My four-year-old grandson Oskar is a bright, engaging little guy, and I love him to bits. He’s the kind of kid who happily chats with adults, enters new situations with confidence, and loves to help. He’s got a great imagination and a wonderful sense of humour. My husband and I get a kick out of how much he appreciates our cooking—he’s always telling us that whatever we’ve made is “the best I’ve ever had.” Recently Oskar decided that he doesn’t want to eat meat anymore (and he’ll only have cheese on Saturdays and Sundays). Before he and his mom and little sister were coming for a visit, I asked my daughter Shannon on the phone if Oskar was still okay having meatloaf for dinner. I could hear his little voice piping up in the background, “Oh, Granny never has to ask me that. You know I love Grampa’s meatloaf!”

On another visit, Oskar and I were out on a little lake going for a row in the rubber raft. We stopped for a few minutes just to look and listen and breathe in the scenery, and he said to me, “Granny, this is amazing” in such a tone of appreciation that my heart swelled with love for this awesome little human being who is part of my life.

But for all his positive attributes, my grandson is undeniably challenging. He’s been going through night fears, sleeping problems, difficulties sharing and control issues for years. His energy level is high—to put it mildly—and he can be overly sensitive to the slightest perceived upset whether it’s from a person, animal, sound or situation. He’s great if he’s playing outside or if someone’s reading him a book or giving him lots of attention. But he seems to need so much attention. And then there’s the anger. This little boy who can be such a delight one minute can turn into a raving bundle of fury the next. He can be triggered so easily, and you never know what he’s going to do with that anger. It’s exhausting for those around him. His adults are constantly trying to teach him how to cope with the normal ups and downs of daily life. Just when you think he’s getting a bit more patient, he starts ranting at you to “GO AWAY AND NEVER COME FOR A VISIT AGAIN!” because of something as benign as accidentally dripping water on him when you’re watering the plants.

My daughter and I were sitting on her deck one day watching her two kids play. She told me about how, when her husband, Jason, was looking after them a few days before, Oskar fell on the pavement in a parking lot. Jason had his hands full with bags and two-year-old Thea, and a woman stopped to ask Oskar if he was okay. Furious, Oskar spat out the words “Leave me alone, you big mean bully!”

Recalling the incident, Shannon and I both burst into horrified laughter, shaking our heads.

“Oh Oz,” I groaned, “you funny little guy, you just don’t get it. The poor woman, she’ll never try to help a little kid in distress again.”

We explained to him that a person trying to help you is not generally considered a bully, even if you’re feeling upset, but we knew he’d forget this in the next high-emotion situation.

Laughter aside, though, we wonder where this intensity of emotion is coming from. He’s not seeing this kind of fury in the people around him, and he watches very little TV, with all of his programs carefully chosen to avoid violence or upset. My daughter says the other mums at preschool are going through similar scenarios with their four-year-olds—they figure it’s like a peek into the future chasm of teenagerhood—but I still wonder. My kids were both fairly easygoing and reasonable, and I feel ill-equipped to deal with all this drama. I’ve read somewhere that anger is a substitute for other emotions, like fear, jealousy, or hurt. I try to be understanding and calm with Oskar when he erupts, but I admit to sometimes losing my patience, especially when his little sister bears the brunt of his anger or when he’s being downright rude.

Recently, we decided to plan a family outing to Fort Rodd Hill. Shannon and I were chatting about it on the phone and remembering our last visit there a year ago.

“That was where Oskar yelled at Auntie Sue to shut up,” she said.

“Oh…well he’s progressed then,” I replied. “This year he’ll be calling her a baby butt and telling her he hates her.”

All we could do was laugh and plan to stay two steps ahead of him. As it turned out, it was just us and the two kids who made it to Fort Rodd Hill, and we had a great time. I brought along a T-Ball set and a big bouncy ball. After showing Oskar how to use the bat (and stressing that he was not to swing it when anyone was nearby), we played a game where I pitched the bouncy ball to him, he batted it to his mom who then kicked it back to me.

Every time I caught it, he sang out gleefully, “Good one, Granny, way to go! Now toss ’er to me.” He was in his element. Little Thea, thankfully, was not interested in the bat. After spending some time retrieving the ball for us, she retreated to the picnic blanket and rolled about pretending to have a nap.

I’ve often thought that Oskar needs a job. He’d do well spending his days being useful and learning about how things work. He loves to be involved in a real task, from cleaning the bathroom or helping prepare food, to pruning plants and digging in the garden. He’s enthralled by hammers, clippers, drills, corkscrews, tongs, hooks, screwdrivers, cranes, pulleys—anything that does a job.

We were sitting at the kitchen table one day with the rubber stamps and some paper. Oskar is generally a reluctant artist when it comes to felt pens but he’ll show some interest if there’s something like a stapler, scotch tape, hole punch or other “tool” involved. So he stamped the paper with Christmas tree light bulbs and then drew a line connecting them. He used the volcano stamp around the outside edge.

“Look Granny,” he said, “the lava is giving the light bulbs power through the electrical cord.”

“Hmm, that’s an ingenious idea,” I replied, appreciating his logic. It really was a good idea, I thought to myself, and it struck me that if we can get him through the childhood years, keeping him busy and interested along the way—and helping him learn to chill out a bit—this intense, complex little guy will do just fine. Who knows, he may just help save the planet some day.

Mada Moilliet is kept busy spending time with her five grandchildren. She’s always looking for fun, interesting, creative or outdoor activity ideas.