When do they understand? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 18 Old 08-01-2011, 09:13 AM - Thread Starter
 
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My 3 year old DD was playing with her "popcorn" push toy, she started swinging it and hit the 9 month old baby with it. I took it away from her and she started to cry. I waited for her to calm down and asked her why she was upset. She said, "I love my toy, makes me sad to put it away." So I told her that I had to take it away because she hit the baby with it, and it's not safe to hit the baby with things.

 

She kept crying, so I thought I'd repeat what I said. "I took the toy away because you hit the baby with it." She said, "Fine." I got the impression that she felt she was subjected to a great injustice. I asked her if she knew why I took the toy away, and she said, "I don't know!" So I told her again, then asked if she understood and she still said, "I don't know!"

 

I'm proud of her for being able to tell me how she felt, and I'm also proud that she didn't parrot a response when I asked her if she knew why I took the toy away. I know she doesn't have a concrete concept of safety yet so it doesn't surprise me that she feels like it was unfair for me to take the toy away, but I was just wondering when kids start to understand those things.

 

ETA: It was an accident that she hit the baby. This is a toy that she particularly loves to swing around, though, and it becomes dangerous when the baby is underfoot. In an ideal world, she wouldn't have access to that toy at all when the baby is crawling around but I was doing laundry and wasn't paying as close attention as maybe I should have.


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#2 of 18 Old 08-01-2011, 12:56 PM
 
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Hi, mama.  I have not been around Mothering very often in recent years, and I have never been a regular poster (or lurker) in the Gentle Discipline forum, but I saw your thread & thought I would jump in with a reply.

 

I do not know an "official" answer to when they understand this kind of thing, developmentally speaking.  I suspect that, as articulate as your daughter is, and as connected as she is to her experience & feelings, she certainly already understands the concept of safety for her sister fairly well.  I would imagine that she can grasp the concept of her actions (swinging the toy) having unintended consequences, as well (so she could realize that she hit the baby with the toy and that it's a problem.)

 

I think the apparent difficulty she was demonstrating with "getting it" likely had more to do with her feeling stuck in defending her own validity, because it sounds like you did not connect on that level with her, but rather approached her as having done something wrong, or unacceptable.  She is naturally connected to her own perspective & to a sense of her own validity (this is true whether the behavior is accidental or intentional; in both contexts, there will be underlying reasons for the action and this validity is what children are connected to), and when she is approached as wrong, and as deserving of the consequence you imposed, she will be triggered to defend her validity.  This is a counter-resistance triggered by your initial resistance, which she experiences as a negation.

 

I think that is what you're dealing with, rather than actual lack of understanding.  I saw dramatic evidence of demonstrated comprehension & empathy (even after "deliberate" or intentional physical violations) on the part of my twin sons when they were 27 months old & even younger, so the capacity is there.  I think they need the support of attuned responsiveness to access it in the moment, and attunement is simply accurately understanding the child & her experience.  In that context, she can let go of her defensiveness, because she doesn't need it.  When her counter-resistance relaxes, she can access her compassion for herself, her empathy for another, and she can be open to guidance, because she is supported by understanding and acceptance, and all this is explicit.

 

I see that you realize that hitting the baby with the toy was an accident, so it's not that you have no recognition of the experience from her point of view.  But it sounds like your response to the situation, and to her reactions, emphasized your own point of view & reactions, without connecting to her validity explicitly. 

 

When you explain to her, "I took the toy away because you hit the baby with it," you are validating your actions.  So she experiences this as a further negation, because it explains & justifies an action (and judgment) that she is resisting as a negation of her validity in the first place.  Her "I don't know" is likely an attempt to insist on her validity, rather than give it up completely, and rather than defy YOUR validity (which she probably gets, too.)

 

Anyway, I think if you connect first, you might find that it is not a matter of her not understanding.  I don't think it's lack of comprehension, as much as her being in a difficult position and trying to answer your questions.  She is stuck in a defensive place, which is a victim position of having been wronged.

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#3 of 18 Old 08-01-2011, 12:59 PM
 
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This sort of thing happens, don't beat yourself up.  Soon enough the 9  mo will be swinging things around and hitting the older sister, possibly on purpose. 

 

I think she didn't understand because it wasn't very clear to her why you were doing it.  Your answer seems sufficient to you but from her perspective: she didn't mean to hit the baby and if she has always been allowed to swing it, shouldn't the baby be moved not her toy or her right to play with it as she always has?  (to be clear this is not my thinking but this is what her brain is probably thinking) ETA:  I cross posted with the posetr above...this is her validity that she is clinging to, to put in in AmyC's terms.

