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Four Year Old World of Extremes

I don't know if it's a phase or the age or her personality or something she is picking up from those around her (like her parents), but lately the Pumpkin has living in extremes. It's not just the "ever"s or "never"s she is constantly saying, but it is also often about who is the "best" or "most" or "better" or "faster" or... well, you get the point.

I mostly just let it go. I know she doesn't mean it when I give her a hug or kiss I didn't know she didn't want and she says she is never going to hug or kiss me ever again. Or when we insist she cleans up her toys or brushes her teeth and she says she is never going to do it again. Or even when her brother does something she didn't want him to do and she says she's never going to play with him again.

It's the heat of the moment. It's her feeling her emotions to the fullest. It's her lashing out. At least it's not her hitting or pushing. She is using her words... but words can hurt and I know we will need to address it when she can understand a little better how those words hurt and when she has the control to not just lash out. In other words, when she's a little older... like 30... or maybe 40. I'll let you know when I've figured it out myself. Heh.

I do get a wee bit frustrated when she is so competitive about things. She has to "win" at everything, from finishing her food before her brother to going up the stairs to building a tower with blocks, she wants to beat him. While I think this is probably a normal phase for her age, I want her to know NOW that it's okay not to win, and that not everything needs to be a competition.

Just this morning, she finished her toast first and said she won. I said (as I have many times before) that it's not a race. You eat what you are hungry for until you are full. You don't need to eat it fast, and that it's better to take your time so you digest better. I have a feeling that I will have to continue making these statements for a while.

A little healthy competition is good. My husband has good results getting the kids to do some things by making it a race or seeing who can do it fastest. But when it's about everything and it's all about winning, I worry about it. I want her to have fun playing and doing things. I want her to encourage her brother and others with supportive comments. I want her to want to win in competions, but not be crushed if she loses. Most importantly, I want her to learn to be a good sport no matter if she wins or loses.

It doesn't have to be the tallest tower. She doesn't have to be the fastest up the stairs, especially when we are trying to be calm on our way to bed. She doesn't have to finish her food first. She doesn't have to say she'll never hug me again. It doesn't have to be all about the extremes.

We've been watching the Cars movie (SPOILER WARNING: I'm going to talk about the end of the movie and who won the final race!!!), and yesterday when it was near the end and they were doing the final race, she said that Lightning McQueen and the King won. And Londo and I explained to her that they didn't win. Chick won. Lightning went back to help his friend, The King. We explained that it was more important to him to help his friend than it was to win the race. That was the lesson that Lightning learned. This was just after we had talked about the things he learned from his friends that he used in the race.

She was quiet for a minute, watching the movie. Then she said, "Lightning learned two things from his friends. He learned to go backwards from Tow Mater. And he learned to turn from Doc." Londo said, "Yes, he learned those two things about driving for the race. But he also learned a third thing." I said, "He also learned that it's more important to help his friend than to win the race." Even though we had just said this, it felt important to repeat it.

These are the lessons we will work on. Right now, she is living in extremes. I've always said that the Pumpkin feels her emotions to the fullest. If she is happy, she is giddy with happiness. If she is sad, she is devestated. If she is angry, she is furious. She is my girl with the curl right in the middle of her forhead. I feel emotions like that at times as well. I understand getting overwhelmed and needing to express what I'm feeling. But I also understand how it can feel to be on the receiving end of those emotions, and how important it can be to temper them or find an appropriate outlet.

So we will keep talking about it. We will keep expressing the importance of being a good sport. We will work on teaching how words can hurt and how to express ourselves in ways that are not hurtful to others. And I think we'll be watching the Cars movie a few more times and discussing the lessons we can learn from that.

And maybe the world of extremes will continue. There are worse things that can happen. Hopefully she learns ways to express those extremes that aren't quite so, well, extreme. Time will tell.


hush said…
My vote? Yes, it's a normal phase, the age, personality-related, AND something kids are picking up from those around them (like our uber-competitive capitalist system that privileges winning and individual success).

My 3.5 year old DS is experiencing the same things. In the last week I've been treated to my first "I don't love you anymore, Mama," and my first "I WIN!!!"-style gloating - ugh! Really gets under my skin.
Melba said…
I totally get this. I don't think Rosie is as extreme in her feelings as Pumpkin is, but the general competitiveness and need to win is there.

Just tonight, I agreed to play three games of Candyland. She lost all three and was really upset. This is not a game involving any skill, it is pure luck, so its not like she lost because she's almost-4 and I'm an adult. And I try to explain that the fun is in playing the game, and that even if you lose, it was still fun... but that's a no-go. She plays for one reason only and that is to win.

And everything is a race to her around here too. Complete with the "I win!" gloating and anger when she loses. So like you, we talk about it, then talk some more, and re-enforce, and talk and talk and talk hoping that by the time she's an adult she's got a healthy balance between competitiveness and having fun.
Cloud said…
I think it has to be at least partially a phase. OK, I should say I HOPE that it is at least partially a phase, because my 4 year old yelled at me tonight because I wouldn't open a new yogurt tub for her (I wanted her to eat from the tub I'd just opened for her sister- I spoon from the tub to to a bowl, but she was convinced she'd get germs...) She stormed off to her room and slammed the door and told me I was the baddest (mother, I presume). Good times.

We also went through an uber-competitive phase. That, thankfully, has passed. Mostly.
Becoming Mommy said…
I think it might be personality driven. Sasha doesn't care if he always wins. He actually often says it's our turn to win.

But then he's never been interested in being first, or best or anything that might involve any kind of conflict (and competition always does). He'd rather just have everyone be happy.
Jac. said…
DS (3.75) is also super competitive and it's driving me a little crazy. I'm so happy you posted about this because I was wondering if he was picking it up from DH and I. In the working world, we're both competitive but I didn't think we were bringing that into the home. However, I was starting to get a bit stressed out about DS's desire to win EVERYTHING and the inevitable tears that happen when he doesn't win. Last night we had a tantrum because I pulled the plug on the bathtub before he could get to it. Sigh...
mom2boy said…
Super competitive kid here, too. And super easily frustrated when things don't go according to plan. I'm guessing it is a combo of age and personality. I have a strong desire to quit when I'm frustrated by things/feel incompetent and the main reason I don't as an adult is because generally there are people relying on my follow through but I don't play the piano for example because it was frustrating. No one made my ten year old self keep at it. So nature/nurture I don't know but I see it in him.
paola said…
A phase? Probably, but it is still going strong at 6.5. But then again, at that age you can reason a bit more about why you can't always be first, and the kid understands. At 4, much less.
sheSaidC2 said…
Matthew also wants to win (or "I won you", "no you beat me") at races, being first down the stairs... I think some of this he's picked up at school from the other kids, and that it is a bit of a phase. What we are trying to work on is another thing he picked up from school "nah nah nah" which he for the most part uses clearly the way he has heard others... but the full ramifications of it are lost on him.

I am sure she will out grow it, I mean I still want to win at everything I do... I just keep it to myself now :)

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