I'm feeling very conflicted. My DD is 3 1/2 and recently, her behavior has been pretty awful, pretty frequently. I'm trying to figure out some structural ways to help improve her behavior without being too authoritarian or encouraging her to feel like she has to be "good". (I'll explain this in more detail below).
The big picture is that I feel like she's been acting sort of bratty-- entitled, tricky, and quick to anger. We've been cutting her slack for the past few weeks because it's been a transition time with her starting a new preschool class, a lot of trips and traveling, my teaching semester starting back up (ie: less flexible time) and the fact that I'm 18 weeks pregnant. Still, I feel like we need to make some changes because things are not good right now (DD ends up crying and screaming 4-6 times a day! I end up crying 1-2 times a day and yelling sometimes).
A few examples first of her recent behavior that is driving me crazy:
I've been reading her chapters from chapter books at bedtime. She LOVES this. But, she's never satisfied with how much I read. Recently we've been reading a book with long chapters so I've been reading only 1 chapter (30 pages of text!). When it's over, she screams and cries for 3-5 minutes. Totally undermining getting ready for bed and sometimes pushing me over the limit-- remember I'm pregnant and exhausted and work full time! It's not like I leave her bed after the story is done. We nurse, we talk, we cuddle, rub backs, etc... but any limit makes her crazy right now.
Another example: EVERY night after dinner (sometimes really eating dinner and sometimes just messing around) DD starts her campaign for dessert (ie: ice cream with sprinkles). She'll start by proposing some rule, like "if I eat 5 broccollis, and drink all my water, then can I have chocolate ice cream with whipped cream and sprinkles for dessert". She'll then assume that we said yes, eat the broccolli and announce that she's ready for dessert. If we don't leap up and get it. She screams and cries. Sometimes, she'll look for a parent to confirm but she always does it by saying to DH "right, Daddy?" and he'll say "it's up to mommy" and then I either agree or explain why not and then she screams at me.
It seems to me that the major thing going on is that she wants to be in control of her self and wants to make her own decisions. She has said to me "you're not the boss" and while I agree in principle that I'm not the boss of her in a metaphysical way, I am the boss of the house and I do actually know best about things like not eating too much junk food and getting enough sleep. We give her a ton of choices in her daily life. What to wear, what to eat for breakfast and lunch, what to play with, when to call grandparents and other family, etc... We really encourage her to be independent and treat her like a full person. That said, she has also internalized rules that are important in our house like a) need to help make dinner or set the table; b) need to use good table manners (not eat before everyone is sitting, napkin on your lap, etc...); c)one treat a day; d) need to brush teeth and go potty before bed and before school. But, that's about the whole list of real rules. So, I'm feeling like maybe we need to instill more rules and make them clearer. (At the top of the list is junk dessert every other day, fruit dessert every other day!)
And, that's where my dilemma comes in. I think there are specific things that I can do to improve things like read chaps from chapter book earlier in evening (before brushing teeth, etc...) and then read a short book before bed. And, get sandtimers (they use these at school) to externalize the limits rather than it seeming like my arbitrary rules.
I also am considering trying to make things more visible (and therefore external to me). I am considering a chore chart of some sort that anyone could point to and DD could feel proud of all her good behavior. I feel really ambivalent about this idea though. I personally hate the idea of someone visually evaluating me each day and I don't like the idea of doing that to my DD. It seems bureacratizing and de-individualizing and also somehow petty. It also don't like the idea of rewarding someone in a routinized way for good behavior or punishing for bad behavior. I'm also concerned that it will make DD feel pressure to be "good" all the time and I don't want her to feel like she can't express her own emotions. That said, I think it would work. I think she's a little perfectionist and would respond to it from the start. I think we could agree on chores that are appropriate and rewards that are reasonable. But, even if it would work, is it really the way to raise a whole person?
If you've read this far, thank you. I would really appreciate some feedback here, especially from people who use chore charts and like them and/or people who considered it and rejected it. I know a lot of parents have great success with this approach and I suspect that my objections are overstated-- I'm clearly someone that chafes at being evaluated. I'd really like to hear about successes of this approach as well as alternate ideas. Thanks again!