 

It  might have been better to simplify things and say: "This toy can't be out when the baby is on the floor/ when mommy is unable to supervise super closely.  You can get it later."

 

Because you are not punishing her for hitting the baby, since it was an accident,  but trying to protect the baby from it happening again.    You might even say to her "Hey, let's find a special place to keep this toy while the baby is practicing her crawling and then when she is up and eating/sleeping/etc you can get it out again, okay?"

 

From the explanation you gave it sounded like you took it away specifically because she hit the baby (which implies she injtended to do so, but the truth is you were trying to protect the baby IN THAT MOMENT, not forever and not to be puntive, and maybe she felt it would be for an extended period of time or that it was punitive for having an accident.

 

I find the at 3 they don't understand reasoning and logic of other people's decisions,  but they do understand problem solving if they are involved in the solving of the problem.  The more they can go along on the journey of solving the problem the better their reaction to the consequence. 

 

But sometimes, like when another child or they themselves are in trouble you don't have time (or patience or energy) to help them be a part of the solution, and you have to make a decision NOW.  Having a temper tantrum is just part of how they learn to express feelings about being over ruled.  It sounds like you are giving her good tools to express her feelings better, but those skills probably won't become easily accessible to her under high stress until she is closer to 6. 

 

 


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#4 of 18 Old 08-01-2011, 01:31 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I was definitely not beating myself up over this, I thought it was one of my better parenting moments until I read AmyC's post and she made it sound like I was victimizing my toddler.

 

Well, anyway. Taking the toy away had to be done, I tried my best to help my 3yo understand why I had to do it (after I gave her plenty of space to express her feelings, and I honestly thought I did validate them), and I was trying to find out whether not she did understand. It seemed to me that she didn't, and I was wondering when it would be age-appropriate to expect her to understand. But apparently, I'm just not good enough at talking with her and connecting to her and she would be fully capable of understanding if I was a better mom. This is basically the gist I am getting from the replies so far.

 

I'm sure I'm being over-sensitive. I am in a really bad way lately, and this feels like a knife in my side because I finally thought "hey, I didn't do anything mean today" only to find out that the thing I did that I thought was good actually was not. 


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#5 of 18 Old 08-01-2011, 07:19 PM
 
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hmmmm, I am not sure where you are getting that from either post.  I got that you were sort of beating yourself up from the last line in the first post. " I was doing laundry and wasn't paying as close attention as maybe I should have. "  That was what I was referring to.

 

The age children start to understand exactly what you were trying to say all the time is about the time they have their own kids...that's what I have come up with so far anyway.  I for one think you are doing a great job, but I thought you came top find out how things could have gone differently to help her understand...not actually just an age range.  You did the right thing, but we were just offering a fresh perspective on what she might have heard.  Didn't mean to upset you or hurt your feelings, honestly.


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#6 of 18 Old 08-01-2011, 08:29 PM
 
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I was definitely not beating myself up over this, I thought it was one of my better parenting moments until I read AmyC's post and she made it sound like I was victimizing my toddler.

 

Yup-I think that is the point of that kind of "validating" post. This idea of if you were just more understanding Mama everything would be better. And by the way - hope that helps!!

 

You aren't victimizing your toddler. You are parenting her. Ignore the theoretical and parent in the practical.

 

Edited to remove a swear word. I can get my point across without it.

 

 

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#7 of 18 Old 08-01-2011, 09:06 PM
 
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It really seems to depend on the situation, and sometimes they seem not to understand but later on if you bring it up they will tell you exactly what was up because they have had time to reflect on things outside of the moment of conflict.  Then there are also times when understanding is there but impulse control is still years away when faced with such a high level of temptation.  It is just really hard to find one set age because there are many factors that really depend on the situation.

 

I don't think that what you did was bad parenting, but there are some things that may help to further her understanding along.  It may help in the future to point out that the baby is sad and redirect her to a more acceptable use first then take the toy while telling her why if she continues to fling the toy around.  This way she has a chance to use the toy still if she is willing to do so safely and she knows why you are taking it before you take it instead of a long time after when she has come up with her own conclusion about your fairness (I have noticed that children often respond better if they know what is happening and why from the beginning instead of after the fact).  If you can do it in the moment, even with feeling protective towards the baby, it might help her understand the effect of swinging the toy if you ask her how she would feel if you swung a toy around her and bumped her with it then ask her what she thinks she should do to make sure her brother doesn't feel those same feelings towards her.  Guiding her towards empathy may help her come up with a safe solution that she truly understands. 

