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Advice and Opinions, Please, Re: Boundaries

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

My 3 year old is having difficulty respecting other people's boundaries. This has been an ongoing problem.


When I am overwhelmed and need some space (to count to 10 and breathe, not a very long time at all), I used to be able to shut a door behind me and collect myself. For the past year or so this hasn't been possible. I will tell her I need some space and go in another room and she will follow me. If I lock the door she will scream and yell and kick the door and it makes it impossible for me to decompress. This is really not a good thing, I'm an abuse survivor with anger problems and this was my best coping strategy.


Aside from this she doesn't respect the baby's space either. My 1 year old will cry and she will come right up in her face and laugh at her and taunt her. I've told her over and over that this is not okay. My current strategy is to first make sure the baby is unharmed, then I take my 3 year old and hold her (she usually has a limb-flailing tantrum at this point) until she is calm again. This strategy keeps the peace but has not stopped the behavior.


She does it to her father, too. He has a very even temper and is a peaceful guy but when he is stressed out she badgers him relentlessly.  She doesn't bother him when he's in a good mood.


She is a very sweet kid and will give you a blanket and a stuffed animal to snuggle with if you are tired, she will console you if you are crying and she shares all of her food and toys with everyone. But, In general, she has a problem giving people space when they are angry or stressed.


This has been a problem for a long time, about a year. It hasn't been until very recently that I've started to think it needed fixing. I thought maybe she will grow out of it, or maybe she is just picking up on bad strategies for dealing with anger from me. Really I have been looking for causes and trying to eliminate them. Her dad has a tendency to be a verbal bully and I've tried to help him identify and stop that and he has improved. I pour all of my energy into resisting all of my impulses to be angry, I fail as often as I succeed but I am doing my best.


It is a safety issue now, though. We adopted a very sweet cat, who lets the little ones play with and pet her without issue. I've told Evelynn that cats need to be treated with respect because they have feelings just like people and showed her how when the cat moves her tail really fast it means she wants to be left alone, and when she hisses she is really angry and might hurt her. Evelynn is relentless and will not leave the cat alone for a minute. Today after about an hour of tolerating being played with the cat hissed at her. I scooped her up right away and said never to play with a cat who is angry but she just laughed.


I need opinions, is this normal toddler behavior? If you have any advice on how to stop this it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for reading!



post #2 of 5

Hi. I've read some of your other posts and if this were someone else I'd want to know what you'd have to say about it. <3


Congrats on identifying the problem and asking for help. My DD is 2 so I'm not so sure if my advice fits but I also have anger issues recovering from abuse. I've been instructed to take a very deep breath and then find something calm to think about. I can't always get physical distance but I do go to a special little hideout in my head. After the moment passes and she is on to something else I find something peaceful to do so I can unwind ... even if it is only going to the bathroom and brushing my hair. I tell her how i feel even though i don't think she understands, yet.


DD has also begun terrorizing just one of our cats when bored. She seems to like his reactions because he darts off under things and the chase is on. The other cat could care less and she leaves him alone, completely. From that I guessed that she is responding to a curious new emotion, one that she previously never noticed in others. Since she's curious she focuses more on it. Imagine sitting a strange new toy in the middle of the room and asking a young child to ignore it ... impossible. I think at the age of your child they are beginning to become more aware of others emotions but not able to identify and respond in a manner that adults are familiar with. But seeing as though most adults are still mastering these techniques the process of identifying and responding should be open, wide open, for discussion with children. Getting children to talk about how they feel and hear others do the same is an extremely valuable tool in relating and communicating with others.


I'm not sure exactly about 3 year-olds but I think children pursue what is curious to them. I've begun telling my daughter when i am frustrated or sad using non-violent communication techniques learned in Marshall Rosenbergs' book. I tell her how i feel, removed from judgement. She can say some of the words but is will  take time for her to get the meaning. I do say to leave Ben alone (tortured cat #1) and she runs around chasing him saying "leave alone" most of the time but I've caught a few glimpses of her getting swatted and saying to herself "leave alone" and backing off. I keep Ben's nails trimmed weekly and he has a safe place to run if things get too heated. I try to allow some natural consequences with Ben, but only because I know he is a runner and only a fighter when cornered.


I've also heard of describing emotions in colors like I'm red right now ... orange ... yellow and slowly working through the rainbow. I haven't had the presence of mind to refer to it when needed but I hear that kids respond well to  it. I think the best thing you can do here is show your child that you are struggling with your anger and be honest about dealing with it. She doesn't have to see it in full force but it is a great teachable moment. It might also help you to teach anger management.


My thoughts are with you. Please let me know what works for you. <3

post #3 of 5

Hugs, that sounds very frustrating! 


My 2.5 year old is delayed in some areas so I can't comment exactly on "normal" behavior but that all sounds VERY normal to me.


I do wonder if she isn't scared or insecure in moment when someone is angry/frustrated/stressed and wants to interact with them.  When my husband is really frustrated sometimes he wants to go in the other room to cool off and I know how it makes me feel.  I feel a little bit abandoned and worried that I am the cause of his anger.  I feel insecure and unsure if he will still love me.  I know the feelings are all irrational and as an adult I can work through them but I wonder if your daughter isn't trying to get some kind of reaction from you?


I also do think its really normal for kids to explore all kids of emotions (including cruelty and taunting) to find out what kids of reactions people will have.


Just throwing thoughts out there.  I know it might be impossible for you to attend to her emotions when you need to get away, but maybe just clearly saying something to reassure her that your need to get away doesn't mean anything about your deeper feelings for her would help?

post #4 of 5

I think fizgig expressed it well & I do think it is normal. With ds I try hard to tell him that I need a moment but I love him & will with him asap & to tell him this as calmly as I can. It doesn't always work but it still is demonstrating to him a positive way to deal with overwhelming emotions.

post #5 of 5
Thread Starter 

Thank you, everyone! It's good to hear that this is normal, I had a feeling it was but I was starting to have doubts, you know? Today I tried something that worked really well: When she went over to taunt the baby I scooped her up before she got there and held her and we counted to 10 together, it worked to calm both of us down.


I don't think there's anything I can do to stop her from doing these things unless I physically remove her from the situation before it escalates. So that is what I'm going to do for now.


Thank you again!


@Lovepickles- Your reply made my day! It's so nice to hear that you remembered me and that you value my opinion. :)

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