Or maybe you're here anticipating that I'll be talking about pushing down the curriculum, to give your child a head-start academically. (You'll be disappointed- but please keep reading, because you'll learn something that you need to know.)
It does seem far-fetched, and possibly irrelevant, to think about your preschooler (and by preschooler, I mean any child who hasn't got to school age yet) in terms of the teenager he or she will become. I want you to put that feeling aside for a minute, and put this in its place:
YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW.
risk to my
Scary, huh? There's a lot of responsibility involved. It's daunting.
So let's have a look at some of the characteristics of teenagers that can be the most challenging, and how to 'plant the right grape vines' to avoid the worst of it.
The sulkily silent teenager
Look, they're nearly all like that at some stage (believe me, I spent 25 years teaching them- I KNOW!). You won't escape completely. But what you do need to do is to keep the channels of communication open- you still need to have a relationship with that bundle of hormones skulking in their bedroom all day.
The best way to achieve that is by treating your child with respect and authenticity from Day 1. What does that look like with a preschooler? Well, I could write a whole book about it (and if you search those terms on this blog you'll find a LOT of posts about them), but let's just skim the basics.
Firstly, and most importantly, tell even very small children the truth- don't hide things from them, not even the hard stuff, and give reasons for what you do and say and feel. Trust them with the truth, because little kids can sense atmosphere and they can often smell a lie and it scares the heck out of them.
|My boy on the verge of adolescence|
Remember, you're their role model- so tell the truth and model openness about feelings now, and you're halfway to getting the truth told to you in return when they're adolescents.
Don't patronise them, don't use baby talk, don't tell them they're 'too young to understand'. Communicate with them on a level that acknowledges their mental age. And communication goes two ways- really listen when they share their thoughts and ideas, because this stuff that might seem babyish to you is important to them right now, and you want them to keep sharing the important stuff, don't you?
Ask them what they're feeling- don't tell them. A child who's told what they're feeling (wrongly!) will internalise it and become confused; a teenager will just be furious with you and shut down. Don't assume you know. Actively encourage them to talk about feelings, even at this young age- it's important to avoid the short cuts. It only gets harder from here on.
The angry, disobedient, sly teenager
If you start being confrontational with your preschooler and setting up power struggles, you are begging for trouble. The 'give and take' starts now if you want to dodge this bullet.
Don't smack. Just don't. You wouldn't hit an adult- don't hit a child. It destroys respect, and it contradicts the basic social message of non-violence. Once your child gets to the teenage years, violence from you is NOT the dynamic you want to use to control behaviour- because that's the age when they start to intellectualise who deserves their respect, and who doesn't. You want to be on the right side of the line. Being called a hypocrite is one of the joys awaiting most parents of teenagers- don't fuel the fire by telling your preschooler to 'play nicely' and then smacking them when they don't.
A child who knows they'll be physically punished for wrongdoing becomes secretive, just in case what they're doing is considered wrong. A teenager who equates telling you their mistakes with physical punishment is just not going to be frank with you, and you'll have only yourself to blame.
And if you keep punishing by hitting, how far will you have to escalate it to get obedience from a 16-year-old? They'll likely hit you back, and they certainly won't be obeying you once they're out of your sight. STOP HITTING NOW. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube on this one.
And do try to keep calm. Try not to sweat the small stuff, because you're creating a template for the future. If you deal with every little thing at the same level of hype on the misbehaviour thermometer, how will your child learn to recognise when you're really upset? Take a deep breath before you fly off the handle, and remember that this child- of whatever age- is still learning, and you are his or her role model. (If you lose the plot and swat a backside, be big enough to apologise. If you can climb down, you'll rise an equal amount in a child's eyes.)
Try to use natural consequences rather than manufactured punishments. "You ate all the biscuits that I'd bought for this week, so now you feel sick- and now there are none left. I can't buy any more biscuits for you this week" translates easily later on to "You spent all your allowance that was meant for the whole week in one day, and so I'm not giving you more until next week's allowance is due. It's not my problem that you don't have enough left for your movie date."
Make your boundaries logical, explain yourself, and you are well on the way to having a teenager who may whine when you say no- yes, they'll all do that!- but will quietly respect (and learn from) your consistency.
Oh, and if you're a pushover now, don't expect them to do anything but walk straight through you later. You do need boundaries."No" does need to mean "no", not "maybe, depending on how hard you nag".
The teenager who pushes you away
Teenagers are intensely private. They are desperately trying to find out who they are, where they're going, what they want, how they fit in with their peers.
You can give your small child a head start by making sure they have plenty of free play where you are NOT hovering over them, approving or disapproving their every move and trying to be part of the game.
You can try to let them choose their own friends, and find out for themselves if someone is a poor choice of companion.
|Dinosaurs bore me to tears- but I'll|
still encourage kids to express
their interest in them.
Parenting is a process of letting go. You need to start young.
The teenager who takes big risks
The evidence is in. Our children are growing up in a risk-averse society, and as a result their risk assessment skills are shot when they get to the teenage years.
You can help fix this for your child. You can allow risky play at home (there's another search for you- there are many posts about risky play on this blog, and hundreds out there on the wider internet). You can choose a care centre where the children are allowed to climb trees, and play with sticks, and mess around with water, and do the things that their grandparents did as children without anyone threatening legal action.
If you wrap your small child in cotton wool, that child will get to the teenage years with no experience of judging risk. The mistakes will be bigger. The consequences may be tragic. A little pain now may save you terrible grief later.
* * * * *
I could probably write a whole book on this topic, but that's enough to think about for one blog post. Try to think a little more long-term in the parenting decisions you make. There isn't some magic moment when a toddler becomes a preschooler, or a preschooler becomes a schoolchild, or a schoolchild becomes a teenager. It's a continuum. What you have here is a baby teenager, and you need to think in terms of what you are planting in that creature's mind that will come to fruition in ten or twelve years.