Recently I’ve been having a bit of trouble with my youngest son, who is 5. One minute he’s the most loving, thoughtful and happy little boy, and then suddenly he can change into a crazy ball of dynamite hurling punches, kicks and hateful words at anyone who is in the area. I know that all young children can switch their mood at what we adults think is the slightest upset, but he has always had more of a tendency to declare that he hates his family, is leaving home, and packing his bags, than my eldest two.
At first I put it down to his personality – he was just different, perhaps more independent, maybe more fiery, than his siblings. But then he started saying he didn’t want to go to school. He would refuse to get in the car, or get out of the car at school, but I knew that he actually loved it when he was there. He always talked about what he had done at school, he loved learning and ‘working’ in school more than many 5 year olds do, and the teachers said he seemed happy, and had many friends. It was really hard to see him obviously upset about something, but not knowing what it was, and how to help him. And then when he wrote to Santa and said ‘I rile need a noow famlee’, it broke my heart. We are a loving family and are always telling him we love him, and giving him cuddles, playing games with him, etc. Why was he feeling like this?
Last week as he was telling me again that the reason he didn’t want to go to school was because there were bullies and he had no friends, it finally dawned on me what was happening. I realised that he believed that whenever someone disagreed with him, or was mean to him, or told him off it meant that they hated him. So when that happened he went into attack mode to protect himself. After talking some more it became clear that where his friends at school were concerned, if they had been mean to him once then it meant that they hated him forever. He now thinks that one of his best friends hates him because he pushed infront of him in the dinner line.
Given that this little 5-year-old spent most of his day with other 4, 5 and 6-year-olds at school, and then with two older bossy siblings at home, and a mum who is a control freak about behaviour, then there was no wonder that he wanted a new family and a new school.
So, since then, we’ve been talking to him about how friendships and families work. That we can get angry,or grumpy and do things that are a bit mean and selfish to our friends, or even do things by mistake, but that doesn’t mean we hate each other. It happens in all relationships – especially when young children are still learning about friendships and controlling their impulses. It’s difficult to know how much he is taking in because he is still focussing on a couple of ‘small’ incidents at school as evidence that other children hate him. But I think if we keep telling him we love him (I also try to say this while I am telling him off or when I’m defending myself from his punches, but I don’t always manage it!), and not take his anger personally, we will in time help him to see disagreements and arguments as part and parcel of school and family life. And maybe he’ll eventually stop packing his bags and leaving home quite so often!