Its a tough age and you guys to have a lot of changes right now.
Something that helped when our kids were little was a simple list of rules with pictures and/or a simple routine chart with picture. (we did different things at different time) Like for bedtime, the steps were listed with little stick figures, and then we just went down the list. It was helpful to our kids.
A couple of things I think you could tweak in your parenting that could help is not ASKING her opinion on things. I think it's confusing to to small children. Just tell her stuff. If she voices an opinion, great, if not, she might be less cranky with fewer choices. It was counter-intuitive to me, but I tried it after reading it, and it helped.
Also, I think that consoling a child who is throwing a hissy fit because of lack of control isn't helpful to them. It's just rewarding what really is bad behavior. At bedtime, she's tied. But if you just walk out and let her have her little fit, she'll quickly learn that it doesn't get her anything. Most kids will stop this behavior once they figure out it doesn't get them anything. Right now, it gets her backrubs and all sorts of attention. It's working for her. Kids are unhappy sometimes. It isn't our job to fix that. This is really completely different than a baby that is crying.
Last, I'd cut out ALL sugar desserts. They aren't good for any of you, and they are part of the reason she is behaving badly at dinner time. Have ice cream once a week while you are not and just not keep it in the house. She'll have a good fit or two about the change, then she'll realize it doesn't work and figure out something else to do with her time.
but everything has pros and cons
I agree with Linda. I also found the diet in the moening helped with bedtime calmness...we increased protein at breakfast to a minimum of 7 grams and then put DS to bed at 6:30 instead of 8:30 and his tantrums virtually disappeared at that age just from those two things.
I have to run to class. I'll write more later...DS was about that age when I was pregnant with DD...what a crazy time!
I have a few ideas on this subject.
1) When you brush teeth/put on jammies/etc., before bed, try reminding her that she *gets* a chapter if she can handle a chapter. That it will be one chapter, and then Mama is done, and that's it. If, at any point, she refuses that set of rules, reiterate them, then gently suggest that the other option is bed with no story, because either way it's bedtime. Remind her again right before you settle in to read to her. "Hey, honey, I just want to make sure that you know we're reading chapter 5 tonight, and only chapter 5."
2) Sleep is a huge control issue for children. And 3.5 is a *very* tough age, for them and for us. They have lots of ideas, and almost no control. I'd suggest giving her options on sleeping arrangements, if that sounds doable. "Hey, sweetie, do you want a sleeping bag on the floor tonight, or in your bed?" If you occasionally cosleep or let her sleep on the couch, those are other options.
3) Use books on CD. My kids learn more in the 45 minutes before their CD shuts off than I can print here! Great books, history, poems, songs, etc., they're all available on CD. We love Jim Weiss and all of his CDs. Jim Dale does an AWESOME Alice in Wonderland. :)
4) Chore charts are an AMAZING tool to motivate pre-schoolers! Everyone loves to see the fruits of their labors praised and made public, and a chore chart does just that. :)
5) The last thing is...have you considered moving bedtimes by 30 minutes or so? It could be that she's growing in a way that makes a later bedtime more suitable. Naptimes or "downtimes" during the day are a great thing, as well.
love, penelope (the user formerly known as mamapenelope)
Bookworm Mama to 6 wonderkids and stepmama to one more: 21, 20, 18, 12, 9, 7 and our Z born 4/13. . Partner to my
I found that most of the behavioral issues with my DS at the age 3.5 was abated through diet and sleep. Especially the entitlement stuff. It also helped to give him some responsibilities. So his independence was related to his contributions.
It also helped ME to change my perspective and get real with my expectations.
For one, DH and I took it very personally when he would get that entitled thing going on...we would really seethe to think he didn't understand how much we sacrifice to make his life more fun and enjoyable. Then a mom here reminded me that kids believe they deserve inherently what ever it is they get. So, if a child is treated poorly they believe they deserve it and when they are treated kindly, they believe they deserve it...So really it wasn't as insulting as I was making it out to be in my head. We just did more talking about where money came from and started a small allowance at around 4 which he got in exchange for small chores around the house. He got to do whatever he wanted with that money, too.
