I hope those of you with little ones survived the sugar rush of Halloween yesterday. I am excited to share pictures with you from our trick-or-treating escapades, but we’re still in the process of downloading and editing. I’ll post as soon as they’re ready.
In the meantime, though, I need your help.
We’re having a bit of a challenge with Owen that we are struggling to address.
He’s been having a bit of a rough patch with his behavior. Maybe it’s just being 3. Who knows. The so-called “terrible twos” were really not so terrible for Owen. Sure, some frustrating times and a little trouble learning how to use his words instead of his body, but nothing we couldn’t handle. In general he was a gem. Or maybe that’s just the wisdom of retrospection talking. Either way, we’re past those days.
But this almost-3 1/2 stage is a whole different beast.
I’m sure some of it has to do with Emmett joining our family (the bad behavior has emerged since Emmett turned 3 months, and, though I ignored them at the time, a few friends told me that it takes about 3 months for the “new baby” stuff to set in). But in our day-to-day life Owen ADORES Emmett. None of the bad attitude is directed at Emmett and he’s never verbalized anything about not getting enough attention or wanting to take Emmett back to the baby factory. In fact, Emmett is almost always the key to getting him to snap out of his bad attitude. Owen showers him with love, teaches him, talks to him and is remarkably gentle whenever we’re all together. Still, the psychologist in me knows that this huge shift has to have impacted him in some way.
Some of it likely has to do with just general growing up. He’s in preschool now and he has a lot more “responsibilities”. We expect a lot of him. He’s wearing underwear all the time. He is beginning to question some of the rules he has blindly followed for so long. He is smart enough to see through our language to the truth of what we’re saying even when we sugar coat it. Too smart at times, it seems.
And I think some of it comes from watching (and imitating) his peers like a hawk. Sometimes he’ll come home from school with a new phrase or a not-so-nice name to call someone and I’ll ask him, “Where did you hear that?”. So-and-so said it at school. He’s started getting up out of bed at night since he saw his little buddy doing that on our trip to New Hampshire last weekend. He’s figuring out how to push buttons or get a reaction, and he’ll copy behaviors he sees others doing to a T, for better or for worse.
He’s started talking back in a bratty tone of voice. “Nnnnnno!”, he’ll yell. “STOP IT, MOMMY”, he retorts when I tell him that’s not how we talk in our house. He demands things “now” and throws surprisingly emotional fits when I tell him that’s not a nice way to ask and I’m not going to give it to him until he asks politely in a non-whiny voice. His lifelong issue of “gentle hands” flares up when he’s angry as well. He throws things out of frustration. Pushes. Smacks my body. He’s just not listening the way he used to. He’s testing. ALL THE TIME testing.
Benjamin and I are standing our ground. Not giving in. I feel like we’re reacting the way we “should” but sometimes it feels like it snowballs until we’re all exasperated and angry (not to mention that I would prefer to just be rather than teaching lessons all day long). In general I’m really good at staying quiet and calm while he tornadoes around me, but it’s hard. It’s HARD.
We do give time-outs when warranted, but I try to save them for behavior that could hurt someone’s body (either his or someone else’s). Generally I’m a punishment-fits-the-crime sort of person (oh, you threw a toy? the toy gets taken away) and prefer positive reinforcement and rewards to punishment or taking things away. We’re all learning, right? But I’m at a bit of a loss when it comes to the verbal attacks and general not listening he’s doing now.
Time-outs and rest-your-body times are pretty powerless against vocal infractions or just not following directions. He can still yell and scream and cry even if his body is in time out (that’s why I usually save that tool for when his body needs calming). There isn’t a toy to take away or a logical punishment. I can’t yell back (or of course I shouldn’t), and it wouldn’t help anyway. I just want him to hear my voice (or his teacher’s!) and do what I’m asking him to do without saying “but” or “I don’t want to”.
And it’s not just at home either. His teachers have noticed it at school as well. And while it’s all incredibly, totally, positively age-appropriate, we don’t want to let it spiral out of hand. So we had a meeting yesterday to discuss potential strategies for helping him through this rough patch.
We currently use a sticker chart for “good days” at school. In the past this meant keeping his hands to himself and recently it has been expanded to listening to his teachers as well. Over the last few months this has worked brilliantly. Stickers have amazing powers over the 2-3 year old set. Over the last few weeks, though, he hasn’t gotten very many stickers and it seems like not getting stickers breeds more not getting stickers. We may stick with it or may institute another positive tool like putting pompoms in a jar for good listening or nice words/attitude. Has anyone instituted something like this at home?
One trigger we identified for this bad behavior seems to be his morning routine. Instead of fighting the same fights every morning, we’re going to try using this little chart that Benjamin and I made:
I put it in a picture frame so he can use a whiteboard marker and check off when he’s done each thing. Each night we’ll wipe it off and start again the next morning. Our intention is that we will essentially leave him alone to do all of the morning steps, and hopefully at night it will help us get from flossing to brushing to bath to pajamas without fussing in between. I’m hoping the physical act of using the marker will help move us between steps and will also act as a little reward (hey, we all like checking things off of our To Do lists, right?).
What are your tricks for helping your little person do the things they need to do without a lot of reprimanding on your part?
Don’t get me wrong, Owen is still SUCH an awesome kid. Most of the time he listens and responds in hilarious and adorable ways. Most of the time he is in control of his body and is so much fun to hang out with. Most of the time he is sweet and funny and precious. It’s just the other times that I’m learning how to react to in the best way.