(just fyi: I've been a member of this forum for four years I think, but my previous profile no longer fits who I am so I changed to this one)
My son is going to be 3 on Wednesday. He's either an alien from a race of fierce jungle tiger people posing as a child, or somehow fits that spirited child description. I am trying VERY hard to implement authoritative parenting in our home--you know, the ideal calm parent with firm boundaries where it matters and freedom of choice for the child when it doesn't matter as much.
It's not working.
Without relying on a melatonin supplement, bedtime is an epic 2-3 hour battle every single night. When I'm making breakfast in the morning, if it's something that DS didn't choose, he physically tries to drag me away from making the food while screaming at me not to make it. If he doesn't want to wear clothes but we have to go somewhere there is a crying screaming kicking fit that often ends up with me joining in the crying and screaming while trying to manhandle him into his clothes so we're not late.
I can see several sources of frustration or overstimulation or understimulation or wrong stimulation--we just started him in daycare because we're both full time students. He's probably not getting enough time with us, but it's usually because we're both exhausted by the end of the day when we pick him up and his only desire is to run around and be super active constantly. We live in an apartment near Phoenix, AZ and it's super hot outside so we don't have a) much room for running around or b) safe weather to run in. But he's also been pretty intense since the day he was born. We've always had one sleep issue or another, and he has always been more physically advanced than verbal. He's pretty intent on learning every physical skill possible--he recently taught himself how to swim because he was sick of using a floaty. Which, I'm proud of him, but it also makes him really strong and capable while fighting me on things so that increases the challenges I have when I'm trying to physically remove him from a damaging situation. I have resorted to spanking several times to get him to stop kicking me or going crazy on me, and I HATE that. I know it doesn't work long term, and I don't want him seeing me as a source of physical pain and I just hate the whole concept of spanking as a whole. So add a heaping helping of guilt to the mess.
I recently read Bringing Up Bebe, and I really loved it. While I don't agree with every aspect of French parenting, the description of how children *happily* allow their parents adult time and behave themselves at the dinner table without threats, screaming fights, bribes, cajoling, or emotional scarring, really caught my attention. I want so badly to have that for our family--firm boundaries, freedom, calm, loving correction and guidance. Instead I have self-doubt, screaming fights, exhaustion, and frayed nerves. And DS has stress, bad patterns, and anger management issues that will only get worse if I can't get a handle on things.
I love reading, and will research this to death, but if anyone has good ideas or reviews of the best books out there that could help with this specific age (Happiest Toddler on the Block was extremely useless to me, if that helps), I would be eternally grateful.
Three is hard. My daughter is almost 4.5 and I think it might be getting better. She also leans towards spirited. What is that Kurcinka book about spirited children? Have you read that one? There's a book suggestion for you! anyway... the only thing that came to mind is for you to use "routines" to your advantage. That way, he knows what is expected, what's supposed to happen, etc. I find I have to do less pleading and cajoling if I can say, "this is what we do" or "this is the rule" or "we do it this way every night, now come on!" Also, the other thing is his need for physical activity.... try to find somewhere he can run and get all the energy OUT! I know, Phoenix has got to be near impossible, but maybe there's an indoor play park, or community center that has indoor stuff, or a pool, since he likes to swim, swimming seems to wear kids out. Or maybe go out in the morning before it gets too hot. I know that is probably hard to do since you are students (or maybe not). Is he going to go to preschool? Sometimes that can be a good outlet and the teachers can be helpful in helping you learn how to deal with him. Hopefully you will get some more suggestions here!
Daycare is basically preschool for him. It's the campus care center, and it's pretty good quality. We do have a pool here in our apartment complex--what stops us is our own exhaustion. We're both full time students, DH does freelance work on the side and I have an internship. It's busy even without a child in the mix.
