Q&A: Setting limits with an almost-three-year-old without setting yourself up

J writes:

"How do I let go and acknowledge that my almost-three-year-old is programmed to be incredibly challenging – as I suppose they all are at this age – without losing my mind or letting her rule the house? Help. I'm in an endless loop of setting limits, enforcing limits, and getting mad."

Wow, have we all been there. Except for those of us who haven't been there yet but will be. Before I get to my half-answer and ask for everyone else's suggestions, I want to point out two things that might help frame this whole testing-limits phase (which seems to last from around 2 1/2 to right after 5 for many kids):

1. Many many many kids go through this, so it has nothing to do with how effective you are as a parent that your kid is testing limits. It's a combo of their personality (and honestly, being a tester is probably going to help them in later life) and how you've structured things, and having structured things so your kid feels safe testing boundaries and your love is not at all a bad thing.

2. Your child is not going to end up spoiled or ruined or out of control if every moment at this age is not a teachable moment or if you just give in sometimes, or even a lot. As long as you can maintain a basic level of trust between you, not enforcing each boundary all the time isn't going to turn your kid into Lindsey Lohan, so choosing harmony over policy enforcement is a completely valid course of action. Just check yourself to make sure you're not creating a feedback loop that increases tension because you're inadvertantly rewarding bad behavior.

2 1/2. A lot of kids at around 3 1/2 are such little cauldrons that even if you do completely give in and let them steamroll you they will still make a tantrum out of your giving in. If you can't win anyway, then just doing it "because I said so" is an awesome policy.

And now for my half-answer: Having had two kids make it through these years with all of us still alive, I am convinced that how difficult this stage is is entirely a function of the combo of your personality and your kid's personality. Which means that your attitude has a large part in how it all goes, if not the actual interaction, then how much energy you lose from the interaction. (For me, I got angry sometimes, but mostly just felt defeated and so, so tired at all the conflict, so it was really about energy management.)

I felt like actual enforcement was not as important as having an explicit policy. So that when the child was violating the policy, I'd stop and verbalize the policy and then decide specifically if I was going to allow him to go against it or not. It didn't really change what happened in the moment, but gave me more of a sense of continuity instead of chaos.

I also stripped down to the essentials. If I didn't actually deeply care about something, I didn't care at all. In other words, I was choosing my battles, but at an extreme. There was a lot of humming of "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" in my head during particularly testing times.

I tried to remember what I was good at. Most days it did not feel like parenting was one of the things I was good at, so I'd grab at whaever else I could: making pie crusts, knitting, listening to people's problems and helping them find a course of action, managing client expectations. In another few months or years this crappy strife-filled phase with your child is going to be over, but you have the rest of your life to be really good at driving to work by the back route no one else knows about and shaving 7 minutes off your commute. So celebrate your prowess.

Apparently other people have great success at turning things into a game. That wasn't my thing, but I know some of you will be able to talk about it in the comments.

Anyone else? How did you deal? How are you dealing now?

148 thoughts on “Q&A: Setting limits with an almost-three-year-old without setting yourself up”

  1. Choose your battles is so important. But so is follow-through. It’s truly the only thing that will work, no matter how it’s phrased or described. If you constantly threaten a time-out and one doesn’t happen, the consequences will be felt forever. And enjoy the moments where it feels like things are paying off (i.e. improved behavior after a time-out or taking something away). These still happen with my 4 year old and almost 7 year old and I am looking forward to the moments where they really pay off with the just-turned 3 year old. Also, give yourself permission not to like this phase of parenting very much, if it all. This may sound horrible, but you don’t have to like it or love it. Sometimes if you just acknowledge that this is similar to an unpleasant job that you are not able to quit, it can really help. Just like your kids don’t necessarily have to like you, you don’t have to like them or their age/phase/stage either. It sounds terrible but it can help in letting go and getting through the day.

  2. I want to answer this post. 3-3.5 is such a tough age and parents can really benefit from some helpful advice.But I’m a bit confused.
    J would you be willing to add some more details to your question?
    There’s so much I could say about this age, but without a bit more direction I might send information that wouldn’t answer your specific needs.
    I’ll check back in a bit to see if I can contribute anything helpful.

  3. 1. My 2-year-old son asks for time-outs (even in the middle of the grocery store – he will just sit there) so that quickly went out the window as a “consequence”…2. I also grew up in a relatively collectivistic culture and household where you don’t really get privileges, so giving him “privileges” that then get taken away when he misbehaves just didn’t feel right to me.
    3. And I’m terrible at the “making it all into a game” (i.e., Love and Logic), partly because of 2.
    4. I’m not entirely sure how I was disciplined when I was a toddler! I do remember some spanking when I was way older (like, 7 or 8 years old) but the fact that I was 8 and willing to comply and be spanked probably says something about my own personality?
    5. Good lord, I’m not looking forward to the 2 1/2 to 5 year age span…!

  4. Oh we are so in the throws of this. My 3 yo is sweet and hilarious but also so intense and can make the tiniest thing into the most gigantic all out scene at the drop of a hat, usually when he doesn’t get to do whatever it is he wants to do (like throw oatmeal literally all over the table, chair and floor b/c ‘the spoon is the backhoe and the oatmeal is the load and it needs to go all over the ground for the bulldozer to come get it’! or roaring (like a lion) in his little sister’s face).One thing that I’m working on of late is to give myself a little moment to do what I think of as the ‘babysitter check’on my own behaviour, i.e. am I acting in a way that I would be comfortable with another caregiver acting towards my kid? and if the answer is no, I just have to find another route or take a timeout myself. It’s not easy, but it’s helped me get some perspective (and somewhat lessened the yelling).

  5. @MLB said it well: Pick your battles and follow through. I think no matter what “technique” you use, it is most important to be consistent. A few parents fall into the trap of allowing their mood to dictate what is OK/Not OK for the child to do. So, if they are in a good mood the child is allowed to do whatever, but if they are in a foul mood then everything is ‘no.’ The child then learns that the parent and expectations are inconsistent.Toddlers are challenging! I have met so many parents who find this stage almost unbearable. Just do your best to decide what behaviors are green lights, red lights, and yellow lights and stick with it. Good luck!

  6. My oldest is 4 and has been a challenge from the get go, but especially starting at about 3 years of age. I agree with Moxie that you must pick your battles and learn to let things go (which has been very, very hard for me as a controlling perfectionist type of person). Don’t fight every little thing because it’s not worth your time and energy. Want to wear a crazy costume to the grocery store while snacking on something sticky? Okay. Want to have Chinese food for breakfast? Sure. (We actually had to do Chinese food for breakfast a few times because he wouldn’t eat anything all day so I finally caved and let him have vegetable lo mein for breakfast, mostly because I was afraid he was starving).We did time outs which worked well for us, and even if we were having tough days I have always made it a point to mention the good things he did during the day (help me put laundry in the dryer, pick up his toys, get his own shirt on, whatever) and those things really have seemed to stick. My husband and I have tried to maintain the theory that if he knows he really is a good kid despite all the crappy behaviour that it’ll work out in the end.
    It has been exhausting and I do feel, on many, many days, that I have failed as a parent, but I think overall, trying to understand that my son has inherited my personality, however unfortunate for him, helps me to understand what he’s feeling.
    I do not like this stage at all and am looking forward to it ending in the next year or so, then do it again with #2.

  7. Hi Sharon @proactiveparenting!This is J – Johanna. We are struggling with our nearly 3yo. There are two main behaviors that we’re dealing with: intense whining and ignoring requests (with that insane twinkle in her eye – trying to see how far she can push us and what happens when we’re pushed beyond our limits). This is all complicated by the 4 month old. New baby! Makes everything harder! 🙂
    So, the whining: for example, my husband placed her oatmeal in front of her this morning and she whined *intensely* that she didn’t want the bowl there – that’s where her lovey was to go. She whined to the extent that I asked her if her body hurt – the whine was accompanied by full-body tension that just looked like pain. This is a tiny example of whining episodes that happen all day every day.
    The limit testing: the typical stuff. She attempts to draw on the wall, I ask her not to. She looks back at me and continues to draw. I remind her of the thousand conversations we’ve had that day about listening to mommy. It’s been a long, long, hard day home with two kids and so this ends in me yelling, her sobbing. This incident on its own is insignificant, but it’s the cumulative effect of dozens per day that make me feel crazy.
    It’s all so nuanced, of course, but I’m at work and don’t have time to detail it like I’d like to. But you get the idea! 🙂 Thank you in advance.

  8. I have nothing helpful to add, because I was about to e-mail Moxie with a similar question. I’m about at my wit’s end with my three-year-old. The kid just plain does not care about any form of discipline we’ve tried. He laughs and sings to himself during time out and anything else we’ve done. I think I need to get creative, but I’m not sure what to do.He is very defiant–telling us no constantly, flat-out doing the opposite of what we’re asking him to do, etc. This direct, flagrant disobedience is a huge button-pusher for me, so it’s been difficult not to overreact, although I think I’ve done pretty well so far. He’s been such an easy, good-natured kid up to this point that it’s especially frustrating. I just want my sweet boy back! Who took him and replaced him with this defiant jerk? I’ve been repeating the mantra, “It’s just a phase, it’s just a phase,” constantly, but it’s so easy to feel like it’s never going to end.
    I think it doesn’t help that he’s sandwiched between my four-and-a-half-year-old, who’s a piece of cake right now, and my eight-month-old, who’s at a delightful stage. His attitude is especially frustrating in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I have been very conscientious about not comparing the kids to each other, so I don’t think he’s acting out because we’re comparing him to the other kids. It’s just mentally more of a strain for me.
    Anyway, sorry to whine, but I guess I just needed to blow off some steam! I’ll be watching these comments and hoping someone has some helpful tips.

  9. “Get a babysitter” is what I think I recall being a core piece of advice for living with a 3-year-old (from “Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy?”).I actually blogged about my 3-year-old and our desperate need for some discipline about 2 weeks ago, and in the interest of time I invite you to check it out, especially the extremely helpful comments from several Moxites:
    http://husheveryone.blogspot.com/2010/11/discipline-it-takes-lot-of-work.html
    This parenting gig is HARD! Hugs to all of you in the trenches. Can’t wait to hear what @Sharon the Mommy Mentor/Proactive Parenting has to say!

  10. @Johanna – re: whining “I can’t hear you when you use that voice.” Then ignore until she stops. Reiterate as often as necessary that you will not listen to whining. Not a magic bullet but it cumulatively has an effect.Limit testing – you physically remove her from the situation putting her in time out. Explanation very terse. Other option is you take away something near and dear to her, not a lovey but a favorite game/toy/activity. You can’t negotiate in that situation just act.
    You are doing the right things, you just haven’t seen it pay off yet. It will. Right now you are making deposits in a bank and at some point you get to cash out. And the pay out is earlier than you will think – you’ll see results by age 4.

  11. I have a 6.5 yo and a 3.25 yo, so I’ve been there, and am there again. Decide what is important that she do/not do — and I’d agree with everyone else to keep it to the really REALLY important stuff (whatever that is to you) and make sure you follow through every single bloody time, no matter how much of a PITA it is. And follow through *immediately*.So, to use your examples — let’s say your rule is “we speak politely to each other” (ie no whining, but phrased as a positive rather than a negative). She whines at the table, you remind her of the rule and give her a chance to ask nicely for what she wants (you will have to prompt her for a while at this age). If she continues whining, remove her from the table. I put my kids in their room because we have a small house, but wherever works. They can come out when they are ready to speak politely.
    “We draw only on paper” — or whatever is acceptable to you — and then take the crayon from her if she gives you that look (and I know that look well!). We have a ton of toys in “time out” at any given time because I simply don’t have the space or patience otherwise. I am so friggin tired of stepping on legos and race cars, you know?
    I have found that my kids respond better if they get only one warning. Swift consequences and all that. If I draw it out, they try to push the limits even more. And I also make a point of complimenting them when they are behaving — as hard as it is to do, it really does make a difference.
    It’s exhausting, I know, and even harder when you have an infant.

  12. J — in response to your more detailed query my quick thoughts on the examples you give are as follows: on the whining, my son (3.5) does this too (maybe not to the same extent but in the same vein) and my response does vary some (but I try to be consistent based on type of complaint) but falls into 3 categories: (1) deal with it; (2) solve it yourself; (3) I’ll help you fix it (or fix it for you). So for me, your DD’s oatmeal problem probably fell into category 2 or, if she didn’t implement that, category 1 (unless I’m missing something about how hard it is to move an oatmeal bowl). For another example if my son is fussy about the way his clothes are aligned under his car seat straps, he generally gets (3) from me for 1 attempt, followed by (1) if that doesn’t fix the problem. But if we’re already underway, then he gets (1-2-3) [I can’t help you while I’m driving, see if you can fix it yourself, and if not, we’ll deal with it when we get where we’re going.]. I’m not perfectly consistent on this, but the other rule is he only gets my help if he tells me what he needs (versus just wailing), and ongoing wailing results in his being sent to his room and told to stay there until he can “stop making that dreadful noise.” Ongoing wailing in the car so far results in my rolling the back windows down, which I tell him makes it so I can’t hear “that dreadful noise” (not true, but oh well) and, on brisk mornings, I hope makes him uncomfortable (I’m in the US southeast, so there’s no risk of hypothermia involved, here! And maybe this is a bit childish of me, but honestly if he’s going to make me feel uncomfortable in a way that I can’t stop, I want to return the feeling a bit. The other night when he was whinging in his car seat and we were driving home and I knew he wanted to *get* home, I drove right past our house. That got his attention and he asked what I was doing and I said I wasn’t going to go to our peaceful home until he quit whining … and he did.As for the drawing, I’d just take the drawing implements away immediately with a “you know there’s a rule against drawing on the walls” and keep them away for some fixed amount of time (it probably doesn’t really matter how much as long as it’s longer than the tantrum that follows; one nice thing about this age is that they really have no sense of time so if I tell DS that he cannot have X back for an hour and then he’s being an angel in a 1/2 hour I can hand X back and say, “OK, the hour’s up, but remember you have to do Y [I try to focus on telling him what TO do not what NOT to do as the latter seems to produce the very behavior I’m counseling against, often] or I will take X away.” Of course if I say “You can’t have this back until after dinner” or tomorrow, or whatever time category he can recognize, then I have to stick with that.
    I also do a lot of, “After you X, I will Y,” where X is something he’s malingering on and Y is something he wants me to do. I find it’s important to be specific and concrete (After you put those legos in that box I will read you a book / let you watch a Itsy Bitsy spider on you-tube / sing “It’s raining it’s pouring) as broad tasks (After you clean up the room) are too vague for him (and perhaps me) to be sure when they’re done.
    I’m not dealing with also have a 4-month old, and I’m sure that complicates matters tremendously, equally sure that there are a dozen irritating things your DD does (ditto my son of course) that the concrete examples above won’t help with. But I hope there’s something useful in there anyway. Also: tough stages; this too shall pass!