It also helped to know that these are normal growing pains and I was not alone. Because it felt very personal to me, but to realize that it was merely a lack of words and communication skills helped a lot.
I started pulling from my training in NVC a lot. There are ways of getting kids to communicate better, but they need to be given the words and skills and the road is a very very bumpy one.
I was just coming on here to post about my son when I saw your post here and we are going through the same exact stuff!!!!!!! Exact! WIth the reading of chapter books and it not being enough when we're done and the sneakiness and entitlement and easy to anger- oh, so easy to anger! I've been wanting to do the chore charts. I'll have to start that...
I'm just glad to see someone dealing with the same issues :)
It's normal and it too shall pass :)
i don't have a 3 year old, Parsley.. so take my advice for what that's worth...
i am a very big believer in having collective rules, meaning rules that everybody involved makes up. and sticks to. and you know i come at this as a fan of educational theory, so take a look at this teacher's blog post and see if the theory applies to household rules, too..
a three year old can help decide on how many chapters for each book to read at night.. you can gently guide that decision by showing the kiddo chapter length and saying "mommy's voice gets tired after 2 chapters," or something like that. see if your kid can help you pick a number of chapters to read each night (per book and be consistent) and maybe more on the weekends? so that you're looking at a situation where the child has made a decision and you reinforce if need be what the child decided. you might still get fits, and it sounds very much like boundary testing is happening in a major way for you, but i do think if the kid is involved with making the rule/rules, it's so much easier to point to that and say "you decided that we read 2 chapters a night. we'll do more on friday because it's the weekend, remember mommy's voice gets tired.." and so on.
the same for the chore chart! it's a great idea, and the kid can certainly help plan it. it might even be a fun thing to do on the weekend, to plan the chores and take pictures of the kid doing them, making a visual representation. then the kid can kind of decide what chore to do when.. i'd set up a "daily" and "weekly" section, and have something moveable, like magnets or felt, so that your babe can have lots of leeway in deciding what to accomplish when but still have a way to see what needs to be done/ what has been done.
i think that a chore chart can be a completely different thing than a reward chart. you know i hate that rewards business, but a chore chart can just be a reminder or a tool like a calendar. there aren't rewards on a calendar..
timers are NEVER a bad idea, i think you're absolutely right with that... and maybe the sand or egg timer that she can set herself.
i would be tempted to do a dessert chart or schedule, too... maybe dessert one night a week and one weekend night? that might save arguing. heck, you could even do a chalkboard with the menu on it. with a kid learning literacy, you can never have too much written stuff, either... and have her watch while you write it (assuming you're organized enough to know what's for dinner... that part wouldn't really work except daily in our house) and then say would you like to choose which night to have dessert?
(we tend to do more dessert than we probably should, too, because i really like to bake, and dd loves to help. i think it's good for her in lots of ways too, she does imaginary play with any sort of roller as a rolling pin and she used a rock for a lump of dough the other day. so i totally don't condemn anybody for sugary things, though ideally we could have fruit and yogurt based 'dessert' every so often.
Is it getting lonely in the echo chamber yet?
Whew- makes me feel so much better knowing I am not alone!! Oh man- EVERYTHING has become a battle recently! Bedtime and dessert for sure! I've tried to explain to DD that desserts are special treats, and we only get them somedays, not everyday, and she responds, "Today is someday!!" More evidence that perhaps a visual schedule or structured 'dessert days' would be beneficial. Thanks!!
Thanks for this everyone-- for both the ideas and the reminder that it's a lot to do with DD's age and stage, and that it's decidedly not personal.
Just having had such an awful morning yesterday and taking the time to write this post after really helped me think through what the major problems are and come up with some solutions. We had a much better evening last night and morning today. I'm hoping we can build some momentum.
DD and DH picked me up at work and we all decided to go out for dinner at a local restaurant since I didn't want to spend all my remaining energy on cooking dinner. Halfway through dinner DD asked to order dessert and we said that she could have dessert at home but not at the restaurant. She whined a bit but since we were in public she didn't overreact.
