I’ve had to be firmer with my three year old recently.
I despise it when I snap and yell, and that happens when she’s acting a bit out of sorts, like doing something harmful after I’ve already told her to stop and why, or when we’re trying to get ready to go somewhere and she insists on doing something herself… but then doesn’t or moves very, very slowly. She yells at me when I do try to step in and do it (I often back off when she starts yelling). So I’ve been experimenting a few different ways to help in these situations, because I still want her to have choices and some control. I’m not one for counting, but I did it the other day (“Please put your jacket on… if you cannot then I will do it… 1…2…”) Even before I hit 3 I stopped and said to my husband “Oh my goodness I really can’t stand how I sound counting like this.” I tried counting to five, but more calmly, and the context was less threatening; more of a “hey if you don’t at least start putting on your shoes I’m going to step in and do it, you have 5 seconds to start if you want.” That felt less controlling, but I still had to step in and do it, so why count in the first place?
Last night was book club, and we’ve been reading Janet Lansbury’s No Bad Kids. The chapters we discussed talked about setting limits, firm boundaries, and following through. This ultimately helps the relationship you have with your child, since it shows your child you are a gentle leader, and you feel less frustrated (either with yourself or your child). I started to realize that I haven’t been much of a leader to my daughter, lately. I haven’t been firm where firmness is needed. I’ve allowed things to happen, or go on, without much boundary-setting from me because I simply don’t like the confrontation that happens when I do step in, or when I stay firm and maintain a boundary.
So I decided to make a few changes.
This morning I let her sleep in a bit so we were in a rush to get out the door. Each task was a slight battle, but I was firm (and kind…I only ‘snapped’ and raised my voice once and briefly before getting control of myself again). I explained, repetitively (because she’s only 3), that we were in a bit of a hurry.
She needed to wash her hands. If she did not wash her hands, I would. Then I did. She yelled at me, but her hands were washed, I didn’t yell, and we then moved onto the next thing.
She needed her pants on. I set them on the floor in the direction they should be in when she puts them on. If she didn’t start putting them on, I would do it. I told her she could do it or I would. She went to go touch/play with the baby, so I went over and put them on her. She was not happy with me at all, but that anger was short-lived.
She wasn’t eating her breakfast, so I told her that when I was done packing up the baby we were walking out the door. She still didn’t eat, but asked if she could bring her food in the car. I said of course. When we got in the car I thanked her for helping get ready so quickly.
While I don’t like having to rush her like this morning, it overall went well and was fairly calm despite me trying to hurry. And I didn’t count. Or threaten. Or get mad. And aside from that brief loss of control, I didn’t yell. I just said what needed to happen, and what was going to happen, then followed through without much waffling. And there wasn’t any sacrifice in her making choices…she still chose her outfit, whether she brushed her teeth or I did (she likes it when I do it, but I still like to give her the option of doing it herself), what she ate for breakfast, etc.
I think we’re hitting a stage right now where her language and reasoning skills are surpassing her actual physical ability to do certain things. If that makes sense. When she was 2 it was much easier to ask her to stop (or do) something with a brief reason and she would comply. Now, she has her own reasons for doing or not doing something that are MUCH better than ours, and she’s very open about letting us know. Her father and I want to allow her this kind of independence. We don’t want obedience. We encourage her to think critically and question. But… we also need to remind ourselves that she’s three years old. Boundaries need to be set. Safety maintained. And getting to school on time is the responsible and considerate thing to do. 😉