  13. Just at 2.5, so I don’t know if I have anything to add. One thing I’ve learned over the last few months is that I have to adapt to the discipline that will work for him. For example, timeouts are meaningless to him (I’m also not that crazy about it, for a couple of reasons). TO feel like the easiest thing to me at that moment, but they don’t work well because they don’t bother him. Therefore _I_ have to think harder to find something else. The game thing really, really works with him. When irritated or trying to get things done, I am generally NOT good at being playful. However, if I can take that extra moment to create a game, then it all goes so much easier. Especially if I can think of the game before I get irritated at common trouble spots, like getting out of the house or away from the playground. If I can’t think of a game at the moment, I try to remember to rack my brain later to come up with one for when that moment arises again, as it usually does.

  14. Oh, and another tactic that I’ve found works wonders — letting them be in control of as much as is feasible for you. I’ll often ask my son if he wants green beans or broccoli with dinner, for example. It doesn’t matter to me what veggie we have most nights, so why not let him decide? My 3 yo has been picking out his own clothes and dressing himself for at least 6 months now — sure, his outfits are eye-catching sometimes, but in the scheme of things in my life, it doesn’t matter.He gets to be in control of some things in his life that are important to him (who knew that one’s day could be significantly improved by wearing Lightning McQueen unders instead of dinosaur ones?) And I make the big decisions about health/safety/manners.
    I mean, he’s still a little sh*t sometimes, but that’s to be expected, right? Right?

  15. I haven’t had a chance to read the posts yet, but I want to know: Why does it get better around 5? I look so forward to 5, as I saw my nephew become a caring sweet good friend/cousin.

  16. We’re only at 2.5, so I don’t have anything to suggest (only fear of the next 4 years). I want to thank @msai for the “babysitter check” concept. I’ve loosely done the same thing but more from the perspective of “if my husband was doing this/talking to the kids like this/throwing that spoon across the room in frustration, would I ask him about it later?” It’s helped me redirect my energy when my buttons really get pushed, and swallow a lot of responses that come only from temper.My 2.5 year old right now is in a phase of telling me not to yell at him (even when I’m truly not, just using a firm, authoriative voice), and I’m having trouble coming up with a good answer to that.

  17. Yeah, this.I have an almost-4 and a recently-2. I have no idea how to handle it, some days. I swear, my daughter (the almost-4) is a marvel in every way … you’d just never know it to meet her.
    I drink a lot. Heh.
    Loving the BTDT and advice on this stage. Keep it comin.

  18. Knowing that this is just a stage and that someday she might stop being like this all the time…light at the end of the tunnel!I think the key is really staying calm (getting an emotional reaction out of you is fun), coming up with reasonable consequences, and following through. My friend never follows through and has the whiniest child I’ve ever met.
    Threatening the toy rather than the behaviour also seems to work really well. Taking a toy and putting it on a high shelf is really easy to do calmly, and it is a nice immediate consequence that doesn’t hurt anybody. Also if you phrase it along the lines of “this toy is causing problems” it works better than “you are being bad” because they don’t get the “I’m bad” idea in their head…they just go find a new toy (after throwing a tantrum…but there’s no avoiding the tantrums…my only success has been insisting that the tantrum should happen in her bedroom rather than in the rest of the house).
    But yeah, this stage feels like it has been going on forever, and I really want it to be over. I read a fantasy novel (Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley) where kids around this age started to use “baby magic” which could be destructive, and had to be sent off to stay with the local fairy for a couple months until it passes, because she will be able to cope with the crazy behaviour. It is totally boarding school for toddlers and would be awesome…

  19. Such a timely post for me, with a girl who will turn three shortly and become a big sister around the same time. Nothing new to add, but just wanted to say thanks to the experienced mamas who lived through this phase and offered suggestions. Dealing with my daughter would be exhausting enough even if I weren’t pregnant and grumpy.

  20. Meaghan, does he have the words to identify ‘firm’ vs. your normal tone or yelling? My same age son will identify something as hot, even if it is merely a little warm and I think it’s because he doesn’t have the word to describe the in-between. Perhaps try playing with him one day with different tones, such as ordinary, firm, and yelling, and tell him what each tone is called? You can take turns with the volume and have fun with it.

  21. This post is oh-so-timely for us too. While we’re not yet at 3.5, the infamous terrible twos seem to have descended upon us at 2y5m. Hello 20 minute tantrum when I turned off the Sesame Street videos (with due warning I might add) for dinner.The kid was so red in the face from screaming and crying so much. Didn’t want to be consoled AT. ALL. He finally came to the table to sit on me while I ate. Then he BF and calmed down and was ready to eat his dinner. Not two bites in he says in a coy little voice ‘Abby. Elmo.’ Really?!?!?!!!
    Uh, no, not until tomorrow AM. The crazy thing was we could see that during the tantrum he couldn’t stop himself. You could tell that he was confused about why he was still screaming.
    Anyhow, I decided that we had to avoid videos after we get home at the end of the day because it’s always a battle of wills (whereas in the am he’s much more willing to turn off the videos with a bit of warning). Yesterday when we got home he went into his ‘Abby. Elmo.’ routine and I just kept saying (in a pleasant but fairly netural voice) ‘Yeah. We’ll watch them tomorrow am. Why don’t we X now?’
    So he’d go on to the new activity – puzzle, book, whatever for about 5-10 mins and then back to the Abby. Elmo. request. I kept redirecting him and amazingly it worked. There were some moments where I thought he was going to have a tantrum, but it never escalated that far. I must admit I felt pretty good for sticking with it (even though the repeated requests were totally annoying). And even better, DH even said ‘Nice redirecting’. Encouragement is good.
    Though I also must admit that at one point I also thought ‘OMG, this is like terrorist negotiation…trying to keep everything even keel. It takes so much energy. How am I going to sustain this long term?!!’ At the end of a busy/hard day, with multiple tests on our limits, it’s hard to pull up that extra energy. Our evening was much smoother though than the previous night, and I will try it again tonight.
    I think this stage will definitely test me in my ability to mean what I say and then follow through.

  22. “She attempts to draw on the wall, I ask her not to.”This phrase really stuck out to me. Drawing on the walls is serious (to me anyway).
    “We don’t draw on the walls.” I take crayons, put them away. Kids this age do not need long explanations or justifications. They need to know what is acceptable or not in simple terms.
    “I don’t understand that voice” Say it 20 times if you need to. I still do this, and my kids are 8,6,almost 4, but it only takes once or twice now! (I’m at the sibling bickering stage, but that’s a whole other post.)
    Like others said, offer choices and definitely pick your battles. However, kids need to know that certain behaviors are serious. For example, if I’m asking them to pick up toys, I would say, pleasantly, “let’s pick up our toys”. However, I have a friend who uses this same tone when her kid bites. “Oh honey, that hurts”. Are you shocked that she stil bites? Use a very serious tone, “WE DON’T BITE” and instant removal from the situation.
    Sorry if I come off bossy here, but I’m just coming out of it for the third time!
    @MLB I think we might be Moxie-sisters.

  23. Lisa, I think it’s a developmental thing, like the Wonder Weeks. Because it seems to be timing-based and not have anything to do with where they are wrt school. It also seems like lots of them have a particularly clingy and/or heinous last-hurrah stage for the months before they turn 5.You guys are all so thoughtful.
    Sharon, thanks for picking this up! I was going to ping you on FB to ask you to stop by but but was finishing a work thing.

  24. Lots and lots of great support and ideas here. I especially like the “babysitter checkin” and the “making deposits in the bank for future payout” concepts.G will be a 3yo next week. He’s not hugely tantrumy, but hooo boooooooy defiant. If he physically hurts me (often, but mildly) or drives me to infuriated tears (only once) he completely disregards my anger or sadness. He laughs and becomes even wilder. This is the behavior I don’t know what to do with. Timeouts stop the behavior and give us both a break, but I don’t feel like there’s any kind of an effective “repair” or learning in the ensuing follow-up chat.
    Is that just the phase taking over, and I need to get through it? He’ll develop more empathy/sensitivity later? Or will he be a sociopath at 14?
    It’s hard, b/c he’s incredibly verbal, so my expectations about his comprehension are probably too high.
    The lack of empathy for ME and my feelings is my #1 frustration and sadness right now. I see so many other kids his age around us that actually care about what their mothers think, ie., have a visible quasi-appropriate response to discipline. I don’t expect him to be an angel, but I expect him to care about what I’m saying, even if he doesn’t choose to comply.
    Thanks everyone!

  25. J, thanks so much, now I can help. Please forgive misspellings, and the direct nature of this post, I’m on deadline. Feel free to continue asking questions and I’ll check back as often as I can today. This is a long post. Sorry.The collision between emotional and independent feelings is the back drop to what’s going on here. Your child has an unconscious conflict about which way to react, be bold and not listen or fall apart and whine?
    What’s needed for everyone in the family to survive this stage is for mom and dad to realize that there are two ways to decide how they want handle things like this. Most parents decide on how they want to “handle” things, timeout, discussion, whatever. I think there’s another choice. The other choice is how do I want to “look” at situations like this. Let me explain.
    If a parent decides I will “handle” all whining with timeouts, they can easily box themselves in and cause everyone more stress.
    However, if you decide, *when I hear whining or not listening I will see it as an expression of feelings and remember that my child is way to young to be fully articulate when emotional so she uses being overly emotional or disobedience as her way to express herself* you will be responding and have less stress. By deciding to look at feelings as the root cause, and not the expression of the feelings, i.e. whining or not listening, you open up your world.
    Now you can decide: “I’ve had no sleep, I’m letting this slide.” or “I’m really ready to stop this behavior now, and I’m willing to live through my child’s emotional outrage that I’ve stopped her!”
    If you were just focusing on the whining or not listening and used timeout or whatever you use to handle situations like this every time it comes up no matter what, you won’t be able to resolve the true root cause, and it continues to return and return.
    Yes, the stage will end and the behavior will subside, but how much emotional residue will be left?
    Will the child feel as if she hasn’t been heard? If so, she will drag the need to feel heard into the next developmental stage. And it too is a whopper. But when you look for the root cause of a situation you’re able to respond to your child. She feels heard and doesn’t drag unfinished emotional business forward into another situation or phase.
    Yes, each stage produces misbehavior, that’s childhood. Each stage also requires parental teaching. There’s no perfection in families, no one answer. Ages 0-18 requires parents to be the loving, respectful authority, so that kids can be kids, and act out so they can learn.
    Let me use your examples to show you what I mean.
    1. NEW BABY: A new baby cries and a 3 yr old sees that mom and dad focus 100% of their attention on crying baby. 3 yr old knows she’s too old for that type of crying, so she unconsciously uses her form of annoying behavior – whining! Her whining causes you to shift your focus away from baby to her.
    She’s willing to take the parental reaction, what ever it is in your home, because she’s used to that, she experiences it daily.
    Solution to try: Empathy. “Wow, you really don’t want that oatmeal there do you? You want your lovely to go there. Can you do it or do you need us to do it?” Handle the moment and let it pass.
    When her emotions are back in check is when you can have a talk about what kind of voice she should use to get what she wants. AND ask her if she was feeling sad that M and D were focused on baby? When a child is emotional, is not the time to get her to change her behavior…UNLESS
    2. She’s not listening. Now this is a different situation.
    Here again feelings are at the root. She keeps drawing on the wall to send you a signal, “you’ve hurt my feelings, you aren’t fully focused on me, there’s a new baby here. I’m going to make you feel what I feel. I won’t listen to you when I’m drawing on the wall. See what it feels like to not be heard?” This is her unconscious way to express her feelings, it’s age appropriate.
    When something like this happens is the time you expend your energy, NOW.
    This is when you act, when you apply conscious discipline. This is not the time for talking either. You say, “stop now!” If she doesn’t, you put baby down, showing her you are serious, and walk over and take all the crayons. Tell her she can have them back in 30 minutes and try again if she’s willing to use paper. You basically become silent and ignore her outrage that you stopped her. You can also be empathetic at this point too. “I would be mad too if I had my crayons taken away!”
    You can see that feelings are at the root of both situations, and that talking is not what happens 1st. Talking, discussing, going over the rules happens after things calm down, when she can fully hear you again. You don’t waste your energy talking in the beginning. You “see” that feelings are motivating the situation, and you respond to that 1st.
    I hope this makes sense and helps. Off to deadline, will check back soon.

  26. Does exercise help? I’m on a big dog whisperer kick. He says that if you wear a dog out with exercise, it’s much more responsive to rules and boundaries. Does that work for kids? My son is almost 2 so he hasn’t hit this stage yet.

  27. “I’m sorry, I can’t understand you when you whine.””You can whine/cry/have a fit if you want/need to, but it doesn’t change the situation.”
    Alternately, “If you need to whine/cry/have a fit, that’s fine, but but you need to do it over there/upstairs/somewhere else, because it’s bothering my ears.”
    Fitz-Hume, who loves oatmeal passionately and will go into these little paroxysms of glee (“Oh boy, Oatmeal! So yummy! Tasty and yeeeeeeeyicious!”) occasionally has these really lame micro-tantrums when I put oatmeal in front of her (“I caaaaan’t! I caaaaaan’t tryyyyyy iiiiiit!”) which…WTF, kid? Anyway, I just say “You don’t have to try it. You never have to eat anything you don’t want to eat, but if you need to whine about it you’re going to have to do it somewhere else, because the rest of us are trying to have a nice breakfast.”
    Whining is a pain in the ass. It’s not something you can really MAKE them stop doing, because it is completely under their control. I really think the only thing you can do is structure your response so that it’s in their best interest to choose to control it by making it spectacularly unrewarding for them.
    The book somebody mentioned (Your Three Year Old, Friend or Enemy, by Louise Bates Ames) is totally awesome. I like that it recognizes the fact that children at this age, as awesome and twee as they are, are also really effing annoying by design.
    I like some of the ideas behind the Love and Logic books, but I found them really preachy and full of examples that I found kind of implausible. It’s full of little paragraphs about how their kid used to do Obnoxious Thing A and they implemented Perfect Parenting Strategy B and BAM, Desired Result C happened immediately! Magic!
    …I don’t think so.
    As far as limit testing, drawing on the wall would be a one of those things that would draw the immediate wrath of OH NO, YOU DIDN’T! down upon them. The girls have tried that, and it’s an immediate revocation of crayon priveleges for…well, however long it takes for me to stop thinking “Jeez, really? Drawing on the WALL? Were these children raised in a BARN? Wait, *I* raised these children. SHIT!” That’s usually about a day.
    During that day, I leave the crayons where they can see them but not reach them. If they ask about them, I say “No, not right now. I think the crayons have to stay there for a while. We don’t draw on walls, we draw on paper.” I don’t taunt them about it or wave the crayons around, but it helps reinforce the issue if they can see them and we can talk about them calmly.
    The way I figure it is if they’re looking for limits, by golly, I’ll let them find them.

