Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Loving him anyway

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm personally battling some crazy three-year-old behavior these days! Never did I realize the "terrible twos" would turn into something worse; something for which this mama was not prepared.

Looking back, I (lovingly) blame my mother for my gross unpreparedness. She would often comment that of our youth, her favorite age was "3". She would describe our emerging personalities and how fun it was to interact with us as little people and hear the funny expressions coming from our mouths. I'll agree with her on a certain level--M's (our oldest) verbal skills have done a 180 in the last couple months. Being a later talker, he now expresses himself freely (part of the problem) and has some pretty entertaining things to say. Just the other day we were chuckling at his comments about wanting to see the circus--"elephants and clowns and ducks" (ducks?) Not sure where that last one came from, but funny anyway! I also love how affectionate he's become in his 3-year-old ways. He is quick to offer his mommy hugs and kisses and can be quite loving, which is unusual for this independent kiddo.

All that aside, I'm dealing with many of his 3-year-old extremes. Whines are prevalent as are "NO!"s in response to our requests. We are also dealing with extreme obstinance when we offer a "no" to one of his requests. Add to all of this his extreme sensitivity--he bursts into tears at the slightest hint of anger. Oh Lord, help!

I need advice. I need wisdom. I need anything. Please!

To give you an idea of what we are doing to cope, here's a list of discipline/everday "tools" that we vary throughout the day:
1. "I don't understand you when you whine"; he has to repeat without whine
2. time-outs in corner followed by face-to-face discussion of problem
3. time-outs in room (this used especially when emotion/tears are prevalent and won't stop)
4. toy time-outs
5. reward removal
6. time countdowns (for activity change)

I would love any suggestions and encouragement! Please tell me this is a phase and that I just have a very strong-willed, passionate three-year-old?! Blessings to you.


Meredith said...

First of all B-Mama, he's adorable, and I think we have the same three yo!! Mine (4th child) will turn 3 in April and OH MY, he's a doozy at ANY time during the day. Perhaps it's his 4th child-ness, but we have really had to re-think our parenting style with this little guy. Your list of discipline looks like how we used to do things, but found that none of them ever really changed his behavior, if not, maybe even made it worse. We have found that some serious attention and snuggling has proven much more effective than any punishments. I know this seems wierd when he's just done something seriously naughty, but AFTER the fact for him it's like he's already done it, what's the punishment for??? He doesn't seem to get it... Anyhoo, don't know if this is helpful at all, but we have really tried to avoid any serious forms of punishment in lieu of more snuggles and re-direction and when all else fails, there's always the High-chair! Good luck and a blessed Holy week to you all!

jawats said...

I think you're going about things the right way, he just has a strong will. My elder daughter is the same way

As suggested by Meredith, make sure he's getting enough attention, and in the way he needs. Make sure he is also being challenged around the house - a book called "Bringing up Boys" I have been told is a good read.

However, I would caution against avoiding punishment entirely. Separating consequences from acts done deliberately and "naughtily" would seem to me to have questionable results down the road, when a firm link between willful and wrong act and distinct lack of punishment is solidified in his mind. The first time he is punished by someone other than you, even if it's not in a predictable way (e.g. friends shun him for negative acts; he is given a ticket for speeding), will throw him completely off-kilter. In other words, keep up the consequential parenting - it's the way the rest of society function.

We thought for the longest time that my three-year old was not getting the behavior and politness lessons we constantly gave her, until we received high compliments from her pre-school teacher on how well-behaved and polite she was. It was very welcome.


4ddintx said...

Good luck! I think 3 year old are definitely more challenging than 2 year olds.

I would second (third?) the idea of making sure he gets the snuggle time he needs. I found with several of mine that things escalated when we were all caught up in busy-ness and then behavior blew up (hers and sometimes mine, unfortunately!). If I was pro-active and made sure she had snuggle and reading time and conversation in the beginning of the day (helping me make breakfast even, stuff like that) then the day went smoother with fewer needs to use the time out other tools in our discipline chest (basically what you outlined).

God bless these emerging little people and their frazzled parents!

B-Mama said...

Awesome comments already! Thank you for your amazing wisdom--you've brought out points I never thought of... I do have a copy of "Bringing Up Boys" and plan to sit down with it tonight!!

Erin said...

First, I am very glad to hear that not only am I the only MOTHER out there feeling the same way, but that my daughter is not the ONLY little one acting this way!! She will be two next month and wow, the days can be a challenge. She is very verbal, loves the word NO and loves to continue to keep at what we tell her not to do, touch etc. She will even look at us when she does it as if to say, "Now what mom?" I too use a lot of the techniques mentioned...the time out in her room usually will calm her down enough to then have a face to face talk and hug. However, my mom mentioned something she did and we have been trying it. We have talked to Angelica about how Mary (the blessed mother) was always obedient and listened and a very good girl and how she wants you to be obedient to your mommy and daddy too and that this weill make her happy. So when she starts doing something "wrong" we ask her if she is being a "little Mary". The last couple of days she will think about it, say No...and then say "Mary happy". And stop what she was doing. So we shall see how long this works....now for boys, I don't know, could you do Joseph or Jesus?? Good luck!! Love the feeback!

