As we prepare our preschoolers for kindergarten, it seems there’s an unwritten checklist of qualities a child needs to be “kindergarten ready.” The usual ones are knowing their ABC’s, numbers, counting, being potty trained and being quiet when told. My second born, Nick, has more behavioral issues than I dealt with for Lily. I’m starting to see there are so many other qualities I feel he needs to develop before he is “kindergarten ready.” My child listening to authority other than parents is at the top of my list.
When Nick is in a situation where another adult is telling him “no” or instructing him to do something, he throws tantrums. I don’t know where this came from, but I am determined to correct it. He screams and yells at them “Go away!” If they try to hold him in place or stop him from running onto a busy street, it makes matters ten times worse. He will start kicking and hitting them to get away; he will resist yielding to their authority at all costs. Unfortunately, this makes me nervous leaving him under the care of other adults. I worry he will not respect their authority or be a good listener.
Understand the Psychology
Like most parenting problems I have, it comes back to child psychology. I always try to get inside their little heads and figure out what the behavior stems from. When I asked my pediatrician about this behavior, Dr. Schrup said it is common for children to be born with a mentality that the world is out to get them. It could just be a survival tactic, not something I created, that Nick is prone to expect the worst of people. Because my son assumes people have ill intentions, he is mistrusting and does not listen to authority figures. Only people who seem less threatening or his parents who have proven they have his best interest at heart will get compliance from Nick.
Understanding this psychology, I started to see more clearly all the times Nick acts out because he assumes someone is trying to harm him. Any child trying to kiss or hug him is pushed away for trying to fight. Any adult trying to pick him up when he’s hurt is screamed at for trying to touch him. My son is extremely vigilant in protecting himself against bad actions. Perhaps if we were still living in the caveman days, he would be one of the few survivors. But in the world we live in now, I am constantly reminding him that people usually mean well.
Defer To the Authority Figure
I have a hard time not intervening when it is clear to me Nick’s behavior is often a matter of misunderstanding intentions, not actually malicious at all. However, if I want my son to respect and heed another adult’s authority, I need to defer to the authority in question when problems arise. Oftentimes my sister and mother-in-law will struggle getting Nick to listen to them. When he is disregarding their commands, instead of intervening to mediate, I try to stand back so that Nick does not perceive me as undermining their authority. If I want Nick to respect their authority, I need to as well. If an authority figure comes to me to work out a disagreement they’ve had with Nick, it sends the wrong message to my son. It says that he only needs to listen to Mommy or when Mommy is around for someone to tattle on him.
Total Momma’s Boy
So, if we are at a family gathering and Nick approaches me whining that someone told him what to do, I have a process. First, I march him right back to that person. Usually this is one of my siblings or parents. Then, I tell him to ask why they told him what to do. Then I step away. I don’t hold his hand or facilitate the conversation any more. I am not there to enforce, the person who told him what to do in the first place should command authority in his mind. If Nick is disrespectful when that person is trying to talk to him, I do intervene to try again. Otherwise, I stay out of it to be clear that Mommy is not part of the misunderstanding and he needs to talk it out with that adult.
Listening to Authority
One thing we are definitely looking forward to is improvement when Nick starts preschool in the fall. This issue with authority, as well as other reasons, have caused us to decide to put Nick in preschool sooner rather than later. I’m confident the wonderful preschool teacher at the school will gain compliance from Nick. She is trained in early childhood psychology and knows how to talk to young children in a non-threatening way. Hopefully learning to listen to his teacher will help my child listening to authority other than parents across all aspects of life.