  28. Everyone – Thank you! I’m almost in tears reading your responses. So helpful.And – I should clarify – I was in a rush this morning and didn’t explain properly. She was not yet drawing on the wall, but attempting to draw on a piece of paper taped to the wall (artwork she had made and we had taped up). The instruction was to not draw on paper already taped to my beautifully painted wall (because she’s 3 – it would have ended up on the wall, too). 🙂 Had she drawn right on the wall, I would have jumped over the table to grab the crayon.
    Anyhow, THANK YOU again.

  29. pennifer,I’ve been having the same trouble with my 2 year old daughter- she thinks trying to hurt me is funny- laughs while kicking me, etc. When I try to elicit some empathy, I get either coy smiles or a blank look. Also, when I get really mad and end up yelling (like when she tried to wriggle off her grime in the middle of the street today). She always ends up laughing. I’m not sure if it’s a nervous laughter, or what, but it doesn’t seem like an appropriate response. Also, she’s turned defiance into a game, and now I have to wait for a “no” after every suggestion I make so I can suggest it again and get her actual response: “do you want a bite of Mac n cheese?”. “no”. “Mac n cheese?” “yes”.
    Partly I think anxiety about he impending birth of her baby brother is to blame, but I’m getting so sick of this behavior, it’s hard to rationalize it!

  30. I agree with so much that has been said. In addition to “I can’t hear what you’re saying in that voice” re whining, a more playful response is that we’d joke with our 3.5 daughter “did your regular voice stay in bed when you got up? Regular voice, where are you?” and pretend to call and hunt for it. She laughs. It tends to hit the re-set button for her. She knows there’s her “fussy” voice (which is whining plus some other grumpy types) and “regular” voice. Another thought re pushing limits is to recognize, recognize, recognize the cooperative behaviors, times she responds promptly, is a good listener, was patient, etc. It’s amazing how powerful that recognition has been at increasing those behaviors. YMMV, I’m sure there are individual differences in how much that registers for children– but it took conscious effort on my part to NOTICE those behaviors when I was feeling so irritated by the limits-testing stuff. Thankfully, at 4 years old, that seems to be easing off.

  31. @Chloe, I think that behavior is perfectly normal for her age. It’s called reptilian brain, and may be mentioned in the Your Two-Year-Old, Terrible or Tender (Louise Bates Ames). Anyway, the laughter when hurting is part of it.@everyone dreading these stages, LISTEN to Sharon. She is so right on about kids carrying their emotional baggage onto the next stage. It can be much easier in the next round of disequilibrium.
    Cheers and hugs to you all.

  32. @Chloe & Pennifer, my guess is that such reactions are completely age appropriate and in no way a reflection of defects in the child’s personality or psyche. My DS gets like this to sometimes when he’s in a bad place. One weekend he kept slapping me and laughing through my corrections. I don’t know why they react like that sometimes – for my DS it was like he was stuck and didn’t know how to react. Maybe they’re kind of horrified about hurting you/ disobeying & react by laughing. Anyway my DS is actually a very empathetic & sensitive child – he demonstrates this amply in other moods. And many toddlers just aren’t at the empathy place yet; it comes later. If you demonstrate empathy, eventually they will mirror it.I find Sharon’s take on this issue very compelling. We struggle with all this issues mentioned already with our 2.5 y.o. But I’ve noticed he has triggers – overtired, bored, or has low blood pressure, and definitely jealousy of his baby brother. In addition to great suggestions provided by others, we’ve found working on emotion words & concepts very helpful. We’re reading Llama llama mad at mama right now, and trying to get him to begin verbalizing his feelings, even though he’s a toddler & can’t explain or understand his emotions the way an adult does.
    We do find playfulness helpful. For example I can sometimes nip a tantrum in the bud by making a game – becoming a monster to tickle him or verbalizing his anger at me with a funny voice, usually as Max: “You say, ‘Mommy, I’ll eat you up!'” I say & he’ll giggle.
    Sometimes we just get stuck in a bad pattern that escalates behavior. Then I have to figure out which one of is stuck – sometimes it’s me because I’m tired and impatient, and sometimes it’s him. if it’s me, I find my husband if he’s around. If it’s him, I try to find a way of moving him to a different context. In a tantrum, picking him up, giving him his paci, moving him to a dark quiet room on my lap and holding him often does the trick, even though he can resist a bit at first. He needs quiet and closeness, we reconnect, and then we figure out a solution together.
    Those are on the good days, of course. I’m not that patient and I know I escalate things as a result. It’s hard. Really hard. Thanks for the suggestions, ya’ll!

  33. @ The Milliner – “You could tell that he was confused about why he was still screaming.”YES YES YES YES 1,000 TIMES YES. I’ve been trying to figure out what that look in his eyes is and it is totally “why is this scream still coming out of my mouth???”
    Ok, so now what??
    We are a pretty give-him-power house, although he does all of it with assistance there are a lot of chores that he “does” really well (his scambled eggs are SUPER cheesey). I’m working on giving him the words for some of the new stuff he is doing to resist (like dawdling because it is fun to hear a toddler say it).

  34. Everyone has given such great comments! FWIW, here are my thoughts (my son is 3.75 and has, of course, been testing limits a lot, though I wouldn’t characterize his temperament as difficult overall).1) I second the baby sitter recommendation from Ames and Ilg that someone mentioned before. You’re home alone all day with 2 kids? Sleep deprivation plus a 3.5 y.o.? You need a break, sister!
    2) Amen to picking your battles and giving your child as much control as possible over the little things.
    3) Actions speak louder than words with kids this age. They may trick you into thinking they’re rational little creatures, but as Sharon Silver points out, they don’t really get cause and effect and can’t fully articulate their complicated feelings. Also, Haim Ginott (my favorite!) points out that children simply cannot deal with words and logic when they are in the grip of strong emotions. So long explanations and negotiation don’t really work when you’re already in the middle of a situation; empathy and action are a better strategy. A 3.5 y.o. doing something you consider to be major and non-negotiable needs and often unconsciously welcomes physical intervention (i.e. picking them up and removing them or some object from the situation) with a simple statement of the rule and empathy for their reaction. It’s short, sweet and authoritative without being mean or drama-filled.
    4) Keep building and reinforcing physical and emotional connection through play (which I realize is tough given the new baby, but is therefore probably even more necessary). Lots of extra play in the “Playful Parenting”, “follow the child’s lead” style has worked wonders around our house. I realized recently that my son really wants and needs to rough house sometimes– I learned how to do it from watching him and his best friend interact. When he pretends to be a pirate with a sword cutting off my head, I used to say stuff like, “But if you cut off my head, how would I talk? And make your lunch?” or “Don’t go around cutting off people’s heads!” But, clearly, me being a wet blanket was not what he was after… what he wants is for me to whip out my pretend sword and say, “I’m a bad pirate, too! I’m going to get you!” Then we chase/tickle/pretend fight and laugh hysterically. I’ve noticed he often likes to play the “bad pirate” game or rough house on the bed (we have another game called “earthquake” 🙂 after we’ve been apart (e.g. at the end of the day) or after we’ve had some negative interaction (e.g. he hit and had to sit). It’s a way of playing out the concepts of being bad, fighting, being mad at mommy and mommy being mad at him as well as a way to physically and emotionally reconnect. With your daughter it might be different games and different styles of play, but I think the key is totally and un-judgmentally following the child’s lead in play sometimes.
    5) Finally, I’ll point to Haim Ginott again (my no. 1 parenting book recommendation is “Between Parent and Child”) who says parents have to learn how to take care of their own anger. You have a right to be angry and frustrated– kids are frustrating and sometimes they do crazy stuff. It’s ok to get mad and it’s ok to express your anger to your child, provided you do it in a healthy way. This was a big hurdle for me because I grew up in a family where feeling or expressing negative emotions made you a “bad person”, so I always felt totally awful when ever I got mad. I finally realized (after much therapy 🙂 that one has to acknowledge and take care of one’s own strong emotions. Learning to have empathy for myself and my own feelings has made me *much* more empathetic and patient with my child.

  35. Chloe, you are raising my son’s soulmate. Because he is EXACTLY LIKE THAT. He’s a lovely person otherwise but the kicking and NO make me insane, and I do that exact thing of “Do you want X?” “NO X!” Okay…”How about X?” “YES X!”This age is HARD. Moxie, may I request a re-run of my favorite post ever about 3 and a half year olds and the pain they cause? I have sent so many people that post.
    Everybody has already shared the strategies that worked for me…also, Raising Your Spirited Child is just a wonderful book if you have a kid who’s a bit of a challenge. One thing I picked up from there was to say yes as often as possible. I am leeetlle bit control-freaky and realized I was saying “no” all the time even when it could have been yes. I don’t know if it helped her any, but my stress level was lower!
    My spirited girl just about broke me when she was 3. Now, though, while she still tests me ALL THE TIME because that’s just who she is, she has also turned into one of the most interesting, funny, curious, bright people I know. I am SO glad I didn’t stick her on the curb with a sign that says “free” like I sometimes wanted to :-). Hang in there, administer frequent doses of chocolate or wine or Glee or whatever your thing is, and it will get better. They develop *different* annoying behaviors, but it gets better.

  36. Just piping to say that the chorus that runs through my head on an almost daily basis while parenting an almost 3 year old is “Cat’s in the Cradle” “My boy is just like me!”

  37. I don’t have time to read all the other comments right now (I’ll be back!), but I wanted to add that my lifeline has been Hedra’s Triads. For this age, it’s:Safe
    Respectful
    Kind
    I find that I am able to maintain my composure when enforcing these rules – it’s not personal, so I don’t get mad. I think the best discipline is done in cold blood, so these work really well for me.
    I think that at age 4, Dd is just on the cusp of SRK and the next triad, but I’m struggling with consistency thanks to the birth of Dd2, so we are rebuilding our foundation before moving on!
    (http://hedra.typepad.com/)

  38. J thanks for clarifying. I hope I didn’t upset you. :)Now you can see why I asked for details or *I* get things so wrong. It’s just how I work.
    I’m using your example to express my point, it may or may not have gone this way this morning.
    Think about what it looked like from her point of view. Looking through a child’s eyes is SO valuable. It’s a completely different point of view.
    The paper, even though it already had a picture on it and was taped to the wall was still an expression of her feelings. She was expressing, “I’m attempting to destroy something out of frustration that was important to you. You liked it so much that you put it on the wall. Now I’m frustrated and want you to know I’m mad, so I will draw, destroy or ruin this thing you think is beautiful.” She’s too young to have the full view, the view that includes the fact that she would have ended up drawing on the wall, but you certainly did! 🙂
    Maybe you can make a different choice about where art is displayed during these power hungry independent stages. Possibly create a board where she can draw on *her* pictures w/o destroying *your* wall. Chalkboards work nicely. Realize, that to a child her age, the picture is her’s to enjoy or destroy whenever she likes. What I do with my drawing serves as an expression of my feelings in the moment.
    I know so many kids who use their drawings as a way to take pleasure away from mom or dad. “You thought it was beautiful and put it up to be proud of me-well I’m punishing *you* now by destroying it, so there!” That’s all normal and age appropriate.
    Being a parent is hard. You have to take into consideration how a child sees things. That can mean needing to make a bigger deal out of something because you see the motivation underneath the action the child chose. Does that make sense?

  39. Oh! @David Smith – YES!!!! Everything I learned about parenting I learned from the Dog Whisperer. LOL. Not totally true, but there are a lot of carryovers. Exercise/fresh air work WONDERS for my spirited child. 🙂

  40. Sometimes when my son (3 and a half) is being especially dreadful, I just say: “I feel like being loving to you.” Then I will hug him or kiss him if it is appropriate, or just say something else tender. He will usually respond that he does not want to be loving and I tell him that is okay. But usually by that point at least some of the anger/whining/tantrum has been diffused.

  41. What books do people recommend? I just checked out Ames & Ilg Your 3 Year Old on Amazon, and the reviews are relatively negative.Thought that I might also check out ‘Talk so you your kids will listen and listen so your kids will talk” (or something similar).

  42. @Johanna thanks for clarifying. I admit I was a bit perplexed that you reported “asking” her not to draw on the wall but of course I know often describing the details of these adult-child interactions is (a) impossible yet (b) the details are what make them so grueling.Just to add two more thoughts to this mix, (a) when I send my son to his room he does occasionally fling things around in there violently. I let him. There’s nothing in there (touch wood, famous last words, etc.) he can destroy. But I do then make him clean up the mess … i.e. he’s allowed back out of the room while legos are still flung-all-over, but before we do “fun” stuff, I just calmly say, “Before you do X, I need you to go in and put all your Legos back in their box,” or whatever. But (b) when he’s wailing away in his room I will sometimes (if it seems unusually bad or he seems really upset and not just, you know, whingy, go in there and say, “Do you need a hug?” and if he needs one, I just go in there with him and give it to him and try to soothe him and allow him to calm down. So … yes to setting limits but also to supporting these not-yet-fully-in-control-of-themselves people.
    Also (c) my son is going to be a brilliant trial attorney, thus, I’ve learned to be careful with my language. “You need to go sit on the potty” produces argument (“Your honor, I object! This individual [pointing at me] has no inside information concerning the state of my bladder!”); “I need you to go sit on the potty” does not. In that vein @Pennifer, I wonder if whether than asking about the Mac-n-cheese you could just say, “Here’s some Mac-n-cheese if you’d like some” and put it down for your DD? Not sure where you are in the learning-to-manage-utensils, etc., process, so that may or may not work, but FWIW.