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#8 of 18 Old 08-01-2011, 09:23 PM
 
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Originally Posted by oaktreemama View Post

 

 

Yup-I think that is the point of that kind of "validating" bullshit post. This idea of if you were just more understanding Mama everything would be better. And by the way - hope that helps!!

 

You aren't victimizing your toddler. You are parenting her. Ignore the theoretical and parent in the practical
 

I respectfully disagree. and I don't think my post was BS at all. 

 

I for one was trying to merely offer a suggestion for how to help toddlers understand our intentions and decisions.  I guess I misunderstood what exactly it was Holothuroidea wants her child to "get".  I certainly never meant to imply she was being a bad mama.  The theoretical is based on the practical and clearly as AmyC said  it WORKED for her...so why not give it a try?

 

I don't think offering a fresh perspective on a situation posted in a thread in this forum is saying that "if you were a more understanding mama everything would be better." It's just that there are ways to help a toddler come to terms with the real world beyond the satisfaction of their id. 

 

Nik, I am sorry to read that you are in a bad place right now.  I hope that is where the sadness is coming from and not my post.  I really think any kid who is able to express the feelings your DD has must have a pretty excellent mama...sincerely...You're doing a great job!


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#9 of 18 Old 08-01-2011, 09:23 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by One_Girl View Post  If you can do it in the moment, even with feeling protective towards the baby, it might help her understand the effect of swinging the toy if you ask her how she would feel if you swung a toy around her and bumped her with it then ask her what she thinks she should do to make sure her brother doesn't feel those same feelings towards her.  Guiding her towards empathy may help her come up with a safe solution that she truly understands. 


Unless you have a kid like mine who would answer "But I like getting hit with toys".  It drives me nuts, but empathy does not work with her right  now.  Taking away toys does.  I agree with oaktreemama here.


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#10 of 18 Old 08-01-2011, 09:26 PM
 
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Hi, I'm sorry that my reply bummed you out.  I certainly can see why you were deflated and I'm sorry that you were.

 

I do assume you're a good mom because your daughter trusts you and is expressive of herself.  The things you cited as feeling proud of (about her, in the OP) are things I'd have been proud of (hearing from my child), and I'd have been proud of myself or reassured about myself, that that interchange could happen.  It's a testament to what is intact in your little girl!

 

I didn't mean to suggest that you were mean in this exchange (I realize you didn't say you'd taken that from my message, just that you'd assessed that day as not mean), and I can understand feeling like it was a good parenting moment because, honestly, I didn't think it was a "bad" parenting moment!

 

To be clear, I don't think her capability to understand depends on you being a better mom or "doing better."  I simply meant my guess is that she is capable (and yes, that is probably so because you are a good mom & she has had the space), and that in the moment what you were hearing from her probably was not so much lack of understanding as it was (also purely my guess & my perspective, and also my projection from my own life & circumstances and my kids & their reactions/signals) her being stuck in defending her validity.

 

Your child seems (it seems obvious, to me) not to have a lot of baggage because she didn't really escalate anything or make major protests, and she did express her feelings.  This all speaks to a lack of defensive baggage.  She didn't seem to need to attack or argue or engage in defensive protests....she just had her feelings.  So I would not assume that you are a routinely negating/invalidating mom!

 

I'm not a routinely negating mom, either.  But there are times (and it's not always a matter of "losing it" or being negatively reactive) when I miss the connection part, even though I don't handle myself poorly or messily.  There are times & also specific areas areas in which it's harder for me to respond with my child's validity firmly in mind, even though I do have a habit of orienting myself that way. (When it involves a physical violation of someone else, that often is harder for me, though having twins made it become more routine/automatic out of necessity, because I couldn't allow myself to habitually think of one as an "aggressor" and one as a "victim," so I had to sprint up that learning curve to really being able to orient myself to the validity of any person, even if they were violating someone else, even deliberately so---being able to go to the needs and feelings even in that situation was important to me once both toddlers were "mine.")  Still, there are times when I'm calm, validating (in terms of accepting their feelings and being willing to stay with them & support them through those feelings), and principled, but I still miss that I could have connected before correcting, and that some of those "feelings" are a direct result of me in the interaction.

 

Anyway, what I noticed from your description in the post was that you were open & curious with your daughter, and after she explained her upset, your response was to explain your action.  (How you had to do it because she had hit the baby, or she hadn't been safe with the toy.)  The focus was on why you took the toy away, and whether or not she understood that.

