My dd is 3, soon to be 4. She's the youngest in her class of pre-k (mostly filled with 4s turning 5) and up to this point in the year, it's been great! The class is filled with sweet kids that all get along well. The little boy she is imitating is very sweet too, but he has a nasty habit of saying "I hate this and I hate that" that she has picked up. She copies his face, his expression and everything. I can give her kinder and gentler words than "I hate" but I'm worried that his attitude is affecting her attitude towards school and I need to help her work through that. She'll cross her arms with a sour expression and just be a grouchy lump--again, mimicking his expression and pitch of voice exactly. Do you have any thoughts for how I can work with her to realize that a lousy attitude is not going to help her get anywhere with other people? not only that, but I would like to encourage her authentic voice at the same time.
How to discourage a behavior picked up in school
I'm dealing with this myself, my DS is the same age, almost 4 and while he's a very sweet boy and a really good listener (for his age ), he comes home with new phrases and expressions that I know we don't use and that are kind of aggressive. As it turns out there is a boy that runs the room so to speak at school and in talking with other parents, they've noticed it as well. It can be frustrating, since we really work on respecting each other when we speak, etc.
I try and rephrase what was just said in a more appropriate way. Like with the I hate, etc. I will say, oh you mean you don't like taking a bath or you could try saying that again, but with nice words. And DS will usually say, ok mama and I say was just kidding, we don't say hate ,etc. The word that makes me nuts is stupid. And it comes up a lot so I try to explain how it makes me feel if someone calls me stupid and then I ask DS how he feels when someone calls him that name (it makes me sad, mama). And we try and find another way to tell our friends we're frustrated or want to play something else etc. Of course this is all with varying degrees of success, but for the most part it seems to be helpful.
I spoke with dd's teacher yesterday. We are having school conferences next week, so we are going to discuss strategies for best working with her then. I'll share if she's got any new suggestions. She did tell me not to worry, that mimicking others is very natural at this age. I do realize that at a logical level, but I worry that she is internalizing this kid's poor social skills and I want her to mimic a different kid! Lol, I know this is just the beginning of many, many things she will pick up from others that will be less than thrilling for me, but I have to give her the space to try on different hats, even if it pains me to watch at times! Tonight, she wanted to pretend to be a different girl in her class, and asked me to do her hair like this girl wears it. That kind of brought me around to the realization that these are flights of fancy, and I have to be careful to react in a way that gives her good outlets for her expressions of frustration and anger.
Ds did this in Pre-K as well. He also started fake laughing which was really annoying. I mostly rode it out, and reminded him that learning was fun, and if he used the H word for people that we needed to not do that, and that we could say we don't like when so and so does XYZ but that people are not their actions. We also talked about why certain kids might say those things, especially about other people, how maybe they were (in not such fancy words) projecting their own feelings about life onto others.
This helped DS a lot actually to realize that when we use hurtful words it says a lot more about how we are feeling about life than it did about the the thing or person we are projecting onto. Now he says "I wish ____ didn't exist." and sometimes like for clothes or mornings or school bus schedules I say "Me too!" and give him a bug hug which helps him move on. But when it is people especially friends I say "Why is that? Do you mean that or are you feeling angry about something?" and at first he was adamant about just not wanting his friend to exist and then eventually he'd say "Well, he was mean to me yesterday and now he says ..." etc etc. He's really developed over the years. Sometimes when he has an outburst of the I hates he can even stop after calming down and say "I don't really hate that, I'm just feeling angry today." and we hug it out, which is pretty cool.
This really is normal, and as long as you are counteracting her mimicking with open honest conversations and discussions where she can get to the bottom of her feelings, she'll be fine and eventually learn her own ways of expressing stuff. I think it's important to say "it;s okay to feel that way, but it's good to know why you feel that way." and direct them towards solutions for feeling bad. Remember, at that age most kids are just mimicking us adults anyway, especially in terms of expressing feelings. But over time, they DO get their own voices and they will learn how to use it respectfully eventually.
hakeber, I think I could be friends with you irl. :) I seem to find myself nodding when I read your posts.
The fake voice, and acting exactly like other kids, drives me CRAZY. I work so hard to teach my kids to be sweet and respectful, and it can all be undone in an afternoon. Makes me want to scream.
But, instead, I talk a lot about how special they are, and about how we need THEM. We don't need another Tommy or another Sarah. Just them, and if they aren't being themselves, who will?
And, if the other child is behaving rudely/badly, I talk about that, too. I always frame it with how "we are all learning to be sweet", and "everybody, even Mamas and Daddies, should always be trying to be kinder, etc." I don't want to be gossipy about another kid, but if somebody has a bad attitude, we're going to talk about it flat out. I might say, after that conversation, "I can't let you get all mopey and grumpy inside. That would be sad to me, so what are you going to do instead?" And then come up with some constructive way to express ourselves and not be pouty.
The lesson is not "don't try out other ways of talking" or "so and so is a bad person and you can't act like them", but, rather, as hakeber says, "Who are you and what are you really thinking and feeling?" I don't want my child to just morph into their surroundings, but to get in the habit of evaluating them and choosing who they are going to be. That's the lesson.
Cool! Likewise, Just One more.
I think it really hit for me when DS started joining the gang-up on a little boy in his class who even the teachers had labelled as "bad" and needing "time-outs" and DS was participating saying things like "Julian is a bad boy! Julian is stupid because he can't follow the rules." I happened to know that the mom and dad were going through a divorce because the dad was a pretty severe alcoholic and drug addict and was abusing the kids. I didn't tell Benjamin that, obviously, but I tried to model empathy...I said "so what do you think would make you sad and mad enough to hit someone/ crumple up someone else's work/pinch a classmate/yell bad words...(insert whatever "Bad" thing Julian had done that made the teacher and likewise the kids shame him that day.)?" I said, "You don't have to play with him if he is having a hard time being nice to people, but maybe he's hurting people because he feels sad, and he needs kindness, not to be ashamed, ya know? Julian is not bad, he is behaving badly, and it's good to find out why."
It wasn't just that, he was definitely picking up on the phrasing of the teacher and the kids and it was starting to freak me out a little, especially since obviously the school and the parents were of a different philosophy. We got through it.