  43. The little guy just turned three last week, and BOY HOWDY are we there. My big thing is even when I’m giving in on something I feel like maybe I shouldn’t, he must ask respectfully. Yes, sometimes I let him boss me around and make me drop what I’m doing to come stare at him, but I always make him say “please.” This makes me feel like at least we have the illusion that I’m in control.Frequent phrases at my house are “Mommy doesn’t listen to whining/orders;” and “You don’t get to tell Mommy what to do;” I tell him that I am the boss of him and he is the boss of his lovey. He can tell his lovey what to do and put his lovey in time out (just not in the toilet, please) but he cannot do that to me. In his rational moments he’s definitely starting to figure out that he can make reasonable requests, but he needs to be respectful.
    I think, honestly, that at the heart of it, I follow Hedra’s three rules–safe, respectful, kind.

  44. Sam — the negative reviews of Ames and Ilg tend to be unhappy about the cultural assumptions about family dynamics (fair enough, but the descriptions of 3YOs is still spot-on) and the failure to provide fixes (it’s a developmental phase — you can’t fix it, you just learn coping/management skills).

  45. Sam, I love both. Ames & Ilg is very dated culturally (white parents, mom at home, dad at work, middle class) but if you realize that’s just a function of when it was written it’s my favorite kind of book: tells you what’s going on but leaves it up to you about how to deal with it. All that freakish behavior turns out to be very common.How To Talk is based on Haim Ginott’s work (Between Parent and Child is the best book ever written about kids ever in any universe) and gives a lot of strategies to try.
    So they’re two different books. Ames and Ilg will make you not feel like a failure, and How To Talk will renew your spirit to keep trying.

  46. @Heather, we are particularly enjoying our son’s pronunciation of dilly-dally.I am seeing several comments about timeouts not working because the kids don’t mind them and/or put themselves in timeout. My kid doesn’t mind them and occasionally gives them to himself, but they are still a good tool for our family. This is because they are literally used as a timeout for everyone involved. A chance to regroup and settle or calm down. They are also observed on the stairs, which are in the center of our living area, so he can still see us but is a little removed. Not a punishment but a discipline tool.

  47. RE: Drawing on the wallDoes it work to get huge pieces of paper and tape them over a whole area of the wall, and let the child know that this is their special drawing place? (And no where else!) I have heard of this idea, but never seen it in action…

  48. I’m in the thick of this now with 3.5 yo boy twins. Actually it seems to be getting a little better as we approach 3.75. For me the most important thing has been managing my own response. I choose my battles, tell them what’s acceptable, over and over again, I respond with empathy, label their emotions, use problem-solving and try to be consistent. But as others have said the hard part is controlling my own response. When one, and especially when both, are whining and screaming about something really stupid, or just acting like maniacs and not listening at.all. I used to fall into the red zone with fast breathing and eventually start yelling. I’ve really worked on checking my triggers and doing deep breathing, visualization (love the babysitter check. I sometimes imagine I’m being watched) and mommy time-outs when necessary. This makes me feel so much better, and I think it actually improves their behavior too, if I’m not freaking out right along with them. And I’m finally starting to see some results and some use of words (I’m angry because he took my balloon!) for which I’m very grateful.

  49. Oy vey — we’re in the midst of this here with twins who turned 3 in July. Seems like everything is a battle, a fuss. Lots of whining, lots of dilly-dallying. I feel like I’m so short with them, especially at the end of the day when my fuse is the shortest and they are resisting bedtime (and brushing teeth, and going potty before bed).Will read and re-read these posts with care so I can learn some new techniques for dealing with this phase!

  50. I have been racking my brain all day to try and remember what I did about this – I know it was awful, and I know I wrote to Moxie and you all were incredibly kind and helpful. I know there was a time when we offered Mouse a sticker for dealing with things without pitching a fit (I’m pretty down with rewards, it suits both our personalities). I know I screamed “just put your pants on!!” on more than one occasion and felt horrible about it. I definitely remember figuring out that some of the worst of it had to do with her not having an accurate mental model of what we knew (for example, throwing absolute conniptions when she didn’t want me to help put her jacket on – she had learned to do it herself, but I didn’t know that and she didn’t know that I wouldn’t know unless she told me). I remember her losing her sh*t completely and yelling that I’m the worst mommy in the world and she wished I died…and then realizing what she said and losing it even more.And I guess the whole point of this pointless comment is that it passed. A while ago, I’m pretty sure. And it didn’t really leave any lasting scars on either of us, or I’d probably have more memories about it. Mouse is now 6 1/2 and doing standard 6 1/2 year old sh*theaded things like waiting until I’m properly distracted before asking again if she can do the thing I just this minute said she can’t do. But one thing that’s happened is that *she* has learned to pick her battles. And how to reluctantly agree. And how to walk a mile when she’s tired, without complaining too much. So I guess, in lieu of practical advice, and a la Dan Savage, it gets better?

  51. When I was a whiney child and my mother said stop whining, I clearly remember not knowing how to stop, or what whining was exactly. for the last 2 years with 4.5 DD, I have been identifying what the whining is, even whining to illustrate, and modelling a sane way of talking asking. Can you say it like this? and then say it how I want to hear it, OR i just repeat what she has said in an acceptable voice, and she repeats that. The other word I didn’t understand for years was “disorganized”. I swear every teacher in elem. looked at the teacher’s report from the year before and wrote it down, never explaining/ showing what disorganized is, and what organized could be. I had a great vocap, just didn’t understand the concepts.

  52. I love the describing that all of you are referring to that has to be done with kids this age, it’s so true!It’s so important to let kids know what you want from them. They are blank slates. They’re emotional when they whine, we use the word whining. Children feel, adults assign the words. So when a child is really emotional they need to know *how* to change the feeling, not just that they have to stop the behavior.
    When you say stop whining, they can glean what the word means, but that does NOT mean they have the *details* to know how to stop whining.
    I loved who ever posted the description of how to let a child know what whining is. And to use a happy voice instead.
    If it isn’t possible to use a happy voice, and sometimes it isn’t, you can show them how to use a sad or frustrated voice to truly express the emotions that are motivating the whining. Anything to get them to stop that grating, annoying whining sound! Just being honest! 🙂
    This group is the best!

  53. We’re kind of old hippies with a 4 yr old who came along when brother and sister were in their late teens. Things are much different for this one than with the previous two.. We just do not fight with the little guy. He has never had a time out, never been ‘punished’. No, he is not running the show or walking all over us. We do stick to our guns on important things but it’s all enforced or managed with talk and patience (lots of it). Turns out that there is very little that matters enough to warrant strife and arguments. I know this likely sounds all airy fairy, idealistic, but learning to just relax about it all, let go of the control, and really just love the child has been an enormously freeing thing for the whole family.

  54. i taught my 2.5yo deep breathing to help her deescalate. i first taught her to pretend my finger was a candle, when she blew hard enough, she blew out the candle (and i bent my finger to signify the change in the “candle.”) i had to learn to time it just right, before she was in the throws of a meltdown. now that she gets it, i can just prompt her to take a deep breath when she’s frustrated (without the whole candle bit). it’s simple, i can do it anywhere, and it works for my kid (and my sanity!!).

  55. You know, JMOM I was thinking about that last night, while watching House, believe it or not. I thought, “what if I just do nothing but love her, act lovingly, sympathetically, can’t that teach loving behavior? I don’t know. I forgot about it all day until now, and I did not parent on that principal. Instead I told her her taunting of her friend embarrassed me, and that it was mean. Me, the one who always says, “you can only embarrass yourself”. Blah blah blah! New day tomorrow.

  56. I am so good at parenting this age until I suck and then I suck So. Bad. Like, every curse word you know bad. It is awful and those are the moments when I need the child’s real mother to show up and fire the terrible babysitter that is me. Sadly, then I remember that this is it for her and her brother and God love ’em, hopefully they’ll forget the worst parts.Things that do work in our home these days include sentences that start with, “Did you mean…” and “Wanna try that again?” We do lots of playful under-reacting to almost-freaking-out (you can’t walk to the bathroom? what if you’re… ON YOUR HANDS?) and that takes the edge off.
    But really, the thing that made the biggest difference for me (I assume that defiance and whining are inevitable and the only variable is the degree of suck I add to it, thus prolonging it) is this line: Mummy is feeling very angry and is about to scream and shout (insert monologue here about how I am feeling and how terrible it is and all the bad ways I’m thinking about handling it). I don’t know that the children give a flying-f*** but it helps my heart to hear my own self and say outloud how close I am to losing it. I would say screaming and yelling in my house decreased easily 60 – 70% once I added this to my repertoire.
    That said, posting these things usually jinxes me and I’ll be yelling myself hoarse tomorrow, but you know, God love ’em, hopefully they’ll forget most of it. Right?

  57. I’ve needed to put this out there for a while and this might be the place to do it.My 2yr 2 month old daughter is so challenging and tests me non-stop. I have a 5 year old who is pretty great and it makes her challenges all the more difficult. I know everything I could be doing to help make it through this stage, but I just don’t do it. Because, at this point ….
    I really don’t like her very much.
    And it makes it hard to want to find a nice resolution. And it makes it hard to not react to her challenges in a negative way. And it makes it hard to be her mom.

  58. Anon, I’m so sorry you are going through this! How hard for both you and your daughter!Can you have someone take your 5 yo for a day (don’t know your parenting situation, if dad or partner isn’t available, maybe a friend or relative) while you take some time to devote to some positive experiences with your daughter? IF you can get into a situation where she can just be free–go out to a big field and let her run around and pick up leaves, or an indoor playground where you don’t have time constraints to leave quickly. Even if you just stay at home and dance to silly music. I think rediscovering how much fun your daughter can be will help you out. It’s the theory of how much stronger our relationships are and how much more we like people the more positive interactions we have with them.
    I want to say this as gently as possible, but I’m sure she’s also picking up on your negative feelings and that’s increasing her behavior. I know with my own son we are either both calm and in a great mood, or we are both miserable and screamy. It is so easy to get caught in a feedback loop when one of us is having a bad day and it spirals down to both of us in tears. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is how to break out of that cycle. I think if you can find a way to feel more positive about your daughter you might find that her behavior starts to improve.
    I want to be clear that I don’t think this is your fault or you are a bad person or a bad parent. We feel how we feel, and children are incredibly challenging. They don’t recognize when you are at the end of your rope and back off. And you and your daughter might have different personalities, and you might always need to work a little harder at your relationship than you do with your five-year-old, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is how it is. But I’m sure you know in your heart that the extra work will be worth it.
    Good luck!

  59. Wait, it’s going to get worse at two and a half? ‘Cause I’m finding 22 months tantrummy enough, what with the meltdowns over wanting more, more, more and then none at all, and things being one milimeter off from their (apparently ideal, and only allowed) spot, and wrapping things in some impossible perfect, indescibable origami, and ballons, which se wants, wants, loves and then squeezes in sudden screams. We don’t accept ballons anymore, not even from the doctor, but everything else is just unpredictable. And the whinning, everything is life or death these days, especially moooommmmyy’s attention and rides on my laaaaap.I’m (sometimes successfully) using requests for other voice, mimicking and humor for the whine, but the tantrums are killing me. Most have her screaming her head off while I shake my head sadly, telling her I can’t help her until she calms down, then ignoring her a little (and that really kills me inside), then (if I have any energy left – which, did I mention the five or six wakings a night?) finding some gimmick to help her smile herself out of it. I think this is doing it right, but, hoo, boy.
    Part of it is, O. is incredibly *intense*, always has been, alert, interactive, *smart*, *happy*, loving, so, of course, dramatic. Part is probably only, late, child attention dependence (we give her room, but, well, parents of multiples tell us we don’t ignore her enough – and we’re chatty). But I’m slightly freaked out by the thought of another three years of this. Please somebody tell me their kid started early and finished early too!

  60. I’m in the middle of it right now. My oldest just turned 6 and he’s been developmentally delayed with his emotional maturity so he’s been trying my patience for a few years now (plus he’s defiant). My youngest is about to turn 4 and he’s driving me batshitinsane. I don’t even have words to describe him anymore (also, am sick). When things are really bad and he’s really testing me, my policy is to ask myself whether he’s hurting himself or others or breaking something – if not, then just let it go, Indiana.

  61. @Susana… “Wait, it’s going to get worse at two and a half?”Maybe.
    Maybe not.
    Deal with 22 months and don’t traumartize yourself with predictions for the future.
    My predictions for the future were bleak and dire when my kids were in their toddler/preschool years. And every one said “Oh, this is nothing, just wait and see. If you can’t cope with a 2 year old… blah blah blah.”
    It NEVER GOT WORSE. Okay, we had some bad days here and there… mostly on the dealing with doctors and dealing with schools front. But those early days were the hardest by far, for me.
    And the teens years were a breeze (although my little one does still threaten me that she has 5 months and some days left to give me grief before she turns 20…)
    So, be kind to yourself and deal with the now as best you can. Tomorrow is a mystery to us all. Toddler years and tantrums are really tough. You’re doing good, valuable work, right now. More power to you!

  62. @ Sam – I just wanted to ditto Moxie here. The Ames books ARE worth it, especially since you can get them for ONE CENT used on Amazon. The datedness doesn’t interfere with the significance of the information they give you. I also love Between Parent and Child, Playful Parenting, and Siblings without Rivalry (all books that were recommended by Moxie folks over the years).I don’t have anything more to add, but I had my own parenting fail this morning. My 2.5 son was giving us a really hard time about getting out the door to go to daycare and we both just lost patience and I ended up bundling him up and taking him outside in my arms, but in the process I hurt my arm, and I said, angrily: “Ow, that hurt mommy!” (though it wasn’t his fault), and by the time we got to the car, he was screaming and hysterical about leaving without me. I’ve noticed as I mentioned in my earlier post how much my toddler needs to reconnect with me emotionally when he’s in a bad state. He’s not the kind that can tantrum on his own; he needs to sit in my lap and be held quietly until we’re both calm. As others have said, me being upset makes HIM so upset. He’s very in-tune to my emotions. And this is hard on me, because I’m not a calm, patient person, and I worry all the time about how he’ll be affected by my moods. The worst is when you know what to do to make the situation better and you’re so tired and frustrated and angry you just can’t.