 

When I suggested she was stuck defending her validity, I wasn't assuming that you had invalidated her by chiding her for her feelings, or being impatient or disapproving of her upset, or assuming the worst about her intentions with the toy/accusing her of intending to hurt her sister.  I simply noted that your focus was on explaining the reasons for your action in taking away the toy, which is establishing your validity.  This is not harsh or cruel (and your child certainly didn't respond in any way that would suggest that you were being dismissive or pressuring), but explaining is about clarifying and persuading.  It's an appeal.  When the focus is on explaining how an action was reasonable and valid, it's suggesting why the other person "shouldn't" be upset about it (which is why it's experienced as invalidating.)

 

I agree that it sounded like you gave space for her feelings, and I can see why you didn't think of yourself as "invalidating."  It is so easy to slip into being irritated by crying, and it sounds like you didn't.  Being present with and allowing feelings as valid IS validating in itself.  I simply was pointing to the invalidation (by omission, really?) of the explanation, the exchange that was repeated a few times.  Not meaning to suggest an overall "spirit" of negation or invalidation (in which case it is less likely your daughter would be as expressive as she is, or else she'd be lots more combative, accusing or defensive in her expressiveness.)  And not meaning to suggest that you did something "not good."  Just that this could account for her getting stuck.

 

The thing I pointed out (about myself) above is kind of what I am suggesting:  there are times when I'm validating (in terms of accepting their feelings and being willing to stay with them & support them through those feelings), but I still miss that I could have connected, or reflected them (rather than explaining the limit), and that some of those "feelings" are a direct result of me in the interaction.

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#11 of 18 Old 08-01-2011, 09:43 PM
 
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Oops, there were only five total posts here when I refreshed the screen.

 

Anyway, when I mentioned my boys at two it was just to say that I have experienced that it is possible for them to understand when they deal with correction or limits from a connection-oriented approach. And for me to be able to connect under stress, it helps to think specifically of orienting myself to the validity of the child--in the moment--whose behavior is problematic.  (Otherwise, I tend to be stopping behavior, and as necessary as that is, the action will trigger counter-resistance in the child, as they are connected to their validity & protesting it.)

 

I do a fair bit of the latter (focusing on behavior) and I wasn't trying to imply that there is any kind of all-the-time "success" or whatever, just that (I consulted a journal to get a date) I had seen their flexibility and empathy emerge at a specific young age when I could connect clearly & explicitly to the "problem" kid's validity when stopping biting or hair-pulling.

 

I admit to being "all over the map" when it comes to responding optimally or not, parenting by my values, etc.

 

 

And I agree that you (OP) were not victimizing your child, nor did I think so when I first read & replied.

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#12 of 18 Old 08-01-2011, 09:55 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Honey693 View Post





Unless you have a kid like mine who would answer "But I like getting hit with toys".  It drives me nuts, but empathy does not work with her right  now.  Taking away toys does.  I agree with oaktreemama here.


I generally do not rely on appealing to their empathy for the other child ("how would it feel if.....?")  Especially with a young child; especially if their feelings made them cranky & disconnected enough to hit on purpose.  It can be useful for collaborative problem-solving as One_Girl described, but not necessarily for "correcting" behavior or inspiring cooperation when you want behavior to change/stop.  Generally, my kids won't connect with another's experience unless they really get that I am connecting with them, so their defenses relax.  Protests on their part indicate that we're not there, because they are defended.

 

So for me, empathy as a response in conflict is more about clarifying my empathy for them (that I get where they are coming from.)  It is connecting to them through validation & understanding before trying to stop or change behavior.  And validation is just seeing how the way they think & feel makes sense from their point of view (it's not about agreeing with them, though it's easier to validate a person when you agree with them.)

 

 

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#13 of 18 Old 08-02-2011, 07:53 AM - Thread Starter
 
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hakeber- I don't think they called your post BS, I thought they were referring to AmyC. But even that you insinuate that I "want her to 'get' it" kind of reflects the tone of your posts as accusatory and I'm not the only one who thought so. I don't think you mean to come across that way but you are. 

 

Anyway let me assure you that I don't want or expect my little girl to "get" anything, I was merely curious as to when she would be able to in her own time. Of course, I wish she would! I want her to know that I don't take toys away because I think it's great fun, but because I have to to keep the baby safe. I've gotten a lot of really good suggestions as to how communicate that to her more clearly, thanks mamas!

 

AmyC- Thanks for the clarification.

 

As to why she was swinging the toy around, that one's easy... it's fun! It's a ball on a stick, people! Fun to swing, even I like to swing it. That's why I keep it with the "not safe around baby" toys, but it managed somehow to sneak out when I wasn't looking winky.gif I did pick up the baby first, but then I had to put the toy back away where it belongs so that they could continue to play peacefully while I sorted laundry. Which they did. 