When we got home I announced that we were going to have a family meeting. DD jumped up and grabbed some toy (or rather my camera) that I had put aside and I asked her "When you have meeting time at school do you get up and go get a toy?" She totally responded to that and sat down at the table and asked what our meeting was going to be about. (This is the first time I've ever tried something like this-- always seemed so corny to me before ). I said that we needed to write down our house rules since it seems like maybe none of us have been following them too well recently. We then thought about it and named the rules we already have. We stared with DD (no shoes in the house) and each of us took a turn. After we had our regular rules (use nice voices, say please and thank you, etc...) I said I thought we should add a few more. We then added "ice cream dessert only every other day", "everyone puts away 5 things before bed", "no screaming when mommy says she can't read anymore chapters" and "no screaming when mommy and daddy say no. we need to use our words to explain how we feel". She really enjoyed making this list and asked to hang it up in her room. She then cheerfully helped clean up and was thrilled to get to spray down the kitchen table and clean it up.
By the time she was done with this she said she'd just like an apple for dessert. Yay! No fight there.
So making a list of rules that we all have to follow really helped. Thanks, Hildare, for highlighting the difference between a rewards chart and a chore chart. It's really the rewards that bug me, not the idea that everyone contributes to running the house together.
I think that the chapter book we're currently reading was getting her especially wound up (this is a kid that DOES NOT sleep in general) so last night we tried reading the chapter before brushing teeth and going potty and that seemed to give her some time to unwind a bit and talk through all the funny and exciting parts of the chapter. And, we were able to do that during potty and tooth brushing time rather than sleeping time. So that was much better. We still had some screams when I turned off the light but they were short and she went to bed earlier last night than she has in a long time.
This morning was great. Things were so organized and neat last night that we had time for a dance party (to the insidious but catchy TMBG "Here Come the 1,2,3s") and she arrived at school rested and happy. And, I feel much better as well.
I'm going to keep trying the different things you all suggest. I especially like the idea of books on CD. It's something we can both listen to together without it being so exhausting for me each day (I already do a lot of talking in a day!) I'm also thinking about trying to separate dessert from dinner in her mind so that she can have a little time to decide if she actually wants a special dessert or if it's just a power struggle. I'm sure we should all have less ice cream... but it's my achilles heal. I think too that starting bed earlier is important. She was napping for a long time at school in her old classroom but in this new room it's a lot less time. I think we need to adjust our schedule to make that work better.
Thanks again for all the help and encouragement. I'd love to hear others' ideas as well as hear how NewMa or other with 3 1/2 yos are doing.
My sand timer arrives tomorrow. I can't wait!
so glad to hear your family meeting went well! One thing I'm wondering about is, after all the rule making, what are the consequences for not following the rules??? That's what I seem to have the hardest time with! Following through with the consequence sometimes just leads to another battle and makes me feel like a failure! And it's not that I have a hard time initiating the consequence, it's that DS has a hard time accepting it just like he has a hard time accepting the answer "No" and I then feel like we're starting from square 1!
How do we deal with that?
When the consequence, reguardless of if they knew ahead of time what to expect, isn't respected and followed through without a fight.
How can one of the rules be "no whining and crying when mom and dad say no"? What's the consequence for that? Likely what you've already been doing, No?
Can anyone help with this part?
What a great family meeting! It sounds like she's a little one who really enjoys knowing where the boundaries are, and being able to help set them is so important! Congratulations on the resolutions you *all* made!
I also understand about the chapter book winding her up...We are reading one book for school (we homeschool, and all the littles listen to the same book for lessons during the day), but we read a very gentle book for bed. Right now we're finishing up a HUGE collection of "Milly Molly Mandy" stories. Even my 10yo boy loves them. :) It's so nice to read something short, gentle, and with a resolution before bed.
I found that at 3 and 4, things went in cycles...we'd have a great meeting of the minds and connecting as mom/daughter or mom/son, and then suddenly (days, or weeks later) there'd be a huge disconnect. Kind of like a potty-training cycle! The single, *most* effective thing I did was to cry when I was sad or frustrated, and remember to be very, very quiet when I was angry. Not silent, just softer. It made a huge impression and I learned that my child does, truly, care about my feelings and about how our family is working.
