnold. However, they don’t have to hold back (“we’re not buying them today”), but they can offer an alternative: something else to eat or a stop in the field. Even if feelings prevail at first, he says, “children are very willing to accept alternatives.” If they are also allowed to express their opinion on the little things in everyday life, they will be much happier in general.

Allowing independence and cooperation

Some conflicts can be avoided by knowing how children think, feel and act. Pedagogue Mierau recommends giving children more independence. Because that’s what they ask for. For example, if a child doesn’t want to get dressed, “he can figure out what clothes he needs and get them himself out of the closet,” she says. In contrast, parents shouldn’t be too quick to say “no” if they want to join in, help out, or try something new.

“Some kids don’t hear so much in everyday life that they get frustrated,” she says. “Then another parental pause is ignored or not.” In dangerous situations, this can become a problem.

Established rules and processes provide support

“In everyday life, clear rules and ritual processes help reduce frustration,” says Sebastian Arnold. Especially in the morning and evening when the kids are (still) tired. Likewise, regulation can be a fixed ritual. “Ten minutes every day or as long as the music is on,” Mierau recommends.

Children need limits, even if they are tested from time to time. “Parents are allowed to give in. But there have to be things that are non-negotiable, like reaching into the jack or running into the street,” she says. Consistency is also important when it comes to health issues. If a child doesn’t like brushing their teeth, you can “try whatever they like: colored toothpaste, an electric toothbrush, a toothbrush song, or just a different place for the toothbrush,” she says. Sometimes positive words help, too: “If we brush our teeth now, I’ll have more time to read to you,” Arnold says.

be a role model

How a child deals with frustration also depends on his role model. “If parents are good at dealing with conflicts and arguments, then the child can learn them well,” says Sebastian Arnold. “But if you sit in the corner and abuse yourself or are too boisterous and short-tempered, the baby will take over.”

It is also important that parents and caregivers do not take tantrums personally. “Although over time they understand that the other person is sad, they cannot relate it to their own behavior,” he explains. The development of empathy only occurs at the beginning of elementary school.

“After the challenge stage, children should be able to handle anger situations in a socially acceptable way,” says Mirau. The parent’s ‘no’ then no longer leads to a strong emotional expression, but rather to a discussion. It is more suitable for parents.

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