  63. @ Susana – I wouldn’t say 2 and a half or three is worse, just different. In my experience, the huge screaming tantrums have almost disappeared. And they disappeared without me really noticing. I supposed replaced with something else, like incessant whining or more likely a better ability to articulate his wants and needs without having to throw himself down on the floor. I know they are mostly gone because he had a super huge meltdown leaving the beach the other weekend and I realized it had been a really long time since I had seen him rolling on the ground screaming, so long I thought to myself how out of character it was for him.Three going on three and a half challenges me just as much as all the ages and stages prior have, but I also find it to be a really enjoyable stage because of the ability to talk with him and discover how he sees the world around him.
    Parenting fail confession:
    Yesterday on the ride home we are talking about tomorrow, Wednesday, being chicken nuggets at school so if he wanted I’d get him school lunch. He said chicken nuggets were on Friday. (At this point I should have just let it go, the name of the day was irrelevant but nooooo). I say, no, Wednesday is chicken nugget day. He starts whining. Literally making some high pitched whining noise. OMG. I lost it. I not very nicely told him I couldn’t believe he was whining over being able to choose his lunch. I even used the word stupid. Not in reference to him but still. It’s hard. Day in day out I make mistakes but from what I can tell he seems to be surviving and even thriving despite my bumbling efforts.

  64. @Anon – Who said she really doesn’t like her 2-year-old daughter very much, and that she knows everything she could be doing to help make it through this stage, but just doesn’t do it. I’m proud of you for being able to verbalize it. Do you realize how many mothers go for years being in total denial about not liking or really caring for a child? So this may sound odd, but it is really a great thing that you are aware of it and can say it. I’m sure it is hard to find support IRL for folks in your situation – and BTW there are sooo many, but given our society’s maternal taboos, no one ever really talks about it.I honestly think a mother in your shoes could benefit from meeting with a therapist to figure out how you got where you are now, and what contributing factors there could be from your own childhood that need some care and some resolution. You are worth it. For your own peace of mind – don’t allow this dynamic to continue – you will regret it in your later years, and you will wish you could go back and do things differently.

  65. I’m confused about people’s complaints about time-out. Two complaint’s I’m seeing about it are that the child enjoys it, and that they don’t seem to learn a lesson. I don’t see anything wrong with those.Let me explain: I see time-out as primarily a interruption-redirection. If my kid enjoys that? So be it. I’m not punishing, I’m disciplining. I haven’t yet found a use for punishing that has anything to do with my kid — it only has to do with my frustration. The purpose of time-out is to get the kid to quit it, not to make the kid suffer. I’m not convinced suffering prompts anything more than resentment.
    As for learning a lesson . . . I think that takes time, especially when you’re dealing with toddlers, who often can’t wrap their minds around whatever concept is at stake (sharing, for instance). What I do is repeat myself a lot: First there’s a time-out, then there’s a statement of a rule, if applicable (“We do not throw our food on the floor”)*, then we go back to life as usual. We might do this daily for a few weeks, and then it usually takes. In other words, he doesn’t instantly learn the lesson; he learns it over time. I don’t know of many adults who learn lessons instantly, and I think kids need to practice lessons to really learn them.
    Full disclosure here: my child is not quite 3, and is in daycare (boy, that takes off pressure). I didn’t particularly like the model of punishment (it wasn’t discipline) that I grew up with and that I still see at work in my family. I truly believe that children need to learn and develop self-control, and that punishment** only feels like it’s accomplishing that goal: punishment feels like you’re doing something, because there’s a more instant, tangible result. I just don’t think the result is the right one.

    *(Actually, if he’s throwing food on the floor, there is no time-out: just a natural consequence of his having to pick his food up from the floor.)
    ** I’m not talking about taking away a toy that’s causing problems here; I’m talking about taking away a toy to hurt a child. It’s the hurting part that makes it punishment; it’s the hurting that prompts the instant but wrong result.

  66. Can I just add — 5 is glorious! So funny and independant and chuck-full-of-personality. And only winey when starving… so, snacks are liberal!!

  67. So, just wanted to report back that we’ve had success for two evenings in a row in acknowledging but not giving in to the watching videos request. Now if only we could get sleep in line again. 5am wake up this morning. Not impressed.@Chloe, I can totally empathize with the hitting/laughing thing. DS does this with me rarely, but intensely when he does. He likes to pinch me (nose, chest, whatever he can get) REALLY hard. And he’s laughing. I almost always react by yelling partly because I’m caught off guard, and man, it HURTS! I find it very difficult to alter my behaviour to handle the situation differently when he’s like that. I think I should probably use the technique of just putting him in his crib or room and walking away (which worked wonders when he bit me while BF. Only happened 2x and he got the message loud and clear). But sometimes I can barely wrestle him off me. His grip is strong!
    @Heather/Cobblestone, When I noticed DS reaching the point of ‘OMG, why am I screaming again, and why can’t I stop?’ I offered him some help again in calming down (i.e. just sitting with me). I think shortly after that he did come to me and want to sit on my lap even though he was still crying (though not as hard). Whereas earlier, when I offered help he wanted none of it. I think he just had to work off some steam at that point. I’ve always liked the concept that it wasn’t my job to stop the tantrum, but I could support DS in figuring out how to stop it himself, if that’s what he needed.
    @BlueBirdMama, Wow, that is an awesome realization regarding roughhousing! Tucking that in the back of my mind.
    @Johanna, Reading your clarification about the colouring on the wall, I’m wondering if an easel might solve that issue (if it’s a recurring one), and at least remove one challenge from your days? Colouring standing up is actually easier than with the paper on a table. Much easier to see what you are doing. And in fact, it also encourages using the full arm to draw/paint – which is what you want to do with drawing and painting, vs. doing smaller movements using your wrist. Our DS has done exactly the same thing. The only difference for us is that it is on the side of a melamine cabinet which can be easily wiped down, so while I corrected DS, it wasn’t that big of an issue for us that he went over the edges (which he did, and, um, the marks are still there…). Anyhow, just wanted to throw that out there.
    @David Smith and @Laura, Oh how many times the Dog Whisperer ‘shht’ has escaped my mouth when correcting my 2.5 yo. Ooops?
    @Lisa, Don’t you just love it when you contradict yourself. I have found myself in this boat more than once for sure. A new day indeed.
    @ACJ, Just might have to steal your monologue idea. When I have completely lost it I really have a hard time stepping back and pausing to consider my next action. The monologue might feed my need to express my frustration while giving me enough time to calm down to react in a more responsive way instead of reactive (to borrow @Sharon’s approach 😉 ). Something to think about.
    @Erin, We also have the going to / leaving daycare issues, getting in the car issues, no, it’s not time to go to the park issues etc. It ebbs and flows, so this week, not so much of an issue. He likes to do the wet noodle thing. Which, when it was a bit warmer and not rainy, I just let him lay on the sidewalk. He thinks it’s funny. Now, if it’s wet or if I don’t have time I just pick him up and put him in the car. I’m usually pissed by that point so I have super human strength to pick him up despite him being a dead wriggling weight. And I hear you on the being so tired and not able to parent the way you want and think you should. Which is why…
    I heart @Sharon! Sharon thanks so much for explaining the redirect to looking at feelings vs. actions. I think to a certain degree this is how I operate instinctively. BUT, I was feeling bad and guilty for letting things slide when I’ve had no sleep or am sick – my two biggest triggers for loosing it.
    Also, it explains in more concrete words why I don’t apply the same technique all of the time (even if the ‘rules’ around certain things stay the same). DH tends to be of the ‘we said this, so we’re doing this’ camp and I’m more of the ‘what’s appropriate in the situation with all given factors’ camp. Not to say that sometimes I don’t cave when I should be standing firm. This is my thing to work on. But it does help explain why I actively choose to let some stuff slide sometimes and will act on it at other times.
    So, for things like tv/video watching (and when to turn off), I’m more likely to respond to the situation that day. But for things like hitting the dog or pulling the cat’s tail, it’s always a no go with removal from the situation and showing DS what to do instead.

  68. @ Schwa de Vivre – yes. time out in our house is about discipline, so he needs to stop doing what he’s doing or get in a different mind frame to be able to do what I need him to do like get dressed in the morning. so if he’s playing with his toys until he’s ready to do x,y,z, then so be it. I don’t see the need him to be flogging himself for the time out to be considered effective, I need him to stop or start some other behavior…for the umteenth time most likely.

  69. @Schwa – I agree with you about time outs. I never think of myself as using them, because I associate them with “punishment” and I’m not that interested in punishing DS (making him feel bad, think about what he’s done, learn a lesson, etc). But I do find that removing him from a situation, sometimes in dire meltdowns, putting him in his crib for a few minutes and leaving the room, – well, it can work wonders. And one time I made a reference in passing to a ‘time out’ and he latched on to it. One night we were getting ready for bed and he was really fighting it, crying & unhappy. He crawled onto the rocking chair and sat there, then said to me “I in time out now.” So I waited quietly with him, and then he got down, and said “I happy now,” and cooperated with me. Perfect.@the milliner – I also do the ‘respond to the situation’ approach. to me, it’s like “sleep training.’ you read the books and they tell you deviating at all will ruin your child, and then you just get desperate and creative, and you see that it doesn’t ruin your child at all, and different approaches for different situations can be the best method.

  70. @Mom2Boy, We get caught in similar spirals with our 2.5yo. One of the adults says ‘Oh, look, there is a gorilla’. And DS says ‘No, goo-la-la’ (his pronunciation). So we say ‘Yes, a go-ril-la.’ DS: ‘NO, GOO-LA-LA’.* If we’re catching on quickly that day we either agree with him or let it slide. If we’re not catching on we insist on the correct answer. A few tantrums have started this way, for sure.*OK, this is a bad example. It’s happened with words but my sleep deprived brain can’t remember which words they were – more compelling examples anyhow.
    @Schwa de Vivre, I remember reading somewhere that this was the challenge with time-out as a technique. That often it was used incorrectly (as punishment) vs. being used as a way to discipline and to change the dynamic of what is going on. My full disclosure would read similarly to yours, though I didn’t grow up with the punishment model.
    And ITA that ‘punishment** only feels like it’s accomplishing that goal: punishment feels like you’re doing something, because there’s a more instant, tangible result. I just don’t think the result is the right one.’

  71. @pennifer – Yes, yes and yes, about the empathy. As bad as this sounds, I would LOVE to see some sadness or regret over my anger/disappointment etc, when she does something not good (e.g., hit the dog, not listen to the teacher at school).@Sharon – I gotta say, we do the ‘feeling/hearing/lovey’ thing ALL DAMN DAY with her. “I bet you feel X”, “I heard you, you want to do Y”, “I understand you are mad at mommy b/c I wouldn’t let you do Y” etc, etc, etc. Frankly, it’s starting to drive me nuts, and it’s wearing down my emotional energy like you wouldn’t believe, especially because I’m getting NOTHING back (see point above).
    I feel like everything that comes out of her mouth requires action on my part these days. We were making progress on requests rather than demands. E.g., ‘Will you bring me a tissue?’ instead of “IIIIII neeeeeed a booooogiie wiiipe” (wailing). I’ve started a lot to answer her with the 1-2-3 method someone stated above…basically, I heard you, now what are YOU (not mommy) going to do about it? I mentioned to my husband how it’s amazing to me that a little of the social niceties would go such a long way in oiling my interactions with her. I just have days where I’m irritated with her all day, and can’t disconnect from her long enough to calm down and reset. I recognize that I’m annoyed, but all I can think about is how very annoying she’s being.
    The last straw is that the only time she plays independently and quietly is when she’s trying to hide the fact that she’s pooped/peed her pants, which is probably the case right this very moment b/c I’m writing this whole post without interruption, so now I’m going to go check. UGH.
    I sincerely hope this peaks at 3.5yo, b/c I can’t take it much longer.

  72. @Schwa de Vivre The way you described punishment -couldn’t have said it better myself.@JMom I lived that life with my two as well. A ton of talking about feelings. I can’t remember more than one punishment for each of them, situation really required it!
    Mostly I took things away, and said, “Since you were unable to be respectful with something or (some value) I hold dear, I think it’s important for you to understand what not listening feels like for a day or so. I’m sorry love but you won’t be able to …fill in the blank.
    That was always met with “oh no… and I am so sorry mom. I get what that feels like. I will do my best to respect your things or wishes.” AND they did. And no, my kids were not easy or angels.
    My frustration is mine. It’s tipped off by my child’s behavior, but my frustration is mine. I had to ask myself, “Self (LOL!), why are you so upset, so quick to be frustrated and mad?”
    I had to search for what my truth was in the situation. Does it really have anything to do with my child and what he did or was it just set off by what my child did?
    Hope that helps. This question and all of you have inspired me to discuss this today, Wed. on my Momtv.com show. Come on by if you like. 1pm est. It’s called Stop Reacting, Start Responding. http://bit.ly/dxZolm
    I ♥ you too the Milliner!
    I’ve missed posting here, and hope to be around a bit more now.

  73. Agree with the first commenter. Choose the policies most important to maintain, make them clear and follow through consistently on those. Offer flexibility in other areas.

  74. @Cecily T You’re trapped in the, (forgive me and this will probably make some of you mad-sorry, not my intention) touchy-feelly type of responses. A 3.5 is hard. She needs to learn and she is belligerent. Being touchy-feely is GREAT, and works iMHO after the hot developmental phases are over with.I believe in unconditional love. But my description of unconditional love is different than most. I believe it means, I’ll always love you no matter what, and part of my love for you is that I will not allow you to speak to me that way. Please try again or you can wait in your room until you are ready to try again.
    Those feeling words, I hear you etc., work *really, really* well when the child has mastered the fact that she’s not allowed to get away with this behavior any more.
    If you use those phrases during the *hot* times, you’re showing her she rules the roost. You show her there are few boundaries here. She sees “I get to use that tone of voice, and all mom says is she understands and *asks* me try again. There is no action taken, if I don’t try again nicely, mom doesn’t stop me or make me change my behavior. See the difference. The difference is how the child sees it, not how we adults see it. We have to play to how they see it to make changes.
    At 3.5 parents are laying the foundation boundaries that will be crucial in the coming months and years. Her reaction to your actions is her reaction. You can’t stop her reaction. And you shouldn’t stop your action. Yes, it needs to be loving and respectful action, but action nonetheless. Using touchy-feely words when your truth is “I’m mad, I don’t like this and I want this to stop now.” is a lie, and a child can *feel* the lie and won’t respond.
    I hope that makes sense, I did that pretty fast.
    I *have* to go right now and get ready for the MOMTV.com show. I will check back afterwards OR join the show and let’s discuss this.
    Be back to see how many are mad at me in 2 hours! LOL!

