Have you ever tried to fathom what’s going on in your child’s mind? Perhaps it’s time to try to see the world through their eyes
Grabbing a crayon, your toddler starts scrawling across your kitchen walls. Meanwhile, your six-year-old stomps upstairs after yet another angry outburst.
Tantrums, tears and unpredictable behaviour… If only we knew what they were thinking!
A new parenting book, What’s My Child Thinking? explains practical child psychology for parents of children aged up to seven years.
Tanith Carey, who co-wrote the book with clinical psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin, urges parents to be aware of their child’s stage of brain development, which determines how they react to particular situations.
She believes that by stepping back and looking at the world through our children’s eyes, we’re more likely to be able to calm difficult situations down.
Tanith explains: ‘Stop seeing them as “naughty” and recognise what they’re trying to communicate. After all, they have fewer words and often don’t understand their feelings.
‘We may be mortified when our child won’t share his toy on a playdate, but it’s hard for a toddler to give away something that he’s only just learnt belongs to him. Show him how to take turns, rather than taking the toy away.
‘By keeping step with how our children’s brains are evolving, we have a better chance of harmonious, happy relationships.’
Age TWO to THREE
The brain is 80 per cent of its adult size. Imagination, memory growth and fascination with cause and effect, such as pushing over a pile of blocks, are coming into play.
Emotional control lags behind though, with two- and three-year-olds switching between shrieking and smiling within minutes.
Scenario: You need to pop to the shops but your toddler has a tantrum and refuses to go.
He says: ‘No, no, no!’
You might think: ‘Why does he have to make such a simple thing so difficult?’
What he’s thinking: ‘I want to stay here and play.’
Tantrums are usually caused by your child feeling overwhelmed and being unable to express himself.
How to respond: Make sure your child won’t get hurt or hurt anyone. Be calm and remain nearby, but don’t try to reason. Longer term, create routines and give warning of transitions to new activities.
Age FOUR to FIVE
By five, the brain is 90 per cent of its adult size. Attention span, planning and long-term memory are improving. Pushing boundaries may reflect defiance, but this age group is keen for parental approval.
Scenario: Despite shouting that it’s time to come in from the garden, your child stays outside.
She says: ‘But I didn’t hear you!’
You might think: ‘I’m tired of nagging.’
What she’s thinking: ‘I’m having so much fun — I’m going to keep playing.’
This age group concentrates on one activity at a time. When they’re absorbed, their brains shut out anything unrelated.
How to respond: Rather than using questions, say: ‘Dinner is ready now. Time to come in.’ Lower your tone, as yelling can send your child into fight-or- flight mode. Avoid criticising them for not listening. Give a countdown to let them know
it’s time to finish soon.
Age SIX to SEVEN
The brain has reached adult size and the child’s thinking is more organised and logical, with extended concentration. Now able to see other people’s points of view, they may also start to compare themselves.
Scenario: You won’t let your child watch one more episode of his favourite TV programme.
He says: ‘I hate you!’
You might think: ‘How could he say that?’
What he’s thinking: ‘I hate grown-ups telling me what to do.’
The words ‘I hate you’ spring from the emotionally reactive part of your child’s brain, not the logical part. They don’t have the fluency or self-control to argue their point rationally.
How to respond: Stay calm and say: ‘I can see you’re angry.’ Suggest ways of dealing with their feelings, such as taking deep breaths. Longer term, explain the difference between hating you and hating the rules and say that, for their own wellbeing, they can’t have everything they want.
What’s My Child Thinking? Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents, by Tanith Carey and Dr Angharad Rudkin, is published by DK, priced £16.99.