Right Said Red said...

So sorry B-mama that you are having a rough time with M. Your family has been traveling a bit recently, right? Maybe his antics are the result of a not-so-consistent schedule. In addition, your family has had a LOT going on lately, from traveling to house hunting, to finding out the gender of a new sibling, etc. All this can take a toll on a child's behavior.

I'm a big fan of discipline AND teaching children that bad behavior has consequences. While it is important to figure out the cause of his poor behavior (such as not enough snuggle time with mama, or a schedule that is rushed and too busy), it is just as important that when he acts up, he is punished and that the punishment makes sense to him. I wouldn't let it slide just because you think he is acting out for more mama time. While snuggles and time alone with mom are important, it is also important that he not achieve these things immediately after poor behavior--as this reinforces the bad behavior. Obviously it is good to seek out the cause of his acting out (like more time/attention from mama), but give that attention throughout the day, not right after poor behavior.

Just my 2 cents.

And try to remember that a certain amount of poor behavior is inevitable with a 3 year old, especially a new 3 year old! Don't set your expectations too high and think he should be behaving as well as a child about to turn 4.

Melinda said...


You are not alone! My three-year-old gives me a run for my money all the time, and I remember feeling particularly overwhelmed right after she turned three.

I found the snuggling (already mentioned in several comments) really was helpful. If you can tickle, joke, hug, drag kicking and screaming, or ignore your way through some things, it doesn't mean you're a bad mom or that he's going to have no character. Sometimes, when they are tired and you are tired, choosing your battles is essential. You can't fight every single battle at once.

(One battle I gave up on for a while was picking up toys before she went to bed. It just turned bedtime into WWIII every time. Another was putting on her coat. She got cold eventually.)

There are some offenses (for us hitting and kicking, running away from me on the street) that demand a time out and apology. You might think about his problem behaviors and pick a couple that you will address with the time out or other serious punishment. Let other stuff go for a while. You can tackle them next!

I made a little chart for her to earn smiley faces (a treat for ten, a toy for five rows of ten). What I noticed was that I often forgot to give smiley faces for good behavior, but I was much quicker to take them away. So the chart is really for me now, to remind me to positively reward. If I stay on top of it I see results. It's hard because it doesn't help you in the heat of battle.

Transitions are really hard for 3 year olds. Schedule and routine have helped with this, and a bit with the whining, too. We now watch TV only between 4 and 5. We have snack after quiet time. We do everything in the exact same order at bedtime. Our days have gotten a lot more predictable this year!

Also, this might sound basic, but I moved her bedtime a half hour earlier (to 7:30) and it started going much more smoothly. She stopped napping around her 3rd birthday and that was a VERY tough transition.

A friend recently told me about how she got her three year old through tough routines with picture lists: picture of the toothbrush, the potty, the book, the lamp, etc. She posted the list on the wall and had her 3 year old lead the way. It might be worth a try.

Anyway, hope some of this is helpful. Your little guy is adorable!

Ann said...

Wow...I think I have your son's future wife living at my house! She is our third child of four. (the youngest is an infant)

I know that I was more strict on my older two and you can tell! We are having a lot of "NO's" and not wanting to do what I say to do with our three year old. (just turned feb.1.) She will do it in her own good time.

All I know is that I AM THE MOM. =) Children really need to learn to be obedient (It is a virtue!) just like they need to learn to use a napkin and not pick their nose. It is what you do in society!(agreeing with someone) They have to listen to authority. We all do - and sometimes it's just not fun.

At two I think it makes sense to kind of distract instead of discipline or sweet talk them into obeying you....but now I don't do that because she knows better.

I use a lot of John Rosemond's suggestions. In fact, I think I might just go read some now! He is big on making rules and putting them on the fridge.(start small!) 1) No saying no - 2)Come the first time I call you 3) No throwing fits...or whatever. The first time he disobeys he gets a small consequence, the second a small consequence, and the third a little bit bigger. My third is usually they go to bed an hour early. Smaller ones are no dessert... no orange juice with breakfast...whatever they love. We make pictures of these and laminate them and hang them on the fridge one on top of another. So when she doesn't obey one of our new rules =) we say "Oh C, your not allowed to say no to mom - you know that is a rule. Now you can't have your juice." and take the card down... she can then see the picture of her dessert and surely doesn't want to lose that!(we have really small desserts for the kids..like a couple of vanilla wafers - so you don't have to have CAKE every night!)

I wanted to empathize with you and also give you something concrete that may give you some ideas.

I also don't miss nap time! (agreeing with someone) She has to be in bed on time at night too!