  75. I know this sounds crazy, but thing that has worked the best for all three of my kids to put a stop to the whining is to focus on their feelings not their behavior. “You REALLY want that juice don’t you” in a kind voice stops the whining 90% of time on our house. I think sometimes three-year-olds just want to feel known.A calm “You can do it or I can help you” has always been pretty successful to get the kids to do what needs to be done. Sometimes I say “you can do it yourself or I can help you. I’ll count to three while you decide,then I will help you if you haven’t chosen yet” – I almost never have to help.

  76. Anon, before you go into a field of flowers with your PIA 2 year old, YES, get therapy, get drugs. I did. I HATED being a mom, resented my husband for asking me to be, and would scream “shut-the-F-up!!!!” in my head, and fantasize about running away, plan it, etc. Also If there is any way you can get AWAY to refresh, and I think when you feel this way you feel you can’t leave such a difficult child with anybody, TRY TO GET WAY. Humble yourself and ask for help and let the helper know you are going to rip her head off. 3 days at a hotel. Better yet, in nature. Whomever you leave your child with will recover. There are nanny services you can put on a credit card.LOVE my zoloft, love it. It allows me to breathe, and make better decisions.
    WE LOVE YOU, so glad you said your piece.
    you are going to be okay, if you take the first step–just a look at therapists online, just an e-mail or text to a friend that you are struggling.

  77. @Susana – mine is 2.5 and I have to say it is much better than it was from 22 – 27 months. Not that a sucky stage isn’t right around the corner, but for right now we’re all in a good spot. Reading this is reminding me to savor it. This too shall pass.I’m also reading all this and thinking about an old prof of mine that said this stage is very similar to adolescence – struggling for independence, brain and body going through major developmental and sometimes confusing changes. Maybe, just maybe, I can set the foundation for then?? @Sharon – any thoughts??

  78. I want to throw a question out there about what we mean when we say “defiant.” To me this implies that children are supposed to subsume themselves to adults because they are adults, and what’s more they are supposed to know intrinsically that they are supposed to be doing this.Do we want our children to do what we say just because we said it or do we want them to follow our guidelines because mostly we have more information about the situation than they do? I think the answer to this question is not simple for most of us, and until we are clear on the answer for ourselves, we can’t really identify strategies that are effective to meet our goals.
    I know that I want my child to do what I ask because I have more information about what is appropriate,and I am typically willing to explain this to them. *Until* I am tired, and then I just want instant blind obedience dammit! And then I get mad because I don’t get. But the reason I don’t get blind obedience is because I haven’t taught that! Because when I am rested I remember that obedience doesn’t reflect my values (YMMV).
    So I have created the anger and frustration of the moment for myself because of my emotional inconsistency in terms of what behavior I want from my children.
    So developing strategies that work effectively for you rests on a foundation of really knowing what you want. Sometimes we want two things at once, and that is when our strategies are ineffective, because we are ambiguous in our intention and behavior.

  79. @Anon: It sucks to be caught in a bad dynamic with your kid. As @hush said, the fact that you can verbalize it is an important first step. You have every right to be pissed off and frustrated and, let’s face it, sometimes kids *are* annoying; congrats for being able to acknowledge your own anger and annoyance. A couple of things spring to mind. Moxie has said before that an important thing to separate the phase from the child’s character; i.e. a rough developmental phase with lots of defiance, tantruming, etc. does not mean your kid actually is and will forever be a defiant little sh*t. Telling myself, “My kid has a developmental need to test limits and experiment with certain behaviors right now, and nothing will help this phase pass faster than just keeping the limits in place and holding firm.” helped me through some rough months. That and a gin and tonic after he went to bed. Seriously.Also, as others have suggested, therapy helped me a lot. Whereas getting angry used to be, for me, a parenting catastrophe I felt bad about for days, now I can acknowledge and express my anger and frustration without getting tied up in knots about it. Just this morning I said to my son, “E., I’m really about to lose my temper. When I ask you to put on your shoes and you run away, I get SO frustrated. I need you to cooperate now.” He said, “Are you mad, Mommy.” I said, “Yeah, I am. Now let’s put on your shoes.” I’m not saying it was a “pleasant” interaction, but a year ago I probably would’ve ended up screaming, he would’ve ended up crying and then I would have felt horrible all day. Therapy didn’t “cure me” and make me a magically uber-patient and perfect mother– but it helped me understand and take care of my own emotions and it took the edge off of my most intense reactions. It also helped me learn how to forgive myself when I do have an intense reaction (rather than spiraling down into “I’m the worst mother in the world” territory).
    @Schwa– love the punishment description. So helpful.
    @Sharon– just adore everything you say.
    @everyone– can I just say what an awesome community this is; this right here, the connecting and sharing and brainstorming on this site, has gotten me through many tough times and given me so many great ideas. Thanks, people and thanks, Moxie!

  80. @Sharon- “I’ll always love you no matter what, and part of my love for you is that I will not allow you to speak to me that way.” Wow! I love how you phrased that. I’m definitely keeping that in mind.

  81. All this is great. I haven’t read all the posts yet so please forgive me if I am repeating something someone else has said.The problem I have with my almost 4 year old is that time-outs or ‘removing’ her because of bad behaviour in general does not work. So that means I have to sit with her while she is considering why her actions were not acceptable. Although that is not an issue when it is only her and me, I feel that when her almost 6 y.o brother is around and the bad behaviour has been directed at him, it may seem that I am actually favouring her seeing I go with her to her room and leave DS alone in the kitchen. I do say in a loud voice, ok you have to go to your room because you have been silly/naughty whatever so DS understands that it is not becasue I think HE has been the culprit, but I do wonder if this is actually the right strategy, or if there is a better one.
    Apart from this though, I definitely see improvement in DD’s behaviour. A while ago when she was tantrum city I explained to her that if she was starting to feel ‘frustrated’ and felt some ‘naughty behaviour’ coming on, she could tell me and I would give her some extra attention or cuddles to help. She is now perfectly able to articulate her feelings and will say ‘Mummy, I’m frustrated'( usually frustrated is a synonym for ‘tired’, but no matter) and ask for some cuddles or go and lie down on her bed till she is feeling less overwhelmed. 6 months ago she would have had a massive freakout.

  82. Our child isn’t there yet (he’s still a wee baby), but I’ve taught Montessori preschool classes of 3-6 year olds for years – so I think I have a fair amount of experience in this area! (Though my colleagues reliably inform me that it all can go out the window easily with your own kids, so, y’know, grains of salt all around. It’s all easier said than done, that’s for sure!)Some things that have often come up for me with a classroom of children this age:
    *My students learn quickly that I generally don’t repeat myself when setting a limit. If a consequence is on the table, there’s no multiple warnings or threats – once they’ve figured this out, the testing tapers way off. (Why test if you already know the result you’re going to get?)
    *Do not, repeat, do not become emotionally involved when setting a limit. Well, to the best of your ability, at least. Being compassionate but firm: not agitated, overly engaged, or flustered goes a long long way to making the situation less likely to appear in the future!
    *Classrooms of children often go through cycles and I bet families do too. It happens over a period of weeks or months for a class and it looks something like this: 1.) You set a lot of limits very consistently and things actually start going smoothly for awhile. 2.) Everyone relaxes a bit and rules may not be as seriously enforced because, hey, everyone’s doing awesomely! 3.) The children notice this relaxation and start to test a bit just to see what will happen. 4.) Either the adults need to step up the limit setting a bit or things quickly escalate into near-chaos.
    *In Montessori we talk about “sensitive periods” that come with each period of development. The 3-6-year-old has what’s called a “sensitivity to order.” This is a very potent need! If this need is met through consistent limit setting (from ALL the adults in that child’s life!), an orderly environment, and predictable schedules/routines, some of the chaotic limit-testing can be mitigated. Not all, of course, but it truly makes a huge difference.

  83. Moxie, would you please expand on your theories about the really bad almost 5 stage? I don’t remember it at all with my oldest, but my middle boy 4 2/3 is REALLY struggling right now. Thanks!

  84. @ SusanaWe’ve got another set of future soulmates–my 22 month old son sounds so much like your daughter that I could have written your post verbatim. So you’re not alone and I also hope they’re just going through this early!

  85. Man, this post is so my life right now. My almost 3 1/2 year old is such a pain in the a$$ these days..Can I say that about my kid without sounding like a jerk? I love her, but man…she makes me work for it.Her pre-school teachers tell me that she’s lovely when I’m not around so I take advantage of that and use every opportunity to have her follow rules imposed by other people. For example, she will happily submit to having a clip in her hair when her ballet teacher requests it. So that’s the only time I ask her to wear a hair clip.
    I’m looking forward to when we get back to equilibrium.

  86. I read most of this discussion a few days ago but only now getting the chance to comment myself – my son is now 3.75 and the four months or so surrounding 3.5 were just absolutely awful awful awful. He was giving up his nap, too, which meant he was tired and I was missing my afternoon break (he does go to school in the AM)… Anyway, it just felt like every day from the minute he woke up to the time he finally stayed in his bed at night was a constant grueling test of my emotional, mental, and even physical stamina. He’s really a sweet kid, but this has been a hideous phase. Thankfully, we are already seeing a marked shift. There are still moments (and even days) of horribleness, but overall things are much much better.My biggest coping strategy was to stop myself for a second when he was doing something that made me mad and
    1. think quickly – is this a battle I want to fight right now?
    2. what is a reasonable consequence that *I am willing to enforce* for this behavior?
    3. inform him calmly of my displeasure at the behavior (with a brief reason if necessary) and the consequence.
    4. follow through with as little verbalization as possible.
    I find that saying out loud what I plan to do is as important for me as for him – it means I have a plan! Otherwise, I would spend all day afraid of what he was going to do next because I had no clue what to do in response! I feel there’s a problem if I’m living in terror of my own child and it’s required remarkable amounts of energy for me to prevent that in this “stage”.
    I agree with previous comments, Your 3 Year Old is dated (which provides some great opportunities to laugh!) and doesn’t have much in the way of “fixes”, but does make you feel like you’re doing an ok job of being a parent and that your child is not actually a psychopath. (My son still sometimes does that laughing when he does something really bad thing, but it’s getting better.)
    I blogged about the Your 3 Year Old book here http://whattherestimefor.typepad.com/what-theres-time-for/2010/09/things-are-always-changing-so-dont-be-sad-and-blue.html
    I also really like “Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child”, although I find a lot of the specific advice is geared towards older children, and 1-2-3 Magic has excellent discussion of why parental talking often short-circuits discipline with young children and how to avoid it.

  87. @ Charisse — thank you for that! I suspect that “bravery prizes”, whether in the form of actual prizes or just in the form of my overt acknowledgement that something that he did was really something he didn’t want to do, but wow, he did it anyway, would work fantastically well with my son, who seems to have a bit of my “panic because it *might* be dreadful” tendencies (rather than the “try it, it might be fun” tendancies I wish I had). In fact, I *know* it would work, because the few times I have mentioned how brave he’s been when doing something he doesn’t, or didn’t think he would, like, he’s seemed rather buoyed by that.@ Schwa de Vivre — “It winds up being a good gauge for how volatile our emotions are: if he can’t get through the process, then we need to give him more attention/affection/get him to bed. If I don’t crack up inside at ” . . . 12, 14, 14, 16 . . . 28!” then I need a time out.” — Yes! We don’t do any kind of timeouts with our son, BUT this whole process that you describe, the having something that lets everyone know how emotional all the players are, and whether (given that emotional state) it’s going to be possible to negotiate back to wherever you need to be, or if some of the players need to address some bigger hurts first, well, let’s just say, I need a something like that.

  88. @Aono, I just want to reiterate an “I hear you.” What agony you must be feeling. ITA with all the great suggestions … as with everything, doing “something” will probably feel better than marinating in the misery. Even if the “something” isn’t the thing that fixes it all.Hang in there, sister. Hang on.

  89. @Alexicographer I do that too! My son loves to argue and twist my words and in my head I hear “Your honor, my client was clearly in compliance with the demand to stop banging on the table. He is simply engaged in the legal activity of tapping on the table.”

  90. @Sharon – Just getting back now. Thanks for the response. I’m not angry at all; I really needed to hear that. I think I sometimes (okay, a lot) softball with her b/c I think that somehow-someday, all this touchy-feelly will pay off, and it’s gentle and not in-your-face (I’m VERY non-confrontational to begin with), but man, it’s driving me crazy. It’s awesome and empowering to hear that I get to say “Mommy is angry and tired of you doing X and it needs to stop” and then proceed with an action, instead of validating her feeeeelings all the time, at least, while she’s in the throes of this testing phase of being 3.5.I think we really need to work on ‘one chance/reminder of consequences’ and then a follow-through around here, and a little less of her getting cajoled/bargained with.
    Thanks!

  91. I am having a lot of problems with getting my almost 3 year old to leave… well anywhere really, but especially places she loves like playgroup, the park or friends houses. But at the moment even shops are a problem because of the christmas trees and decorations. I was almost in tears at playgroup this morning because I felt so embarrased and inadequate when she simply would not come with me. Its such a daily struggle. Mostly I try to talk about how exciting the next part of our day will be, ‘lunch! and then the park in the afternoon!’ or ‘dinner and Daddy will be home!’ But often that does not work and I am left with either 1)bribery (which I only do when desperate and which also does not always work) or 2)simply picking her up and leaving while she does her best impression of Linda Blair in the exorcist. Having a consequence like ‘ok you are not going to the park this afternoon’ seems to make no difference to her, she is upset in the afternoon about not going to the park but it does not stop her from doing the same thing again the following day even though I remind her she lost out on going to the park for doing it. I always give her plenty of warning we are leaving and let her have a little more time before we go but it makes no difference. I’d love to know how to make this a little less painful, because at the moment I think twice about going places because I dread the leaving part.

  92. @Cecily T Glad to hear that made sense. It’s hard to find the blend between acknowledging feelings and drawing the line.I think I shock a lot of parents when I say, tell the truth, your child can handle it. Your child will react, count on it. Every action you take will create a reaction from them and that’s okay. That’s how parents and children learn.
    @BlueBirdMama That was so sweet. You made my ♥ smile!
    @Lynn – glad you liked that. It’s one of my standard and most important lines.
    This has been a great discussion. Back to work and good night!

