Question: We have a four-year old daughter who is what I have heard termed “a highly-spirited child.” It seems everywhere she goes, even just room to room in our house, it has to be at a dead run. We live on the third floor of an apartment building so this totally annoys our downstairs, (no kids yet), neighbors. I feel guilty continually telling my daughter “don’t run,” “keep it down,” and reminding her that we have to be considerate of others. Any one of these efforts may work for a few moments, then its back to running. Because of the complaints, I have attempted to explain to my neighbor that my daughter is four and that this is what 4-year-olds do. His retort is that I am just a bad parent if I cannot control my child’s behavior. Is there a reasonable expectation that I can “make” a 4-year-old stop running? If so what is the technique to accomplish this?
Answer: I love it! Don’t we all wish we had your daughter’s exuberance for what awaits us in another room? I’m glad you seem to enjoy her “high spiritedness” and you understand that this is not unusual behavior for a 4 year old. In a perfect world, everyone would be overjoyed at children being seen and heard as often as possible. In this world, we can look at a multifaceted response as you have already done, knowing that your daughter will slow down just a little in her own time.
You have already begun an on-going lesson on the consideration of others. You are doing a good job of it since your daughter clearly hears your message and controls her behavior for a short time. 4 year olds are notoriously “egocentric”, meaning that they see themselves, their needs and desires as the entire universe. They have great difficulty comprehending (from a logical point of view) that what feels good to them makes someone else unhappy. They also live completely in the “here and now” continually getting drawn back into their immediate exciting agenda. Phrase the message in a context where your daughter can be successful so you don’t sound like a broken record and your daughter isn’t meeting with constant disappointment at unrealistic expectations. Work on the “cognitive” understanding that someone lives below you before working on the “moral” understanding that her actions impact his happiness. Remind her that he’s home at certain times of the day, that he’s downstairs doing quieter things and talk about what those things might be, that he hears her and what it might sound like to him. If your neighbor is receptive, include him in the teaching process by learning about who he is and what he does. When your daughter’s energy levels kick into high gear, give her informative reminders about your neighbor’s perspective. I think consideration will follow (in time) from understanding.
In the meantime, you can introduce some fun games that help your daughter to move through the house quieter. She could wear special ballet slippers to tiptoe like a ballerina or big soft fluffy slippers to skate from room to room. Or, you could make up a game that whenever she gets noisy you will give a “signal” and the “rules” of the game are she must become the quietest animal she can think. You can play this game anywhere and anytime you need to distract your daughter or shift her energy. None of these should be a chore or work but rather creative and fun ways of tuning into each other.
As to your neighbor’s judgment of your parenting skills, may you continue to focus on your daughter’s growth and well-being. I only hope that 20 years from now, he will be telling her the stories of how she drove him crazy when she was 4 years old and the two of them will laugh together.
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.