And I loved your title. "loving him anyways" Even though I am very strict with her (and she is killing me lately!) she knows I love her to death. Our God is a very loving God and a very just God, as well. ;)

Prayers for you and yours!! GL!Being a good parent isn't easy, is it??!!=) lol

Maria said...

My eldest just turned three as well, and we are having many of the same problems. I feel a little hoodwinked like you because my mom always said three was the best age, too! The whining is especially difficult. I deal much better with outright disobedience than the persistent whine, and sadly, I think my son has figured that out!

I have very similiar consequences as you. I think it is important to have consequences to bad behavior, but I do try to choose my battles. I do think that more snuggle time would help, but with a newborn who wants to be held 24/7 and an 18 month old who needs daily physical therapy, I am at a loss at how to integrate anymore than I do already.

One book that has helped me is James Stenson's book called "Compass." It's the best book on an overall parenting approach from a Catholic perspective that I've encountered. It helped me feel less guilty about letting some things slide and about what behaviors really call for serious punishment. I tend to be a perfectionist and feel that I can too often expect perfection from my kids as well. I know just focus on outright disobedience and defiance and let little stuff slide a bit until our life is less crazy.

B-Mama said...

Your comments have been absolutely golden. THANK YOU! Not only have you offered wonderful parenting advice that is sensical and doable, you've made me feel more NORMAL!! I feel a million times better!! Thanks.

I will say, after a more attention-driven morning, where mama was around more and able to interact more freely, we've had SUCH better behavior! Meredith, just adding more love to the mix like you recommended seems to be really helping. And as I put M down for his nap a little while ago, I thanked him for a lovely morning (complete with only one time-out for not responding to one of mom's orders fast enough). He seemed really proud of his behavior and bolstered by the positive praise. Excellent.

I'm also totally inspired, Ann, to start a simple rule list for our fridge like yours and focus on some of our problem areas and the consequences that will follow poor behavior. M seems to be getting to the stage where he can understand simple cause/effect discipline strategies.

Thank you all for your input! You have blessed me during this Holy Week! :)

Meredith said...

So glad My words were helpful, we're all in the trenches here, it's nice to have others perspectives of what's working for them. I also wanted to point out that wasn't too clear in my first comment, that I'm not advocating NO discipline cause we do plenty of that, I just know that saying NO throughout the day takes its toll the fastest on my little guy, so re-direction and snuggles and much more attentive loving mommy time is a sure way to lessening the misbehavior before it arises!! A blessed Holy week and Happy Easter to all you lovely ladies!!

k said...

So nice to read these comments. My guy is a little over 2 but super verbal and I agree with B-mama that with the words comes wonderful things and way to much mama trying to bury her head in her hands (an hourly activity for me).

I found MY frustration level has been high lately which is so hard as well.

Things that are mentioned here that I have found worked well:
1: Making sure naps & meals are on time.
2: Being aware of outside factors that have him riled up (we are on vacation right now and his beloved Uncle is here)
3: If I am getting on the "No" "Don't Touch" train too much then I know a tantrum is around the corner. We both then try to take a break, go outside, sit with a book. Do something less negative (I still discipline when I need to, but it is so easy to become No-Mama and with six adults in the house right now he is getting it from all angles)

and perhaps most important
4: Remember that tons of kids are like this, tons are even worse :), and bedtime will come!!!

Good luck, he is pretty darn cute which makes it even harder right?!?

Ann said...

Oh so glad that I could help! When I feel like one of the kids is getting totally out of control - like UNfixable! - I just try to pick the two or three things that are bothering me the most and work on those. Like you said - it seems like it is easier for them if you just work on a few at a time. Hey, Rome wasn't built in a day!! ;) lol sometimes I wish it was... lol

Abby said...

Hi! I am a young mother of 6 wonderful kids--ages 2.5 to almost 11. I just want to say that I have really benefited from Tedd Tripp's Shepherding A Child's Heart. I am over-simplifying here, but the author (a seminary professor and counselor)outlines a parenting approach that focuses on a child's heart motivations, helping parents point their kids to Christ in the midst of everyday situations. The author helps parents deal biblically with the sin/misbehavior of their children, not focusing on external behavior/compliance but on the heart orientation that produced sin. Why was it wrong to whine to Mommy? Why was it wrong to grab the toy from your sister? There are consequences for sin, but not because the child has somehow broken the parent's rules, but because the parent is responsible for teaching her child, God's child, how to live in the world God created. It is the parent's duty to teach her child how to walk in grace and mercy--how to love God and his neighbor (in the case of young children the neighbor is usually a sibling! : ) ). He encourages (and gives methods for) pointing our kids toward Christ in the midst of all parenting situations. His brother has written a great book about the teen-aged years too (read well before teen years!). We have so many opportunities to point our children to Christ--even when they are 3! Anyway, Tripp's book has really helped us be better parents (we pray!).

And age 3 was hard for all of my babies. 2 was much easier! God bless you!