The morning my little angel turned 4, she opened her presents and changed into her brand new Rapunzel princess gown for a trip to the supermarket to pick out her birthday cake. Not a bad way to start the day right? So why she purposely kicked her dad square in the face is anybody’s guess.
Maybe he cut her toaster waffle into bite-sized pieces when he was supposed to leave it whole. Or vice versa. Neither he nor I can recall the inciting incident; all we can remember (forever) is the shock and horror of our baby girl lashing out so aggressively. Happy birthday!
Back when the face-kicker was a sweet little baby, I can remember bracing myself for the infamous terrible twos. I’d heard of them long before becoming a mom, and they sounded scary. But 2 didn’t live up to the hype; it wasn’t terrible at all! Sure, at age 2, my daughter was stubborn and loved to say “no,” but that phase was surprisingly manageable, and kind of adorable. I mean, come on, that pout. It was all I could do not to giggle. Plus, the parenting tactics I’d read about in books (like using humor and distraction or offering choices) actually worked on a 2-year-old. For a brief, shining moment, I felt like I was acing this parenting thing.
Then my kid turned 3 and the quivering pout was replaced by epic tantrums. I developed amazing muscles from having to hoist my wailing, thrashing toddler over my shoulder and carry her out of everywhere, from the park to Target, on an almost daily basis. And not only did my parenting Jedi mind tricks stop working, they seemed to make my kid even madder.
I spent most of the next year with my threenager just trying to survive and holding out hope that age 4 would be easier. After all, the older kids at preschool seemed so grown-up. They said “please” and “thank you,” knew how to take turns, and had a strong enough command of English to express their wants and needs. With all of those exciting new communication skills at their command, I figured 4-year-olds wouldn’t need to resort to tantrums. Or face kicking.
Of course, the fact that 4-year-olds are capable of good behavior makes it all the more shocking when they turn demonic. “I think parents can get a bit caught off guard by the emotional highs and lows of the typical 4-year-old,” says Amy Horton, PhD, a Los Angeles-based psychologist who works with preschool families. “It can be perplexing to see your child quickly turn from being so passionately happy about something one minute to the complete opposite the next. From love to hate in a flash.”
This, moms, is why we call them “the f*cking fours.” You never know whether you’re going to get Jekyll or Hyde.
So what’s the best way to deal when your 4-year-old gets upset? Give your child a chance to calm down, says Dr. Horton. “Once she’s calmer, the ‘thinking’ part of the 4-year-old brain will be in a better position to understand what happened and learn from the experience to utilize for next time.”
And when in doubt, protect your face.