We had a challenging week. One small child shouldn't be able to cast such a pall on a household, but these past few days Geekygirl has had us vacillating between fuming with anger and falling into self doubting despair. Though I feel badly about highlighting Geekygirl's difficult behaviour back to back with swooning over Geekyboy's adorableness just a couple of posts ago, such is life with an eighteen month old and a three and half hear old. Geekygirl has her many, many moments of adorableness too, of course, but recently we have noticed her behaviour slipping, probably because our standards have slipped too. Exacerbated by a recent nasty cough and cold, and the associated indulgences of staying home and watching TV, and eating breakfast on Mummy's lap, a tiny demon seems to have possessed our oldest child.
Things came to a head this week, when, tired of our morning routine being disrupted by the new breakfast on lap habit, which leads to milk and cereal on my pants, a delay in getting out of the door since I am effectively disabled until she has finished eating three bowls of cereal, and to teeth marks on my knees from Geekyboys protest at his sisters preferential treatment, I finally vetoed "lap breakfast".
Geekygirl is not at her best in the mornings anyway, and this cruelty caused an unbelievable howling and caterwalling, thrown breakfast, a scratched brother, and a tirade of the worst three year old expletives, of which her father bore the brunt (poo poo head being a favourite, unfortunately echoed with great clarity now by her brother at inopportune moments).
Discipline in our house for large trangressions is the "naughty chair" for time out, or the forfeit of a favourite toy. I'm not a big fan of time out though, since I'm not convinced, philosophically , of its value, especially to kids who don't get enough of their mothers time in the first place. Quiet is required on the naughty chair, but when a category four tantrum has ensued, it can take ten minutes to get to quietness for the three minute time out, and time is precious in the mornings, so I tend to avoid using it in time sensitive situations. She has rather too many nice toys for the forfeit to be particularly effective, so I'm searching for an additional strategy.
This particular morning we decided that following through with discipline was more important than being late for work, and she eventually managed her time out, then had to return to finish the thrown breakfast, was still not dressed at way past leaving time and was then unable to choose an outfit, so I bundled her, screaming into the nearest dress, pushed on her shoes and carried her, wailing, down the stairs to be deposited in the car seat in Geekydaddy's car. Of course this was a morning that our neighbour was leaving at the same time, so I gave a wry smile in response to his "tough morning" and got in my own car leaving Geekydaddy to deal with the rest of the day's routine. Our neighbours have a boy the same age as Geekybaby, and have just announced the expectation of his sibling, so at least the noises from our house have not deterred them from further adventures in parenthood!
This week the tiniest things have led to breakdown point. A dress put on backwards? Try to help, I get railed at with tiny pounding fists, don't help and I have a naked child who won't get dressed. Answer "no" to letting her wear her ballet shoes to school? Tell she needs to get in her bath now, or in ten minutes, or that she must not drink her milk with her spoon? All hell breaks loose. We do give the kids lots of simple choices when we can, with the intention that sometimes they will then just do as they are asked, but this week that was apparently an impossibilty. Black is white and up is down in Geekygirl's world. I offer cuddles, she pushes me away, I leave and she wails for me to return. I know that this is the crux of growing up, separating from your parents, but also wanting them close, but when in the fray I find my resolve and confidence wavering. I'm beginning to understand Geekydaddy's warnings that he was kicked out of preschool for behavioural isuses, and any offspring of his would likely be difficult to raise.
I worry that with working parents the children don't get enough of us, (though I have heard rumor that parents who stay home do also have challenging times.) I feel guilty that I just want to come home to pleasant sweet, compliant kids who say please and thankyou, and always do as they are asked without challenging every word, (anyone know where they sell kids like this?!). The preschool teachers, saints in human form, are unphased by her behaviour and navigate the storms with quiet skill, reassuring us that this is part of growing up, and is quite usual behaviour for ids at this age. I'm just hoping that eventually this strong mindedness will pay off, when she refuses to get into cars with drunk drivers as a teen, founds a green energy company and solves global warming before her 25th birthday or doggedly uncovers a new law of nature against all prevailing opinions and wins a Nobel prize.
I'm a big reader of parenting books (my favourites are "hold onto your kids", "How to talk so kids will listen" and "the secret of happy children"), and have my own hodge podge parenting philospophy of helping my kids become self determining by giving them choices, giving specific feedback rather than vague praise, using sticker reward charts, and setting rules and being consistent. Something I reminded myself of this week was that kids do need to push against the boundaries and it is our job to keep the boundaries there. That noise and tantrums are going to happen if the boundaries are to hold. I don't like tantrums and conflict, and go to great lengths to ensure my kids are preemptively snacked before outings, and that they get their naps and enough sleep. I feel as if I'm failing somehow when faced with tears and resistance, when perhaps actually, thinking with a cooler head, I am actually succeeding. I reminded myself this week that kids don't actually want the rules to change, even though they want in that moment to have cookies for dinner and wear their princess costumes to school.
A case study from my own experience is that I had got into the habit of letting geekygirl watch "you tube" disney songs on my computer most evenings, against my own preference for limited TV watching, "giving in" depending on my level of tiredness and the persistence of her whining. Concerned about so much screen time, I was then was constantly battling with her to get it turned off. I made a new rule, videos only on Tuesday (geekydaddy's yoga night so I need the help) and Friday, since Fridays are for fun, and this bone of contention is now under control. Whining gets her nowhere, the rule holds fast, and she is getting pretty knowledgable about the days of the week. And the words to Bibbety bobbedy boo.
I recently read and enjoyed "the philosophical baby" by Allison Gopnick" which has an interesting chapter about young children and rules, suggesting that we are somehow adapted as a species for rule following, and that children understand rules from a very young age. They also soon understand that some rules are arbitrary and can be negotiated (rules like "videos only on Tuesday") and that some rules have a deeper truth and cannot be changed (rules like "you should not hurt other people").
In an effort to brush up our parenting skills and give us confidence to stick to our plans, and hopefully learn a few new tricks and ideas, Geekydaddy and I are going to attend a parenting seminar on "dealing with opposition and defiance" at a local child psychology center
I have attended far more classes on dog training than I have on parenting, and if the children can be brought up to the same standard of behavior of the dog; cheery affection with occasional selective deafness and opportunistic food stealing, I'll be thrilled.
How about you? Does your three year old overwhelm the mood of the family with the force of his or her emotions? what do you do? Help, support, and advice much appreciated!