Good luck, mama. It's a precious thing to connect with your child like that!
Bookworm Mama to 6 wonderkids and stepmama to one more: 21, 20, 18, 12, 9, 7 and our Z born 4/13. . Partner to my
At our house, the consequence was being ignored. The behavior got them nothing -- no attention, positive or negative. You can send their to their room if that flows for you. For one of my DDs that worked better because she needed down time and a chance to pull herself together. For my other child, getting her to her room was more of a power struggle and she didn't really seem to need it anyway. One day she was being horrid and I left the room!
I think that part of the reason that this phase is esp. difficult for APing moms is that when our babies are babies, every time they cry we know it means something. We respond. We see it as our job to help them find their equilibrium again. But as they transition to being small children and no longer babies, that changes. It becomes our job to teach our children to behave appropriately even when they are unhappy about something. This isn't just about how to get through bedtime, it's about teaching our children basic skills they'll need their whole lives.
There's more to it, of course, than just ignoring them when they widely miss the mark. We can activity TEACH them better communication skills and coping skills. Practicing active listening is helpful with even 3 year olds. "You sound really frustrated. I bet you wish we could just stay up all night reading." The book "how to listen so kids will talk, and talk so kids will listen" has lots of great ideas. Using our words to put a children's feeling into words is helpful because they don't have the vocabulary yet to express themselves. Giving them other options for expressing emotions, such as coloring a picture that shows how they feel, or using a puppet and having the puppets discuss the situation. Teaching them to take DEEP breaths when they first start getting upset, before they loose it.
And of course, setting up their lives to be as un-frustrating as possible for them by figuring out when they primary meltdown happen and what we could do to tweak the situation for the child, such as moving up bedtime, leaving a CD playing, etc.
Parents who try to appease their whining/crying children often spend years and years in this phase, when it really should be a fairly brief period. Parents who over-react and end up giving their kids negative attention sadly sometimes end up with kids who misbehave just for the negative attention.
This is a completely normal stage. A lot of kids go through it. But it's just a phase and it will pass. Part of how long it last really depends on the child, and part depends on us.
but everything has pros and cons
Thanks for the encouragement, perspective and advice, Spruce and Linda.
The last 24 hours went pretty well too. One thing I tried last night was to tell DD that she could have dessert 15 minutes after everyone was done with dinner but that now was still our time for conversation all together. (She loves to have "conversations"). I then asked if she wanted me to set the kitchen timer and she was very happy with that plan. Bedtime went pretty well, again just a few screams at lights out rather than a full fit. (Again, this is a kid that has cried at bedtime and naptime every day of her life so this is not unusual. It's the screaming at me that is awful.).
This morning was less harmonious. DD threw a fit in the middle of the night about not wanting to go back to sleep and then was grouchy and demanding this morning. Since we had had some good times in the 36 hours before, I felt calm enough to respond to these fits in a calm though authoritative way. For example, in the middle of the night I managed to say "Everyone has to sleep in the middle of the night. I'm tired and going to go back to sleep. Please let me know when you are ready to lay down and cuddle with me." in a completely calm and quiet voice. This morning I made her rephrase her yelling words into requests using please and thank you in her regular voice before I would do what she wanted.
NewMa, I think Spruce's advice about using a calm and quiet voice is really helpful. I try to do that and when I manage I get much better reactions and a much shorter fit! As for consequences, the only thing I try to highlight is that a) DD's actions effect the people around her. When she says mean things it hurts my feelings. I ALWAYS let her know how I'm feeling and encourage her to tell me how she's feeling. b) I also make her keep trying until she gets something right. (ie: keep rephrasing her comment until it communicates her wants/needs in a way that I can respond to). The other thing though is I focus on her good behavior. At dinner last night, I complimented her on how well she was following the family rules and gave some specific examples. I then complimented DH on using putting his napkin in his lap (DD is way better at this than DH!) and using good table manners. I then said that I was trying really hard to use my nice voice and my listening ears. Not a word was said about anyone's lapses in good behavior. Maybe some of these techniques will work for you?