My son, Jrue, is a static, stereotypical five-year-old right now. He holds long conversations, directly correlated to “why” something is so, and responds with the cutest laughter when something is funny to him. He likes the idea of his many toy cars crashing and, much like at his gender brick wall, physically demonstrates his mania by clapping them together loudly as his tablet brings in background contributions to his play. Jrue is beginning to entertain some semblance of privacy by insisting that he closes the bathroom door to go potty. His digital savviness is off-the-charts. Watching his independence bloom as he tests his bravery on tall slides at parks, when he used to be paralyzed by them, is magical.
However, it is almost one month into his fifth sun rotation and he has additionally demonstrated impressions of cynicism, despondency, and exasperation, not to mention an ongoing tendency to bicker for sport, which is so uncharacteristic of my otherwise “fluffy” little boy. I’m not sure if being away from us for the summer has exacerbated his new personality traits, or if we’re compounding them because he is away, but we have noticed an uptick in three distinct areas: bossiness, braggadocio, and bolstering.
Jrue has gotten really bossy lately. I understand some of it to be part of his social development, but another more defensive side of me as “mommy” looks at it like a budding attitude problem, particularly because he attempts to boss around grown-ups. If he is redirected or even mildly scolded, he becomes faux-sad and “anti” everything. Meanwhile, other children his age are also exhibiting these trends. An article on Parents.com painted a scenario: “You tell your 5-year-old to turn off the TV, and she throws the remote on the floor, runs into her room, and slams the door.” (Margulis, 2008)
Yep, this sounds familiar. Ugh, the dramatics.
The author went on. “Being angry is okay, but your child has to learn that hurling objects and slamming doors is always against the rules. At age 5, kids still have a hard time dealing with anger, but they’re old enough to learn from consequences.” (Margulis, 2008) Jrue may be getting away with it a bit because he is not with his parents every day, but believe me when I say that a lot of his negative attributions will be ignored. I find that, if we keep him busy, he finds little time in a day to declare boredom and fill up his brain with air. He and his sister will return home just two weeks before school begins again, so we will be focusing on getting back onto schedule and claiming success in kindergarten.
As an optimistic person, I try to identify the positive in his bossiness. As long as he learns to pull in his assertiveness when necessary, and avoid having to be in control constantly, he is on a solid path towards the cohesive leadership qualities of fearlessness and honesty and commitment. I’ll work with it.
Jrue brags about anything and it can get comical. We visually talk to our children over social media up to twice a day; Jrue usually finds a way to put a new toy (or his foot, oddly) up to the camera to announce his latest conquest. If attention leaves him temporarily, such as in the case of us chatting with Jai, he regains the spotlight by proclaiming that something he has done/said/wanted is better/louder/prettier than ours. Of course, that causes a back-and-forth banter that he just savors. He shows us his eyeball…and his nostril. He sings, he dances, he makes faces. And he goes on and on about his possessions.
Although we will encourage him to show care about others and not just himself, Jrue is not alone in this propensity. Among the many reasons for this behavior, as listed in the HuffPost article “Why Kids Brag and What Parents Can Do About It,” Jrue may be presenting the need to “feel important and gain attention,” which has been his M.O. for a while (Gross, 2014) “Because children don’t have the social or coping skills that adults often do, bragging can become a technique they use to find and create friendships,” says Dr. Gail Gross. “Meanwhile, they are unaware that bragging can make others move away from them and even dislike them.” (Gross, 2014)
I’m hoping to curb his bravado into a quiet confidence and a motivation to back what he says with research and applicable action. I want my son to “walk the walk” and “talk the talk,” sort to speak. That way, he’s not just blowing smoke and encouraging eye rolls amongst his peers.
Lastly, Jrue bolsters an argument with anyone who is willing to get into one with him. Even when he seemingly knows that he is not entirely correct in an assumption, he will remain on that opposing side just to incite a debate. And, since he is a young child, the dispute is similar to contesting with a Simon game: the same lights and sounds keep going on, rigid without weakening. It’s quite an aggravating taunt. His stance can be irksome, to tell the truth, because it is happening increasingly. His lack of cooperation can come from anything at any time: brushing his teeth has become quarrelsome; eating lunch causes dissension; what book to read before bed can cause a flat-out war.
Why has my little boy become entirely combative? It seems to be a classic struggle for power. Writer Annie Finnigan says, “Though such verbal volleying can exhaust any parent, it’s normal for preschoolers. With a vocabulary of 8,000 words at their command, 4- and 5-year-olds are ever more confident in their ability to communicate their side of things—and to gain power in the process.” (Finnigan, 2004) Furthermore, she quotes an expert in her findings. “‘Arguing and disobeying peak around this age,’ says Russell Barkley, Ph.D., author of Your Defiant Child: 8 Steps to Better Behavior. ‘Four- and 5-year-olds are focused exclusively on getting what they want, and now they have a new way to go after it.'” (Finnigan, 2004)
My inclination is to assume that Jrue “knows better,” but he really may not. Instead, everything becomes negotiable or tantrum-involved. What we try to do to off-set the heavier consequences of his view is to give him viable options with no room for shakiness. If we say something, we mean it right then. Oftentimes, we dismiss his argumentation with silence, but I do see this nature serving him well in the future as a great salesperson or a charming company CEO. Like all notions at his age, he just needs to hone in and shape this spirit he has collected. It can be done.
My kid won’t be an a-hole permanently. I have to seek the beauty in all this.
Finnigan, Annie. “Coping with an Argumentative Child.” Parents Magazine, Nov. 2004, https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/behavioral/coping-with-an-argumentative-child/. Accessed Jul. 1, 2018.
Gross, Gail, Dr. “Why Kids Brag and What Parents Can Do About It.” The Huffington Post, May 6, 2014, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-gail-gross/why-kids-brag_b_5275345.html. Accessed Jul. 1, 2018.
Margulis, Jennifer. “Does Your Kid Have an Attitude Problem?” Parents Magazine, Jan. 2008, https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/manners/does-your-kid-have-an-attitude-problem/. Accessed Jul. 1, 2018.