24 February 2014

When Being the Youngest Gets Tough

When you're the youngest you're everybody's pet. You're the cute one, you get to stay the baby the longest, everyone dotes on you. Your mum and dad are worn out from wrestling with the first two, so you can get away with just about anything by batting your baby blues.
Some might say that being the youngest is easy, that you're on a pretty good wicket, you've got it made.

But it's not always so. Sometimes being the youngest is really hard, especially when you are trying to grow up and shed your "baby" image.

You know you're a big boy, but your big sister keeps calling you "bubba" and your big brother just thinks you're annoying and embarrassing. Your mum still wants to hold your hand in public and everyone thinks you're just so cuuuute... but they don't take you seriously.
THEN, people, it can get pretty darn frustrating to be the youngest.

Around the end of last year we noticed a change in our beloved "baby" Scrag. Our formerly happy-go-lucky ray of sunshine was having previously unheard-of meltdowns. He would cry tears of rage and frustration over the littlest things and we were at a loss to know what had brought this on. What was happening to our baby?

I wondered if it was a stage, a testosterone surge, a developmental phase. I picked the brains of every mother-of-boys I knew, trying to figure out if this was a unique experience or if it was common to all.
Similar experiences seemed to be common enough to mean that it might be perhaps developmental, maybe hormonal, a part of growing up. But how do we help our lad through this? And will we ever get our happy chap back?

Then about a month ago I had a eureka moment. I have after all had a couple of five-nearly-six year olds pass this way before. Around now they all start to want to shed their "baby" cloak, they want to establish themselves as "big".

The difference is that at the same age as Scrag is now, Dash had both a younger sister and a younger brother to "lead". He was the eldest. The others looked up to him, listened to him, respected him. He was responsible and listened to; he had some control. His voice was heard, by them at least.

At the same age (five-nearly-six), Miss Fab had little Scrag following along behind, copying her, adoring her, hanging on her every word.
When our eldest two hit the "needing to lead, have some control and have your voice heard" stage, they both had ready-made disciples in their younger siblings.

But poor ole Scrag has no-one but Dave the cat (who it must be said, still runs when she sees him; she has a long memory).

Scrag is frustrated. Scrag has no-one to listen to him, follow him, look up to him; he has no-one to lead, no-one to boss around.

When this lightbulb went off in my head, I was trying to get Big Sister to be a little more understanding of her little brother (the older two were getting mighty annoyed by the regular meltdowns). As I tried to articulate the thoughts that had just come to me, Scrag was sitting there nodding his head vigorously.

"That's it! that's just how I feel, mum," Scrag said. He's very articulate, he has a lot to say. Which is why he was getting so frustrated - nobody was listening to him.

[Grandma is fantastic at Scragball]
I shared all this with my counsellor (who is something of a genius) and she gave me this suggestion: Create opportunities where he is given the chance to teach you something, to show his skill, to take the lead.

The opportunity presented itself a few days later on a steamy Sunday afternoon. Scrag had found an old softball bat and a tennis ball and was begging to play baseball in the backyard.

Before long we found ourselves playing a variation of baseball with rules that only a Scrag could follow. At first we tried to convince the lad that his rules made no sense and that was not how real baseball is played; Scrag's frustration was mounting by the minute... but then *ding* I remembered what my counsellor had said.

I called over the big kids and told them what to do - let Scrag lead. Follow his rules. Let him have this one thing where he is in charge, where he takes the lead. They were brilliant when they understood that this was something their little brother really needs. It's part of him growing up. Give him a chance to be the boss for once.

We have since played baseball Scragball on several occasions with great hilarity and lots of fun. We had to explain to Daddy (an expert on Real Rules) that this game is unlike any other game of baseball. Just think of it as Scragball and you'll be fine.

You wouldn't think that something as a simple as a semi-regular game of backyard baseball would make such a difference, but coupled with an insight into what our "baby" needs (respect, a sense of autonomy, having his voice heard) the frustrated tears of rage are rarely seen. And when they are, we are much quicker to understand why, and listen to this little lad who is not so little any more.
He's growing up.

How to Play ScragBall

A tennis ball, a bat and four cushions, spaced out on the ground in a square.

The first person (usually Scrag) is The Hitter. They use the bat to hit the ball thrown by The Thrower.
When they hit it they have to run around all four cushions (don't stop!) without being tagged by the ball. Meanwhile The Backstopper (who stands behind The Hitter) has to catch the ball and throw it to The Chaser.

The Chaser has to get the ball after it is hit and run with it to try and tag The Hitter before they make it all the way round the bases.

  • You can't throw the ball at The Hitter to get them out - you have to run with it and catch them
  • You get three turns at being The Hitter and then it is someone else's turn
  • When Scrag is not The Hitter he is The Chaser; The Thrower and The Backstopper have to throw the ball to him so he can chase The Hitter and try to get them out
Those are the Rules of ScragBall. Play it if you dare!

Have you ever experienced something like this with a youngest child - or even AS the youngest child?

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