Hi everyone - I'm not quite sure how to describe my question but I'll try. I am a SAHM to two boys, 2.5 and 4.5. I am lucky to live in a neighbourhood with lots of pre-teens and young teens and we've had many offers from them to come over as mother's helpers, to make a little money and practice babysitting. Two have been coming over (separately) once or twice a week each for about 4 months now. It's just for an hour here or there after they get home from school or on weekends. One is a girl, 13 years old and the other is a boy, 12 years old. I am always home, in the background but not far.
The issue is that my 4.5 year old turns into a totally different kid around them, especially the boy. I think DS1 is trying to act older than he is and impress them, and trying to figure out how to fit in with them. His way of acting up to their age is to be very aggressive and to bully them. He bosses them around terribly and teases/insults them. This is totally unlike him usually. I presume this comes from insecurity and that makes sense to me. The thing that has me stumped is that it hasn't subsided as time has gone on. I assumed that things would normalize as they got to know each other, and as my DS1 gained confidence around them. But it hasn't. In fact, things have escalated to more physical rudeness such as constant rough grabbing, throwing things around and pushing (very different from roughhousing that he does with his brother and kids his own age, which I totally support), verbal insults along with almost no attention span and hyperactive behaviour, which is not his norm at all. All the while, he is laughing (well, wild-eyed cackling is more like it) and appears to be having a good time. I'm finally realizing that he is under extreme stress during these visits.
Another piece of this is that both of the neighbours who are coming over have very gentle, reserved dispositions. They are nice and fun but very low-key. I have often stepped in gently to try to lower the intensity of the visit, and have encouraged them to tell DS1 'no' and tell him how they feel about his behaviour. They do a bit, but not much, and there hasn't been a change. They tell me that they like coming and don't say much else. When I talk to DS1 afterwards, he usually isn't able to express what he's been feeling but has twice said that he isn't ready to play with older kids. When I bring it up a few days later, he says that he can't wait for them to come back. So I've continued, expecting things to mellow. We have tried planning for the visits with special books to read, new toys to show, projects that need help from an older kid (such as lego) - the planning gets DS excited but he quickly gets wound up once the neighbour arrives.
I would really appreciate some insight from experienced mothers out there to help me understand what is going on and what to expect if we continue these relationships. I'm thinking about taking a break for a while or trying to connect with others in the neighbourhood who have more outgoing, dominant personalities who may be more likely to lead DS1. Or is this age combination likely to always be challenging? Most importantly, I need to figure out how to talk to DS1 to boost his comfort level and teach him about behaving kindly and just, well, normally around older kids (he's absolutely great with adults and kids close to his own age.) I don't know where to begin. Discipline doesn't seem appropriate, though I have been firm about specific incidents when they occur. I'm very into emotional validation (as per Naomi Aldort) but this kind of talking doesn't seem to be helping in this case.
Sorry this has been so long.... I'm grateful if you read this far and very thankful for any advice you can offer.
Is it really the age difference, or the difference in temperament? It may be that he finds he likes having someone to boss around? I'm not saying he's a sociopath ;) just that sometimes it feels good to be the boss. It's also a bit much to ask those kids to "stand up to" your kid. From their perspective, they're still kids and you're an adult. They are likely being paid by you so they're sort of a playmate/kind of an employee and trying to be polite. I think it would be better to cut your son off when he gets rude or out of control - ok, looks like you're having a hard time calming down. Time for Neighbor Kid to go home and we'll try another day. Pay the kid and send them home.
At our church nursery, we often have a tween helper in addition to a parent adult supervisor. They are very close to a mother's helper in this role, and we even give them a small stipend. I have noticed that they often end up letting themselves be treated exactly as you describe above by the more rambunctious (unfortunately even my own) older toddlers/preschoolers if the parent supervisor does not step in. They're the ones that get tumbled on, climbed on, etc etc.
I really think it's a result of the tweens age, and also still being in the room/house with the parent/adult, PLUS getting paid. In that sort of role, they're much less of an authority figure, and more like a... oh, how do I put it. Like a shiny distraction. The other poster hit it on the head. You could try to coach them into setting boundaries by butting in when your child oversteps something that would be a no-no to yourself. Maybe if they have a handle on the language you use, it would give them a script that they'd be more comfortable with.
Mama to twin boys, Oct-'09 and baby girl, Apri-'12!
It sounds like your child is having a hard time "placing" the older kids. They aren't adults, they aren't children, they play with me, but they are bigger, and supposed to listened to? Maybe he is pushing the boundaries with the kids to see just where they are.
I know that when I was younger and used to watch children in the neighborhood, I had a much harder time when the parents were around. (It seemed to me like) the children showed a lot less respect to MY authority if "the real authority figure" was there. I also felt more unsure of myself when a parent was there, kind of afraid that I'd say the wrong thing and then they would never have me over again.
You could try giving them more space to find their own boundaries. Maybe send them outside (in the yard or to a nearby park) while you are inside. Or run brief errands just to give them some time alone (return something to a neighbor, have a cup of coffee/tea, get a car-wash). I would talk to them both and let them know who is in charge and what is expected (maybe do this the night before with DS and then again with the older kid).
Let us know how it's going!