Defiance in Small Children

As a family, we’ve had some big bumps in the rhythm so far this year.  With a new baby and a busy tax season, lots of things have changed.  Our daily rhythms are off, sleep is off, household chores are off, and everyone….EVERYONE…is grumpy.  Can’t tell you how grumpy.  Can’t tell you how stressed.  In the grand scheme of things, this is just a blip, a nothing, I know that.  But it’s here, right now, in our faces, and Dad and I are spending a good chunk of our precious face-to-face time discussing it and praying hard for guidance in helping the kids.

I’ve come across some interesting resources in my questing for “What am I going to do tomorrow?”  I know time is absolutely the best thing for her, and just carrying on our new daily rhythms until she can join in….but still, I have to do SOMETHING in the interim to help her while waiting for “time” to pass!

At first glance, what she’s doing looks like defiance.  You just want to say “Why won’t you do what you’re told!”

Carrie at Parenting Passageway says this:

From a Waldorf perspective, children in the first seven year cycle are neither inherently good nor bad but learning.  They are not “defiant”; defiance implies a fully conscious knowing of right and wrong and choosing to do the opposite, wrong, thing.  Since in the land of Waldorf parenting we believe the first seven years are a dreamy state, a state where logical thought has not yet entered, a state where the child is one giant sense organ (an eye!) and just taking in sensory impressions without a filter, there can be no “defiance”. Many times the power struggles we create with our children are a result of our own lack of knowledge of developmental stages, not having the right tools to guide our child, our own inner issues at the moment and not as much to do with the child as we thought!

Alright.  Children under seven don’t know right from wrong, I can DEFINITELY agree with that.  It’s a major reason children in our religion aren’t baptized until age 8, or “the age of accountability.”  Young children watch, and DO learn, but they aren’t totally accountable for their actions yet.  And yes: many of the times we’re frustrated, it’s because we set up a bad situation that puts HER in control.  For example “I’m not going to start this car, to leave for church, until you stop crying.”  Wow.  Now our entire family is going to be late for church, waiting for a five-year-old to end her tantrum?  No good.

We, the parents, need to carry on the rhythm, and let our children join us.  We’re unflappable.  We’re brick walls.  We’re a cruise liner.  We’re unstoppable.  Our children NEED us to be constant, as they adjust and push against the world around them, trying to find the boundaries.  They NEED to find those boundaries, and we need to be the boundaries that they find.

She goes on to say that “Children are not supposed to listen.”  They are supposed to watch and imitate- a verbal command is not the way to reach a young child.  If you want them to clean a play room, start and they will join you.  Hand them a toy, show them where it goes.  When they remember which box is for which toy, they can work along side you.

Carrie goes on to say:

When you give them a “verbal command” and they have to go up into their head to process it, this is involving thinking, which is something Waldorf educators see children using as a dominant way to respond to an environment LATER.  It is NOT that small children do not think, it is NOT that they do not have thoughts, important thoughts!!,  but that they live in the moment, they have this will to do what they want without many overriding mechanisms at this point to slow things down. They are LEARNING.

“Without many overriding mechanisms.”  Yes.  Yes, that is absolutely a fantastic way to describe a child’s behavior in relation to impulses.

We need to remember the developmental stages our kids are at, and respect where they are.  I don’t want to find myself constantly pushing the kids onto the next stage, being upset they’re not older than they are.

8 Responses

  1. I needed to read that. I’m at a particularly hard spot with the boys right now…

  2. Are there any EASY spots with kids? Ming Wai and I had a great day yesterday, and I have no idea why. I dragged her to the gym, them to Mom’s house. She got to watch a movie there, then come home and watch another movie. She should have been bonkers.

    She was an angel. Go figure.

  3. And this too shall pass. ((hugs)) Things are so much more difficult when the sleep bank is empty. Thanks for sharing the Waldorf info. I really enjoy learning more about it.

  4. Those are some wonderful quotes from Parenting Passageway, and I liked what you said about how they relate to your experience. It’s easy to forget about what an intense, and sometimes difficult stage of parenting those with the under sixes are in. My heart goes out to you. You have a lot of wisdom.

  5. I completely agree with that viewpoint. Many times I feel like they are testing limits just to see what happens. I do feel like that is how they learn and as hard as it is being unstoppable, kind but firm and demonstrating by actions is what will create that wonderful, well adapted and conscientious soul. You are such a wonderful mama!

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