Monday, October 11, 2010

Help! I have a 3 year old!

Well, no, he's not three yet.  Almost.  But he's certainly gotten a jump start.  Lots of parents have told me that "Terrible Twos" is a vicious lie; the threes are far worse.  Now, when Ben turned two, he did take it up a notch in terms of testing limits and sometimes actively resisting us.  But we figured out good ways to respond, and I was patting myself on the back for having survived the "Terrible Twos".  Until a month or so ago.  Oy, ve.  Some days it feels like everything is a frickin' battle.  His favorite word these days is "NO!", and if his mouth is full or he's too busy singing (which is often the case), he'll sign it just as vehemently.  And while I am profoundly glad that he takes so much pleasure in music, it's also his defensive shield against anything he finds distasteful or anything that represents parental will.  And you know, it's kinda hard to tell your deaf child whom you feared would never be able to enjoy music to stop singing for pete's sake and listen to you.

So what do the parenting experts say?  Be consistent.  Yeah, I get it -- don't make empty threats; if you say no, stick with it; don't give in to tantrums; etc.  In other words, a long list of "don'ts".  What I really need are some good "dos".  Exactly what do you do when you've got to get out the door in ten minutes and your child refuses to let you brush his teeth or put his shoes on and throws a screaming fit when you even suggest that he needs to wear a jacket and also insists on singing the entire Peter Paul and Mary repertoire every time you try to explain the consequences of his poor decisions?  Seriously, I'm asking.  If any of you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them.  Losing my temper and shouting doesn't work; trust me, I've tried that.

Well, it works for a short time.  But it makes me feel pretty lousy (not to mention Ben), and it's not sustainable -- over time, we would need to get even more demonstrably angry with each new incident to have the same effect.

So far this is the best advice I've gotten, from several sources:
1.  Give choices.  A short list of concrete choices, enumerated on your fingers, including the final option of "Or do you want Mommy to choose for you?"
2.  Explain the natural consequences of poor choices.  "If you keep stalling, we won't have time to play before dinner.  So you can choose to put your pants on now, or you can choose to wait a minute until you're ready, or you can choose to wait longer and not be able to play."
3.  Don't be in such a rush.  Either give up on getting out the door in ten minutes, or try to start the process a little earlier.
4.  Take the drama out of it.  Instead of responding with annoyance and anger, remain completely unimpressed by any demonstrations of violent three-ness.  Register an expression of wan disinterest.

These are all great tips, and we've managed to implement all of them occasionally to good effect.  But they're beastly hard to implement all the time.  So I'd love to hear your advice.  Please.  Do I sound desperate?


rouchi said...

Yes, I can see what you mean.It may sound hilarious to us, but ask the mum who is in a hurry.Well I give the choices and also tell the consequences.Most of the time, the kids have decided on a path what I have asked for.I did allow them to have their way when I knew loosing out the good choice can turn into my favor.They faced the music and realized mommy is right.Prisha loves to play after school in the play area and it is difficult to get her back home.Once I had the buffer of the next bus after 20 mins and I told her we would miss the bus, which thanks to her we did.I reminded her and told her we needed to walk home 3 kms.Since then one reminder is enough.

Melanie said...


I am not laughing at you, I am laughing with you. I have TWO three year olds and I certainly agree that three is much worse than two. I actually loved two. :)

Peas loves to test the limits and has an uncanny knack for feeding off my emotions. What works best for him is what I like to call "robot mom." It generally stops the behavior because he is not getting the reaction he wants.

The only thing that really works for Cameron is removing him from the situation/time out. He needs alone time to cool off and get it together.

Not sure if that helps, but I think your list is certainly on the right track!

Good luck-- if none of that works, you can always ignore him and have a glass of wine in the other room...

leah said...

I like Melanie's suggestion about the wine! My suggestion- do the best you can, hang in there, and wait a year. The age of four comes as a blessed relief! :-)

Five is divine. We're actually starting to see some reasoning ability with Matthew- something I thought we would never see! It does get better, but the consistency takes time to take effect (a LONG time for some kids).

Madeline said...

My dad was trying to post this but for some reason Blogger wouldn't let him type the word I'm going to try.

"Naturally, no set of suggestions will work with all children, but in some situations I think it's worth letting him have his way and discover that the consequences you told him about really happen. If he doesn't want to put on his shoes when you need to go somewhere, tell him that his feet will be cold and then take him barefoot. If he doesn't want to wear his jacket, let him discover that he gets cold. You can make sure that he doesn't suffer any real injury, but he will eventually realize your advice is usually pretty good.
The daughter of a colleague of mine didn't want to get dressed in the morning; a day at pre-school in her pajamas convinced her to be more cooperative from then on.
This won't always work - his genetic lineage includes a lot of stubbornness after all - but it's one more thing you can try."

Kathy said...

Hah! I love it!! Revenge is mine, sayeth the sister, who was told that your niece couldn't possibly be the naughty little monster we claimed she was! Hah! And again I say hah!
Now on to something less schadenfreudic and possibly more productive. Do NOT over emphasize explaining consequences etc. It is more important just now to establish that YOU are the parents and HE is the child. That might not please some people but it is absolutely key - ESPECIALLY later in life! I really, really can't stress that enough. It is your choice whether to explain at any given time. If he can trap you into having to justify your requirements then he has a very powerful button in his control. It sounds so lovely and wonderful to think of having an deep and meaningful connection with your child but - he is 3. He has the mental ability and development of his age. (Plus a bit in Ben's case but right now that is working against you, not for you.) Kids this age usually don't connect "consequences" the same way that adults do. They understand them only from their level. Mom and Dad are mean. Yup, that's it. This isn't to say that you don't let them know about consequences, they will grow into connecting these things, but that you do not try and use them as a bargaining chip. It just doesn't work. If you can establish that you are Mom and Dad and that there ARE things that MUST be done simply because you say so, you will reap the benefits for ever, even when it seems like you are not - say during the even more horrific 4's, 5's and the dreaded, soul searing teens. By the way, your niece only has a few months of teen to go. Lucky us! Then it is on to the mind-boggling 20's. I hear they are almost as bad as the nightmarish 40's.
Love, Sleazebag