Prata Baby - maybe that should be Prata Boy by now - turns four tomorrow. You will already know this if you are one of the random strangers he accosted today to impart this information. He is likely to be disappointed with the experience, given his expectations, which are heady, to say the least. He expects to be taller, faster, smarter, and more able to accomplish almost everything (in fact, he has a short list of things he has been putting off for the last couple of weeks, because "he'll find it easier once he turns four next Thursday") - all by the time he wakes in the morning. Hopefully he will be happier with his presents.

I already got my gift for his birthday. We have been struggling at school ever since this post, with much the same issues. It has seemed a case of two steps forwards, one back (if not the other way around at times) but today his teacher told me he has finally come around and has been getting along really well. I swear I nearly started crying at the school gate. She thanked me for all my hard work, but in truth it was a multitude of factors, which I am now going to write down for the edification, or at least reflection and discussion, of whoever is interested.

Things That Have Helped (*These a Great Deal More than the Others)

He has a new teacher this year, and I think she is better for him, for two reasons. First, she is rather liberal with the edible treats, and if there's one thing PB loves it's an edible treat. I have mixed feelings about this, but currently I am on the side of "whatever works". More substantially, however, his teacher this year has a relaxed confidence born of much experience. Last year's teacher had a tendency to worry about PB's behaviour, fretting over the fact that this technique or that technique just didn't seem to be having the desired effect, and I think that only fed the anxiety which lay at the root of his problems. I felt her pain. She was fresh out of teaching school with no children of her own, and I was drifting about in pretty much the same sea. This year's teacher has seen PB's type a thousand times before and can handle it with an unruffled deftness which inspires both him and I.

He knows his school now, and he knows his classmates. He's just more comfortable interacting with them. Things at home are more stable, too - no new siblings to contend with, no new houses, no new countries. It's all comfortingly familiar.  

The Prata Boy has matured, plain and simple. He finds it less frightening to be separated from his family, although he still complains that he doesn't like it. Literally, he told the teacher the other week that he would prefer to be homeschooled because he doesn't like to be separated from his parents. He will grow out of it, and we will have to remember to go easy on him in the meantime. But in that meantime, he is growing much more comfortable with familiar adults, such as grandparents and teachers. (Sometimes I wonder if this whole thing wasn't a misjudgement on our parts, if he just wasn't ready to start school yet, but then I remember I only sent him because he had so clearly outgrown the stay-at-home life. Maybe three was destined to be difficult for him either way.)

It's not just PB who has matured, though. His classmates have also matured. Last year the teacher attributed part of his difficulty to the fact that he was well ahead of his classmates in terms of his spoken language - he was frustrated with them because they couldn't communicate together in the way he expected. Now, before I go sounding all puffed-up parent I have to point out that the majority of his classmates are at least bilingual, and some are multilingual. We were pleased he was so far ahead, but to be honest it would have been a worry if he wasn't. In addition, his great verbal skills seemed to have been learned at the partial expense of some other communication skills - reading body language, for example, or facial expressions. We have always tried to be the calm and patient parents. I am wondering if we shouldn't have lost our nuts a few more times along the way.

In any case, his classmates have closed the verbal language gap quite a lot since last year, and have probably also improved, as he has, in their non-verbal communication skills, and they have probably all learned a thing or two in areas like cooperation. The whole classroom is just a more civilised place these days, it seems to me.  

Talking, And So On
We have talked and talked and talked and talked and talked. We have read and read and read. We have played games. We have told stories and sung songs and discussed them afterwards at length. We have tried out a lot of impulse control techniques - magic ("dolphin" - he's in a marine biology phase) breathing, counting, ritualised gestures (he seemed to respond to making a triangle with his fingers when stressed), looking at things from the other person's point of view, looking at the upside, brainstorming alternative responses, etc etc etc. It's a pretty long and tiresome process, training new impulses - for "training new impulses" certainly captures what our game is more accurately than "controlling impulses". He's nearly-four. He's impulsive. I'm not sure I can change that. But the talking, I think, eventually, sort of maybe starts to sink in, a bit, in order to change the nature of his impulses, and therefore the outcomes.  

PB has never been a picky eater, and I have always tried to provide him with a good diet, home made and whole meal, but I have become extra-vigilant, especially about things like food colouring (red sends him loopy), chocolate, and sugars generally, and especially as regards the timing and overall glycaemic index of his meals. We have explained to him how what he eats (or doesn't eat), and when, can affect his moods, and we have drawn a lot of food pyramids. He is very interested in how stuff works so he eagerly takes it all in, asks questions, and seems to be building some sort of practical understanding.  

Increased Responsibility
More chores. Higher expectations. Extra freedoms. His favourites are being allowed to mop the floor, helping to cook, and being allowed to ride up and down in the lift by himself (he always waits for us at the other end). His least favourite is having to use better table manners.  

Mum and Me Days
With SB getting older and more independent, I have started taking Prata Boy on Mother-Son excursions on the weekend. He seems to like this.   

I have left this one til last, because it seems to have made the biggest difference for the least effort - at least on my part. Early morning exercise really works for him. Mr Bea tries to take him out for a swim or something in the morning, and I have started making him ride his bike to school. He needs cardio. His little body is addicted to endorphins.

I had plans of saying something soppy at the end here, something about kissing goodnight to three and looking onward to four. At some point I was going to describe to you the severe social anxiety I have been experiencing over my first ever children's birthday party. But it is late and SB seems to be in for a rough night (teething) and tomorrow I have to shop for said birthday party as well as (probably) bounce out of bed bright and early to witness the opening of presents, so instead, I'll leave the discussion over to you, especially if you think I've missed a trick in managing unruly behaviour in preschoolers. But even if not.


Lollipop Goldstein said...

Happy birthday to Prata Boy. It is somewhat amazing to have read about you from idea to actual 4-year-old. And while you may not be taller, faster, and bigger by normal measuring standards today, I can promise you that you are indeed taller, faster, and bigger today. Which is also sort of amazing when you think about it. Hope all of the birthday wishes you make today come true.

No Minimom said...

We've gone through so many of the same issues with our oldest (even the bilingual classmates, surprisingly!) and I'm very glad to hear you've found some things that work! They do grow out of some of it (the maturity part you mentioned), but we still have to do our part to advocate for our little hand fulls. ;-) Happy birthday to PB! I hope this year is the best year yet!

Ellen K. said...

Happy birthday to PB! I've heard from many people that 4 is easier than 3. Here's hoping. : )

Vee said...

Happy belated Birthday gorgeous Prata Boy!
I am taking notes as usual.

Yes I have found that exercise is making a big difference here too.

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