  93. @HLS, would, um, symbolic bribery work at all? I’m not sure if that’s the right thing to call it, but some of this is coming back to me now and I know there was quite a while when Mouse got a “bravery prize” for doing things she didn’t want to do without screaming her head off. Like getting hair washed, leaving places, pooping on the potty…etc. We used little things a lot – not “I’ll get you that big toy you want” but “do you need a sticker to help you do this without yelling?” I think pretty pencils were in the mix at some point, and possibly individual ponytail bands. And then we’d say “thank you, we know that was hard” Sometimes she’d break down anyway, but it was more of a sad, boy that was hard breakdown than a “I hate you mommy” linda blair situation.To me, this feels better than escalating bribes, etc. We still use bravery prizes sometimes (behaving for your shots, trying all the weird food grandma serves)…but it’s evolving a bit – last week for Veterans Day I sent Mouse to daycamp when she really would have preferred to come to my office. But since I had a ton of work I said no, and sadly I couldn’t find a friend for her to go with. She was pretty upset for a bit and then she said “mommy if I don’t make a friend the whole day, and have a bad time, can I get a bravery prize for handling it?”. I said sure and in fact she made a friend anyway. I think it’s a way for us to acknowledge how hard some things are and how we’re sometimes expecting her to do things she doesn’t want to. It gives her that without giving her a bunch of stuff. (Bravery prizes are books more often than not now – she’s 6)
    Anyway, just a thought! I wish you good luck and send you lots of hugs!!

  94. @paola, does the time out not work because you have to bring her to another room? Or does time out not work, and so you have to bring her to another room?I’m trying to figure out if your time out = bringing your daughter to another room. The way I learned is totally portable — I saw a mommy friend of mine employ it in an elevator once: She just had the child put her hands on the wall until she was ready to apologize. I have my son put his hands on the wall and count. It winds up being a good gauge for how volatile our emotions are: if he can’t get through the process, then we need to give him more attention/affection/get him to bed. If I don’t crack up inside at ” . . . 12, 14, 14, 16 . . . 28!” then I need a time out.

  95. @schwaYes, I actually remove her from where the rest of us are to her bedroom to calm down/think about her actions etc. Her bedroom is right next to the common area ( kitchen/living room) and so she is near enough to hear us there so she doens’t feel isolated. I also do it to give myslef a timeout, you know, so I don’t actually have to see her. Also, seeing I also send my son to the bedroom if I need a break, so to speak, I thought I should do the same with the gal.
    Thanks for the idea. I will definitley try the counting method. Might stop her from shrieking for a moment or two.

  96. @HLS – how old is your child? I still have this issue with my oldest who will be 7 soon but she at least owns it now. Some kids have a harder time with this than others, but for the ones that do a combo of warnings (5 min., 2 min, 1 min – leave) and going over expectations both beforehand and at the time helps. Ask her what she will do when it’s time to leave (i.e. leave w/o tantrum) and then when it’s time she does that. If she doesn’t you remind her of the agreement.I also at some point w/my oldest around about 3.5 simply sat her down and said, “Look, we want to do fun things with you, but we can’t if you will throw a tantrum/not listen – fill in the blank.” It’s not bribery, threat – it’s the simple truth. And if you start to link what activities are possible, from watching tv to going to special holiday show, to behavior kids really do start to get it. We did this during a rough cycle with her and her behavior improved dramatically. And it’s really true for everything in life if you think about it so it’s a helpful lesson to impart.

  97. Thank you to everyone for their posts on this. I am drowning in it with my 3.5 year old and also have a just turned 1 year old. It has been HARD y’all.The hardest thing for me is the hitting me when he is getting my undivided attention. I can understand it and empathize with it when I am playing with both kids simultaneously or when I am focused on the baby but WHY WHY WHY when we are having special time together? I know he is testing to see if I will love him no matter what, but we have those conversations all of the time. I always say, “I bet it is hard to share mommy/daddy with your sister”, etc… His eyes light up when we say things like that–so happy that we can verbalize how he feels.
    I’ve told him that it is OK to get mad and when he does he can stamp his foot and say “I’m MAD’….and he plays around with this but has not yet put it into actual use yet.
    I am also about to go insane at the constant, “Mommy, watch this” and “Mommy come play with me”. I hear it about 40,000 a day. He acts as if he doesn’t get time with me, but all I do is play with him b/c he is NOT good at independent play AT ALL. It is a struggle to get anything done because he demands my attention at the highest level ALL DAY LONG. I believe I am doing him a great harm by giving him so much attention because he won’t get this much in school….will he act out if the teacher isn’t 100% focused on him? He is in preschool 2 mornings a week and doing OK, but I still worry.
    Anyway, thanks again for all of the stories and suggestions. It is inspiring and makes me want to be a better parent.

  98. @ Julie B – My son is 3 years old and in a day school M-F from 9 to 5 and has been since he was six months old. He has also been my velcro baby since the day he was born. All of this is to say that I get the Mommy watch this or Mommy come play with me or Mommy I need help or just Mommy, Mommy, Mommy seemingly all the time when we are together (and as a single parent if he’s not in school, we are together). And yet he does just fine all day long in a classroom with 11 other kids and 1 teacher. It is hard! But I don’t think your son sounds unusual or overly needy. He just sounds like a little boy who loves his mommy and his mommy’s attention. On the flip side, I don’t think there is any harm in saying not now or helping direct him to self play to give yourself a breather.Tate has really only been playing by himself very recently and by playing by himself, I mean in his room or in the living room talking to me about what he is doing including periodic requests for me to join in or come watch. If I get fifteen minutes to fix dinner, move laundry around, etc. I count that as a success. This morning he was putting together a puzzle. He started out and did it all by himself the first time and really only asked me to come look when he was done. He did it two more times and by the last time was asking me for help. I don’t think the puzzle got any harder, he just wanted me to play with him by then.

  99. @Julie B – What @mom2boy said, totally. Your son sounds like he has a healthy, age-appropriate attachment to you, which is wonderful! It means you are an awesome mama who he wants to share every experience with. BUT… sometimes we all need a little more uninterrupted time to ourselves, so I want to share a few things that have worked for us to get that quiet time. We let our newly-turned 3 year old watch movies way more frequently than we would like to in an ideal world, however it makes for a peaceful household for about an hour.Another strategy that works is to pay extra attention to the kind of behavior you want more of. Like the times when he is playing quietly with a train or some blocks- pop in on him unexpectedly and make sure you let him know how happy it makes you to see him playing independently, and how great it is that he can enjoy toys by himself. Good luck!

  100. I was given a very effective tool/technique for the child who’s acting out. I simply remove myself from the “scene” of discontent. It works like this: When I’m getting into it with my 3yo, I tell her, “When you’re ready to XYZ, let me know. I’ll be reading my book over here.” I take my book and sit on the couch and calmly start reading. Nothing snaps her to attention faster than me totally ignoring her. With this technique, I’ve changed the venue, disengaged from the struggle, calmed myself down, and empowered her to change her behavior. Sometimes she goes and plays for a bit but 99% of the time she’ll come to me after having complied with XYZ. Not sure where I got this advice, but it works!

  101. Thanks @charisse and @MLB for your suggestions, rough day yesterday :). She is not quite three yet. You actually got me thinking about motivation, she is sooo into being a ‘big girl’ at the moment and has always wanted to do things for herself since forever, and it was those two things that brought about the breakthrough in potty training, rather than any rewards we tried to offer her. So I’m thinking more along the lines of convincing her that co-operating when it is time to leave is something a big girl does and that she is making that decision ‘all by herself’. But you are right at some point I may have to sit her down and tell her we simply cant go to these places if leaving is always going to be like this.

  102. I’ve been reading these comments, haven’t had time to comment myself until now…@HLS – I have the same problem. It’s like she just can’t transition from one thing to the other, even if the thing we’re doing isn’t actually all that fun. I get the rip-roaring tantrums when leaving Grandma’s house or a playdate or the playground, but even when leaving the grocery store or other non-fun places, I still get resistance. I’m totally at a loss as to what to do about it too. I’ve tried the “bravery rewards” suggested by @Charisse and they don’t work. I also give plenty of warnings (10 min, then 5, then 2, then 1, lets go) with very little success. We also discuss what she’s going to do when it’s time to leave. We are only going if you agree to leave nicely. Are you going to have a tantrum? She always says no. And honestly, I think a lot of the time she really TRIES not to have a tantrum but is just so upset about leaving that she can’t help it. I remind her – we discussed this, you agreed to leave nicely and that you would not have a tantrum, remember? To no avail, the tantrum happens anyway.
    Anyway our daughters sound very similar… needs to be a “big girl”, do things herself, little response to rewards (we had stickers, little toys, treats for potty training with no success. In the end she potty trained herself when she simply made the decision to do it.
    And I actually have denied going somewhere due to the tantrums when leaving. She asked to go to the park. The day before, she screamed the entire 15 minute walk home from the park. So I said no. I said we weren’t going to go to the park today, because of the way she behaved when it was time to leave the park yesterday. Well I felt like the meanest meanie ever when she started crying (and it was a real hurt cry, I can tell because she actually tries not to cry but can’t help it) and said “I’m sorry Mommy” and then sobbed for what seemed like forever because I wouldn’t take her. And guess what. The very next time she asked, I agreed, we discussed how she would behave when it was time to leave, and we went to the park. She screamed all the way home. I can’t win.
    So, while I have no advice for you, at least we can commisserate in having the same kind of 3 year old daughter who just can’t leave when its time to go. So frustrating.

  103. @paola, maybe if you need a time out, you get to take one too? They’re brief, but I take them. For a while, most of DS’s time outs were for screaming; it got to the point where, when he needed to scream, he’d go to the wall, put his hands up on it, look at me, and scream a little.Sometimes, it got to the point where I would do it too. We were cute when we’d do it together. In harmony.
    Anyway, it might be worth playing around with how you do time outs. But it might not — I don’t know how well you or your family deal with shaking things up that way, nor do I know how it would go over with two kids. I like to imagine that if/when I had two kids, I could treat them both fairly but individually, but I suspect that’s a pipe dream. I think with two kids, it would (for me) become much clearer how much of my parenting depends on what works for me and how much depends on what works for my kid.
    Actually, I think it’s necessary for your parenting to grow out of what works for you and what you can make work.

  104. @Melba, I had a thought while reading your post. Could you do something physical that signals leaving, and that your daughter could put her energy into? Like hopping out of the park rather than walking, or spinning three times and yelling “poof!” to disappear out of the park as if you’re magicians. I know it wouldn’t always work (grocery store, arms full of bags), but maybe a physical thing she could do to transition.I may be talking out of my bum, but worth a try!

  105. @SchwaI am really enjoying this thread but have noticed there aren’t a lot of comments on how you deal with Y or Z child when you are trying to discipline X. As a mentioned before simple things like taking X to another room sometimes turn into a huge affair if Y wants to tag along or feels hurt that s/he isn’t getting any attention, even if X is being disciplined. Also as you said, what works for X may not work for Y, which is exactly what I have found. DS(6) has always been easy peezy when it comes to discipline, whereas DD(4) is so damn uncooperative. I try to treat each individually, but then the other kid complains ( in his/her own way) that they are not being treated equally I’d love to hear how parents with more than one kid deal with disciplining.

  106. How about chalk paint? We have a friend who just painted one entire wall in the kitchen in chalk paint. Then scribbling over it with anything wasn’t a problem. (We rent our apartment, so that wasn’t an option for us…)

  107. @ Paola. I have the exact same problem and the same dynamic with older son-easier and younger daughter-persistent. I’m also finding that the duration and intensity of the interactions are shaping my son’s perceptions of his sister. So, not just a sense of ‘no fair’ but also ‘she’s really a naughty person’. And of course, there’s always the inspiration that one gets from the other in terms of how to get attention.*sigh*
    I have no magic answer. The one thing I do find is that it can help to explain to my oldest what is happening and why. The logic of the action and reaction and why things are taking so long. Sometimes it really catches me up because in putting my logic to words, it becomes clear how (sometimes) illogical the response is. And sometimes my son just stops me in my tracks with a comment like “But you’re being silly mom. She’s only little! You need to be patient.” But the point is that I’m taking time to make sure he feels safe and secure and understands what is happening. And incidentally, that gives him some quality time as well and makes him feel super grown up.

  108. @ anon.I really think it’s difficult for parents to have an easy first child when the second one has a more challenging temperament. Comparisons are inevitable. One of my dear friends is going through this now. But please remember, your second daughter may be HARD to parent, but she’s going to grown up to be an amazing person if you can make it through these early years. All of those challenging temperament traits, whatever they may be, will create this unique and interesting adult that you’ll be so proud of one day!
    I have only one son, and he’s been the classic “challenging since birth.” Everyday there are a 100 potholes to avoid (you know, breakfast, getting dressed, etc). When he’s going through a rough stage, it seems like we hit every pothole in the road. When he’s going through an easier stage, I’ve gotten very good at steering around most of them. Not sure if this will help you, but I did like “The Happiest Toddler on the Block,” by Dr. Karp. There’s a short but wonderful section on temperament in there and lots of helpful strategies.

  109. Wow, I’m sorry I’m so late to this thread. There’s been a lot going on in my life lately… and my blog reader chose this time to space out and not tell me when there were new posts here!Anyway, @Julie B, my two are almost exactly the same age as yours: 3.5 and 13 months. I’m a WOHM (who is currently unemployed, but that’s another story… and the kids are still in day care) so I don’t have the two of them together all day every day. If I did, I might go stark raving mad, because every weekend I ask my husband whose idea it was to have a 3.5 year old and a 1 year old at the same time! They both want mommy, mommy, mommy- the 1 year old actually turns away, clutches onto me and screams when I try to hand her to my husband. Our house overflows with attitude (from the 3.5 yo) and frustration (from the not quite walking or talking 1 yo). Yeah- a lot of crying and tantrums these days. I try not to join in, but this is really a very hard time and I find I’m giving myself “mommy time outs” more than ever. I use “mommy time outs” when I’m about to lose my cool over an issue that isn’t really that important. The constant demands on my attention from both kids just get to me and then something small (like the 3.5 year old refusing to sit still and eat her lunch) will send me over the edge. So I go into the back room and shut the door and just chill for a minute. Obviously, this only works when my husband is around, but I swear some days it is all that keeps me sane and from screaming at my kids like a crazy woman.
    So I have no solutions, just commiseration! Hang in there. It will get better…. right?