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#14 of 18 Old 08-02-2011, 08:10 AM
 
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yeah... the idea of it swinging makes me cringe a little-- sorry...  i would personally make swinging ANYTHING an outside toy.  but that's just me and i love not just babies but the tchotchkes on high :)

and to make this really simplistic, i think that toddlers can verbalize FAR less than they understand, you know?  i don't think you have any real way to tell if she understood why really.  i also think that the "I don't know" may have meant to her that she disagreed with taking the toy away.  like she wasn't going to tell you yes she knew why because she just plain didn't like it. 

i mean, ok, yes.. i am personally an over explainer.  i like for everybody to know why i do what i do.  i think, though, the talk of validation and vicitimization is a little too much for this kind of interaction.  you could always just say: i am afraid you will hit the baby when you are swinging this toy.  let's put it away for now.  that takes out the blame, makes it about your fears, and doesn't leave room for discussion.  (of course, if i were met with protests about it, i would say you can play with this outside, away from the baby and let her have it back)

i'm all for discussion but the swinging stuff around babies, just to me, isn't really something that allows for the leeway of discussing it, or understanding.  i would even put forth that a 2 or 3 year old absolutely does understand swinging something could lead to hitting and therefore it needs to not happen near the baby.  they surely have seen enough cause and effect for that to be clear.  communicating that understanding, well.. that could be a while. 


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#15 of 18 Old 08-02-2011, 08:23 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by holothuroidea View Post

hakeber- I don't think they called your post BS, I thought they were referring to AmyC. But even that you insinuate that I "want her to 'get' it" kind of reflects the tone of your posts as accusatory and I'm not the only one who thought so. I don't think you mean to come across that way but you are. 
 

I am genuinely sorry you feel I was acussing you of wanting your daughter to understand something...I thought that's what this thread was about.

 

Please let me know how I can come off as less accusatory in the future as I certainly do not want to convey such a tone in any of my posts. 


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#16 of 18 Old 08-02-2011, 10:08 AM
 
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To answer the original question: Most kids are between 4 and 5 before they can take another person's perspective. Essentially that's what you're asking her to do -- understand that although it was an accident, the toy had to be put away. So, I'd expect another year before she "gets" it. That being said, you did the right thing even if she can't really understand.

One insight that helped me was the idea that once my babies moved beyond the infant stage, my job changed from preventing all crying to helping them deal with their powerful emotions. It sounds to me like you did a great job of that. It's ok that she didn't understand. You can validate her feelings without her really understanding. If it helps, our son was about 8 before he really understood that you shoul say sorry if you hurt someone even if it was an accident. Understanding why something happens after an accident apparently takes a long time.

Finally, have you been screened for post-partum depression? If you were just having a bad day, oh well. But your comment that you "hadn't done anything mean today" makes me think that you're in a very vulnerable spot right now. It's hard to deal with the competing demands of a baby and a three year old. You're not mean by disciplining. It sounds to me like you did what you did with compassion. It's ok if she didn't understand.

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#17 of 18 Old 08-02-2011, 02:19 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by hakeber View Post



I am genuinely sorry you feel I was acussing you of wanting your daughter to understand something...I thought that's what this thread was about.

 

Please let me know how I can come off as less accusatory in the future as I certainly do not want to convey such a tone in any of my posts. 


There is a huge difference between wanting her to understand and wondering whether or not she does. I am well aware that there is a long list of things I could never expect a child of a certain age to understand, the intention of this thread was to get an idea of when understanding this would be age appropriate, which many mothers of older children have been able to tell me (Thank You!).

 

I have no idea what to say about how to get your tone to match your intention, and I am really the last person you should ask because it happens to me all the time. We should form the Committee for Frequently Misunderstood Posters. 

 


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#18 of 18 Old 08-03-2011, 10:11 AM
 
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The age children start to understand exactly what you were trying to say all the time is about the time they have their own kids...that's what I have come up with so far anyway.

Well I'm not sure I always understand my mumwinky.gif

 

My kids can tell me in calm moments why they should not swing the toys round, but still don't always have the impulse control to not do it and they are 7 and 4. Actually we found our push along when sorting out DSs room last week, it had been confiscated and put in the top of the wardrobe and forgotten. Within minutes they were "hoovering the ceiling" and managed to hit each other over the head.

 

Other than making sure they have time to play safely and energetically and taking away toys which are being used dangerously I'm not sure there is much to do but wait.

 

 

 

 

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