“My daughter is a lovely child who loves her family but is very head strong with endless energy. How can I help to support her during this difficult developmental time?”
These preschool years are often the hardest for parents as although your child is able to assert their behaviour and is becoming fiercely independent, there’s often a lot of difficulties in relation to boundaries and rules. While you want your child to be independent, you also want them to stay safe. What is happening in this particular example is this child is constantly testing the boundaries of her behaviour with them so that she can form an identity for herself and show her place in the family. This child has developed – in my opinion – a theory of mind.
What is ‘Theory of Mind?”
Theory of mind is important for preschoolers as it’s showing their understanding that people act and behaviour based on their thoughts and their feelings. Often children with autism are lacking in a theory of mind, which means that they don’t seem to have this awareness that each individual person, be it their mum or their dad, all have different thoughts and different opinions. People who are lacking in a theory of mind often tend to think that everyone thinks the same as them. If you think everyone thinks the same as you it makes you a little bit more egocentric and makes it hard for you to understand that somebody might want to take you off to the shops or to Granny’s house or to preschool because if you don’t want to go there then you can’t understand why anyone else would want to go there either.
The child in this particular question sounds like she has developed this as she will act differently, for different people. So she acts differently for her Montessori teacher, she acts differently for her parents and she acts differently for her grandparents. So what’s happening here, is she’s very happy to go off with the Grandparents, and I would imagine she is getting along fine in Montessori. So she is acting differently, for different people. Preschoolers can be like that, they save all their bad temper for when they meet their parents at the end of the day! This particular child is probably receiving two different messages from two parents. For this, consistency is key in this instance where there is a child trying to get their own way!
For my own children, if I can say ‘No’ to something and continue to say ‘No’ then after a while, the message will be received that no means no. But if I say no and then after being asked 10 times, I give in and say yes, that is reinforcing that behaviour that if you keep asking, then eventually you’ll get what you want. Kids are very clever like that!
This child seems very clever as she is understanding that if she acts a certain way, then she’s going to get her parents attention. All children want when they’re young is their parents attention and it doesn’t matter whether they do good behaviour or bad behaviour to get it, so long as they have your full attention. This child has realised very quickly that if she behaves badly and does naughty things then she’s going to get your attention a lot faster and a lot quicker and a lot more in force than if she does it by quietly going about doing what she’s supposed to be doing. She has some great early problem solving skills already!