What she asked:
“I have a 3 and a half-year-old little girl and I always tell her that she’s one of a kind… that she always needs to do things the way she sees fit (“her own way”), without imitating others… But today, in kindergarten, the teacher reprimanded me, in a very unpleasant tone, because apparently B. refuses to do some of the things that other kids do (a tomato is not a tomato, she won’t dance the way the teacher tells her to, she won’t put her slippers on the right way). I asked my little girl about all that and she said: “Mommy, you said that everyone does things their own way! I told teacher that I wanted to do things my own way and she was mad at me.” How do I explain to a 3 and a half-year-old that she needs to be unique, but at the same time that she must respect certain rules? Thank you!”
The specialist’s answer:
What a 3 and a half-year-old child takes from “you must do things your own way” is that doing things the way she wants to is a good thing. Usually, kids use this “excuse” in frustrating situations (for example, when they can’t perform a certain dance move) or when they simply don’t want to do what others tell them to.
A very important thing that all parents must understand is that the cerebral development of a preschooler does not allow them to grasp abstract concepts such as freedom or expressing their personality (“her own way”).
Let’s imagine, for a second, a world without traffic rules, where everyone would drive their cars in their own way (without mimicking others). It would be chaos.
People tend to build mechanisms that help them handle certain situations. These mechanisms are, for the most part, developed during childhood, when we first learn how to react to the situations we’re exposed to.
Every person has a unique personality, which was shaped by the education he or she received, by the cultural context of his or her life, and by parents, friends, society and genes.
And it’s important to remember that children mainly learn by imitation.
So what is there to do?
It’s preferable that parents helped their child build the psychological resources they need in order to learn how to control their emotional reactions and to handle situations that involve effort and frustration.
How does one do this?
The best long-term solution is to build a solid parent – child relationship, in which the parent offers unconditional acceptance and secure attachment. Unconditional acceptance means accepting and loving our children for what they are, without conditioning love through phrases such as: “Mommy loves you if you behave.”
The short-term solution is that the mother explains to the child that she is unique, but that there are, nevertheless, rules every person – grown-up or child, young or old – must respect, so that the world we live in remains peaceful and nice.
It’s important that the parent explain what rules are about, through examples of rules and of close people who respect them (for example: even the teacher makes the same dance moves as you do). But remember! Children must know the rules before they are asked to respect them and they must understand the consequences of not respecting them.
Another important thing is that all throughout their learning process, children should be rewarded through encouragements, maybe even the occasional “well done!” for their efforts in taking the right dance steps, so that they eventually learn that the work they do is more important than the final result, because if they work well, then the results will also be good.
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