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The Parent Zone: 'My five-year-old has an attitude like that of a hormonal teenager'


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An angry five-year-old who is acting like a stroppy teen, identical twins

Q: My five-year-old has serious attitude - it's like she was suddenly a teenager and never a toddler!

She rolls her eyes, shouts back, huffs, marches off and we are at a loss as to know the right way to deal with her.

I wouldn't get too upset about this. I think it is best to treat it symptomatically.

When she shouts, ignore her and do not respond. If she keeps shouting, simply tell her to use her "inside voice" and you will respond. Be sure to stick to it.

Do not rise to the bait and get emotional yourself. When parents get wound up, children quickly follow and a vicious cycle begins which the child usually wins. After all, they have more time and energy than we do. Shouting back is the number one target you want to eliminate. Everything else is just an annoyance and a minor irritation.

Every child has their own individual temperament. Temperament is the genetic base of our personality. Some children are easy to rear, some are difficult. Some are more irritable than others. Some are rhythmic and predictable and some aren't.

You have to modify your parenting style according to the temperament of your child.

I would advise ignoring the eye rolls and huffs and the marching off. You just need to tell her that when she calms down, you are ready to talk to them when they are ready to talk nicely and calmly. Stick to it, don't give in. Don't rise to the bait of minor provocations.

You need to teach your child how to cope with frustration and anger. This takes time.

The most important element in this process is in controlling your own emotional response and to model good coping skills yourself.

Q: I have identical twin sons, aged five. They will start school this September.

I have been given a lot of conflicting advice about putting them in the same class or not.

Some people tell me it is the best thing to do. Others tell me it doesn't matter. Some tell me it isn't a good idea at all. I'm confused and don't know what to do. Can you help?

This is among the more common questions I am asked.

I can't even begin to count the number of times it has come up. Therefore, it's a good time to take a look at what the research literature tells us about twins in the same classroom. It doesn't matter if they are identical or not. The literature is pretty clear on the answer: it depends!

Over the last 10 years or so, there have been some good studies about this issue. There are two major areas that need investigating: the impact on academic ability of twins, and the impact on social/emotional and behavioural development.

When it comes to the academic ability of twins placed in the same classroom, there are a number of factors to be considered.

The most important is developmental and next in line comes learning style and learning ability.

No twins grow at the same developmental rate. Some develop fine and gross motor skills earlier than their twin; some develop at the same pace.

School readiness is influenced by all areas of development: physical, linguistic, behavioural, social, emotional and intellectual.

If the twins have significantly different level of development in any of these areas it is best to place them in different classrooms.

This avoids any competition that may emerge between the more and less able of the two.

If their developmental levels are roughly at the same stage, they can be placed in the same classroom without concern.

The issue becomes a bit more complicated when we look at social, emotional and behavioural adjustment and the relationship between the twins.

If the twins are bonded closely together and do not prefer to play with other children separately, they will have a difficult adjustment to make if they are put in different classrooms.

Twins bonded closely together at this age often experience behavioural difficulties when separated in school.

Although the difficulties are usually short-lived and disappear in a year or two, it is still better to keep them in the same room.

If they can separate easily and enjoy the company of other children without the twin being close, they can be separated without worry.

There is research about progress in reading and twins. It is important to realise that twins with different learning styles or with different levels of reading ability should probably not be in the same classroom.

The research is fairly clear on this topic. If the level of pre-reading ability is about the same, they can be put in the same classroom.

You can now see why there is no short and simple answer to the question.

It depends on a lot of factors and requires a good understanding of your children's school readiness, overall development, learning style and social/emotional adjustment.

David is a psychologist; send your questions to davidcarey@herald.ie