As for routines, I keep trying to tweak them so they work. It's really disheartening to try a routine that I think is reasonable and see it go completely to crap after 2 days and the epic battles start again. Is it normal for him to fight it over and over? How long before he accepts it as a routine? I can't make a 2 hour bedtime battle become the routine, but that's what's happening even though I have a decent routine in place. I hate hate hate hate relying on melatonin to get him to fall asleep at a decent hour. But if he's up fighting it for 2 hours and then gets up at his regular time of 6:45, he's a complete bear for the entire day. And then when I can't do everything at exactly the same time every day, I feel like it throws him off. Gah.
I have been trying the "this is what we do" approach. Some days I do better than others. He does seem to respond to that. I wish I could tell if he needs more sensory stimulation or less in order to calm down. Or if he needs more at first to feel secure with us and then less to wind down? I don't know.. He definitely has some kind of sensory something. One of his meltdowns is usually about his carseat buckles being 'too tight' even though they're already looser than I'm really comfortable with.
The spirited child book is Raising Your Spirited Child. You need it. My 9.5y old is a spirited child and also a sensory seeker, we officially got her dxed with SPD when she was 5. I thought that child was going to kill me. I guess she prepped me for DS2 who is a carbon copy of her. She would fight and argue just for the sake of it, she didn't always care what she was fighting about, it was often just about the fight. It took me years to learn how to make life with her more easier. Basically I have to wear her butt out. Every single day. Her body craves that constant physical action, if she is not doing something purposeful then she will either pester you endlessly or turn destructive. I have to channel that energy somehow. I put her in sports at age 3 because of it. Most kids play one or maybe two sports, um, not DD1. Name a sport and she probably plays it or has played it. A one hour practice does not count either, that is just warm up to her. As she got older, it can identify her needs more, but at that age she was like a ping pong ball zinging around the house. And now other children need me.
Yes, you *need* Raising Your Spirited Child. Like, ASAP.
Most rampant advice for more "regular" kids will not apply to the spirited ones, which is probably why Happiest Toddler was useless to you. I haven't read the other book you mentioned, but while the French model of parenting might be enviable, we don't live in France. The entire French lifestyle is so different from ours that I don't think you can transplant their parenting practices into our culture. It's probably much easier to be a calm, peaceful parent when you have quality government provided childcare and seven paid weeks of vacation a year. And even if you could adopt their practices, the fact remains that you have a spirited child, and the rules do not apply! They are un-distractable, they are persistent, their energy knows no bounds, you can't "play them out" (some kids get exhausted after three hours at the park, but it only fuels DS's fire), they're sensitive, and they ARE harder to raise. It really does take more energy and more patience to raise a spirited child.
RYSC does an excellent job at helping you see all of the positive sides to having a spirited little one, and really reframes your perspective on their behavior. It addresses the parent's personality type (this was so enlightening to me - I had never thought about it before, but I'm a big time introvert and DS is much more like his extroverted father; DS gets his energy from other people (me), but I need, need, NEED time by myself to recharge, otherwise I burn out). I had previously thought that DS's lack of predictability (never eats or naps or goes to bed at the same time day to day) meant that he was "flexible" and didn't need as much routine, but now I realize that he's very sensitive to disruptions and needs warning of what's coming next - he's only flexible when he's in control. Now I'm better at limiting outings, we can only do one stop per outing and one outing per day because getting in and out of the car is very stressful for him. I envy parents with toddlers who can be out all afternoon at lunch, then the park, then the grocery store...we just can't do that.
DS is the same with being very physically motivated and less verbal. He only has about a dozen words at 20 months, and he doesn't use them often. However, he can climb anything, walked at 10 months, never stops moving, not interested in books, he loves to lift heavy things, hardly touches toys except for balls, all of his fun is full-body. But the book helped me recognize that he needs help with taking time to be still and shut out from stimulation. He is REALLY into screen time and also is a voracious nurser, and I think those two things are how he winds down because he is otherwise unable to be still. We have incorporated more fine motor games and that helps him be still without a screen.
Last thing with the clothes...we have the same struggles with clothes and shoes, and DS hasn't left the house fully clothed and shod in months. We obviously do a swim dipaer before going to the pool, but we regularly go to the grocery store and the park with him in only trainers and no shoes. We'll see how it goes when it gets cold...