  110. @Cloud, So sorry to hear about the unemployment (assuming it was not entirely of your choosing). We’re in the same boat here – for DH, and it certainly adds another dimension to all other issues going on.Hang in there, yourself. And yes, it will all get better.
    …Which is what I need to be saying to myself in the middle of the night while I sleep train (again) a screaming & pouting DS, despite the fact that we’ve just entered a not-so-great-for-sleep-training time (as per Bed Timing). I gotta try it anyway in the off chance that it actually works. I cant wait until he’s three to get more sleep.
    Ok, wait, this wasn’t supposed to be about me. Hang in there. I’m a strong believer in things ultimately happening for a (good) reason.

  111. thanks, @the milliner! You are right- I am not unemployed by choice. But I’m doing pretty well with it right now. Of course, it has only been a week and a half, and I’ve had a lot of things going on to keep me busy.Good luck with sleep training. That is never fun. Maybe your kid has slightly different timing than the average and you’ll have luck!

  112. @Julie B: I wonder if a morning or two more in pre-school would help? Right now you are his #1 playmate, the person with whom he has the most contact day in and day out. Maybe more contact w/ other kids and preschool (where independent play is usually fostered) would help. E.g., as a result of pre-school my 3.5 y.o. has gotten *really* into crafts and can now sit by himself in his room for up to an hour (though avg. is 30 min) with his paper, scissors, crayons, etc. He’ll also “read” to himself in his room early in the morning when we’re still sleeping or during “quiet time” (even if he doesn’t nap, I enforce at least an hour of “quiet time”, same as at preschool).Another potential strategy: getting him involved in your activities rather than always following his lead. Yes, it takes me longer to make dinner when my son “helps” me, but it keeps him busy while I’m getting done what I need to do. Ditto laundry, tidying up, etc. Kids this age usually love to help out and be part of the team. I also find that the more I praise my son for his efforts to do things to help me or by himself (even if he doesn’t succeed) the more willing he is to do it.
    Finally, I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with communicating the message “Mommy can’t/doesn’t want to play with you right now.” Who says you are required to be 100% focused on your son all the time? Given the tremendous amount of 1-1 time you spend with your son, there is no doubt he is well attached and secure in your love. If you’ve just spent an hour or two playing with him, you’re more than entitled to do something else for a while. You’re not going to damage him by parking him in front of Dora for an hour; nor will you damage him by letting him deal with the disappointment of not having you at his beck and call every minute of the day– eventually he has to learn that you’re a person with needs, too! He’ll probably resist at first and there may be some tears, but he’ll get it eventually. I’m not talking about chaining him to a tree in the backyard– just teaching him how to play in the same room or on the same floor with you without you having to be super-engaged in his activity.

  113. @Claudia, that’s a great idea and something I’ve never thought of trying before. Hopping home from the park. Heck, we can hop on outta anywhere! I’m going to give it a try. Might be the distraction she needs to get through the transition. Thanks.

  114. I don’t have time to read through all the comments, so excuse me if this is a repeat of things that have already been said.One thing that has helped *hugely* with making my kids more bearable is separating out, in my mind, what they are asking for and how they are asking for it. Is the problem with the request itself, or is it the way he/she is phrasing the request? A great deal of the time it’s the latter, and, if so, my reply is to tell them that they need to ‘ask nicely’, and phrase it in an appropriate way for them to repeat. It really does make a difference to how tolerable I find the request, and it helps me to realise that the problem is just that they don’t yet have the skills to phrase a request in a reasonable and courteous way, and this is a specific skill that I can help them with, thereby turning the moment into a teaching moment. And it makes me feel much more in control of the situation to figure out exactly what it is that bothers me about it and what I can do about it.
    So, seems like that would probably help you with the whining. Your daughter wants to have the bowl moved so that she can put something else where it is? OK, no problem – it’s the work of half a second to move a bowl. But the way she’s asking for it is a problem, so you tell her, sure, but the way you need to say that is ‘Please can you move the bowl to here?’ and then expect her to say it. And then, once she has phrased the request properly, to go with it.
    (BTW, obviously there are times when it *isn’t* possible to meet the request, and then I just don’t do the whole asking-nicely thing as I don’t want to confuse matters. Instead I just give a quick explanation of why it isn’t possible, and if the child keeps going on about it I just repeat, sorry, won’t be able to do that.)
    As for the setting limits – well, you have to enforce them physically. If you’ve asked her to stop drawing on the wall and she keeps doing it, you step over there, calmly remove the crayons from her hand, and put them somewhere out of her reach, repeating ‘Mustn’t draw on the wall’. Then you go about whatever it is you wanted to do while leaving her to get on with the meltdown she will then have. Don’t waste time or emotional energy on trying to make her feel an obligation to listen to you that she isn’t going to feel no matter how many conversations you’ve had that day on the subject; just show her, through your actions, that if she doesn’t use her crayons or whatever else in an appropriately responsible manner then she doesn’t use them full stop.

  115. OK, I just read that through and I realised how muddled bits of it sound. The most confusing-sounding bit in that lot should read: ‘But the way she’s asking for it *is* a problem, so you tell her “sure, but the way you need to say that is ‘Please can you move the bowl to here?'”. Then get her to repeat that. Once she has phrased the request properly, follow it.’Hope that was marginally clearer. Shout if it still doesn’t make sense.

  116. Thanks so much everybody for the wise words, but mostly for the commiseration. It is hugely helpful for me to read these comments and to know that my son is normal and that the behaviors we’re dealing with are normal. I don’t have a lot to contribute to the discussion at this point–I’m afraid I’m too exhausted to think straight, but I’ve got some good reminders of things that I *know* yet don’t always practice (mostly out of exhaustion).I’ve currently got a 37mo, a 22mo, and a 4mo, as well as a husband who has been traveling lately and also works about 100 hours a week. Basically, I can never ask him for relief when he is home, because he’s more spent than I am, if at all possible. I know the solution to my problems–my husband needs to graduate from business school, we need to complete our upcoming move when he gets a job, and I need to get my kids in preschool and hire a regular babysitter in our new city. But I’ve got a good 6-8 months before that can all be. I can rally.

  117. @zed, @nancy, @anyofyouwithtwins (but also all posters), I’ve lately felt like I’m being eaten alive by my nearly 3.5 yr boy twins. We’re undergoing major day-is-night jetlag and bad colds now, so it’s particularly acute. To boot, one is not keen on potty training, nor having his diaper changed (oh joy), and when he’s in an okay mood, the other one picks up the slack. I’m having serious anger management issues.Wish I’d had the time to check here a few days ago when the thread started. But I was too busy losing my mind… I may post later if I’ve anything to add, but I worry everyone will have gone on to the next question and I’ll be stewing in the minutiae of completely irrational, shrieking madness. Wait, is that me or the boys? Sigh…

  118. @JCF, you can rally for shizzle, but seriously, you are in the hardest dynamic I know. Wowza. Personally, I would buy some Baileys and put it in my coffee every once in a while to remind myself that I am truly a grown-up who can do things that children can’t. Damn it. Of course, if that is a problem-maker in your world view, then I hope you can think of another reasonable treat that is just yours – fancy shampoo, or your favourite CD in the car super loud. And of course, if you are actually rich in $ and contacts, a weekly babysitter to cover your weekly mani/pedi would be okay too.But really and truly, you are right in the middle of the hardest, hardest part. Brave you.

  119. @JCF, ditto what ACJ said. Babysitter if at all possible, budget-wise. I think you should view it as saving your sanity, and decide what that’s worth.@Melba, maybe it’ll work! Love to hear if it does.
    @Maeve, can you get a babysitter, too? There is good reason why it’s recommended in the Three-year-old book of Louise Ames.

  120. @Maeve, yeah, don’t you love how when one finally calms down the other picks up? I think 3.5 x 2 = BIG suckitude, particularly if there are other issues involved like jet lag or colds. I don’t have much to add other than sympathy. A few months ago I just collapsed on the floor and cried while they screamed, after having just broken a wooden spoon in frustration (no, not on them, but still!). All I can say is, after that I really focused on staying calm, and not reacting to their outbursts, and it seems to have helped. That and just waiting for their 4th birthday! Good luck!

  121. @paola, I’d totally discipline the other kid too . . . something along the lines of “We’re doing discipline right now. You can join us if you like, or you can wait until we’re done, and then it will be time to do what you want for a bit. If you want to join us, you can put your hands on the wall and count.”Does that make me evil?
    I think the principle needs to be “Mommy can only do one thing at a time: join or wait your turn.” I’m a fan of drawing the hard and fast line. Back surgery has made me have to draw them, and thankfully it’s gone pretty smoothly.
    Good luck with your pair. Eventually, they’ll grow up a bit and go to school. 😉

  122. @ melba and others with transition problems, I don’t know enough about the neurology to explain this, but I think its a “cognitive” organization issue, similar to sensory integration problems. You may try giving her something crispy or chewy before its time to go, but not too long before, you’ll have to play with the timing. Its not a reward, so there is no pressure to be “good”, don’t use it that way. Its purely for turning some of there attention inward, helping them to filter out what they might perceive as the external chaos of transition/change. We use pretzels, and sugarless gum, but also stale twizzlers, fresh, crispy bread sticks, dried apricots. Think crispy -snappy, or good long chew. I can’t think of a non-food way, but other people have ideas.PS just give it to her without warning or fanfare, let her chew a few times and then just leave.

  123. I had to laugh. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” is exactly what I find myself singing constantly these days. I have a 3 and a 1 yr old (2 yrs, 4 days apart).Love this whole post and all the comments. I recently met a ‘friend’ at a pumpkin patch and my 3 yr old was having an awful day. She was tired, a little sick and had to endure an hour long drive there. My friend’s daughter is a few months younger and much more mild mannered and my friend is a much ‘stricter’ parent than I am – a bit of a micromanager, but whatever works. I left feeling very judged and questioning myself and my parenting. I felt completely defeated, like I was ruining my child for life. I processed the day and realized my daughter, first of all is 3 and that is a set up for psychosis in itself and, secondly, she’s spirited. My job is to figure out how to help her use that in a way that will serve her and I believe it can. Hard day, hard lesson….doesn’t mean things are perfect since, far from. But I get up each day and try.

  124. @claudia, @zed, a few days with some breaks has helped loads. We’re not as sick now, getting back to a regular babysitting sked. Too bad DH leaves for a work trip next Saturday for two weeks (to Cancun, but I digress…).It helped to have a poster (Sharon, maybe?) remind me that discipline is not punishment. Whatever stops the cruddy behaviour stops it, and that’s okay. Not fear. And I know I don’t want my kids to fear me, but wow, sometimes I find myself wishing they did. Thinking, why don’t they fear my angry reaction! But glad they don’t. But wouldn’t it be easier if they did? Sigh.
    I usually find myself just sitting and holding a boy, explaining things, and asking him to say he’ll stop doing whatever it was that he’s not supposed to do. Kind of a time in, I guess. Although sometimes they’re really wriggly, and I’m more angry and less calm than I should be. Then I wonder if I’m doing the right thing, but I really don’t know what else to do at those point (when one is throwing things, say, and just won’t stop). I can’t always quarantine a toy in question, either, because that punishes the other twin. (And it would be punishing to him, wouldn’t it? not discipline.) It also doesn’t help that I seem to have more problems with one kid than another. I worry about perpetuating that by expecting it.
    I, too, wonder if my kids (one more than the other) are sociopaths with no sympathy/empathy for anyone being hurt/upset. I hate when one is hurt during play, I’m trying to comfort him, and the other is still hurling himself around at us trying to have fun. Or I’m trying to have a serious talk with one, trying to explain why whatever behaviour isn’t right and what the consequences are, while the other is literally climbing all over me and giggling. GAH!

  125. Your life is very rich, live very happy makes me envy, thank you very much for your perfect and useful articles, I learned a lot of knowledge and experience, this article is a useful articles reconciled topic, I support you! ! !

  126. On transition problems (trouble getting kid to move from one place/thing to another), I tried someone’s suggestion of “hopping” to get 3 year old out of the tub last night, and it was like a miracle. I said that we HAD to hop to get to her room, and her face lit up and she immediately jumped out of the tub and hopped to her room.

  127. Moxie commented: It also seems like lots of them have a particularly clingy and/or heinous last-hurrah stage for the months before they turn 5.Thank you so much for the reminder. I am up to my eyeballs in that right now, and the idea that there is a light at the end of the tunnel is very reassuring.

  128. Such a great discussion! I just wanted to jump in with 2 quick thoughts which have been really powerful in our household.1) Do nothing – say nothing.
    So often we’re trying to make everything into a teachable moment which typically means TALKING a LOT. I’m sure my kids largely hear me like the trombone teacher on the Peanuts cartoon. When I simply shut up and ignore unpleasant behavior CONSISTENTLY much of it just goes away. Sure something new pops up the next day, but its all part of the process. Try it out.
    2)Respect their sleep. Skipping naps, pushing back bedtime, whatever – any shortage in sleep no matter HOW small makes everything harder. Late bedtime results in constant battles the next day. Missed or shortened naps result in the same. According to a NIH study almost 40% of American kids are chronically sleep deprived (I can only assume that their parents are too). If the kids are tired AND I’m tired its basically a setup for disaster. So I’m basically the sleep police and we work our whole day around everybody’s need for sleep regardless of what a pain in the ass it can be.
    Works for us anyway….
    Alexis – mother of 4 YO and 1.5 YO

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  130. ::@I’ve sat down here to blog several times but gotten interrupted by one thing or another. I’ve been busy the past few days (with one thing or another). I painted with a group of friends in Grove last Thursday and we had a live model. #@#

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  132. Oh dear!Ang laki mo na!Cute ka pa rin even when crying!Kids loves long hours of pilyang outside lalo na sa parks.Minsan ako na lang ang giniginaw sa labas coz I have to wait for my kids to finish pilyang.

  133. Registration will end on Friday, November 18th at 12:00 noon. you can register betewen 9am and 12 noon. Late registration will take place on Monday and Tuesday, November 21st and 22nd from 9am to 12 noon.

  134. You are right. Part of the Comfort of the Holy Spirit is the peace Jesus gives. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give ” We don’t have to pay for any of it: ” the gift of God is eternal life;” You have added good thtohgus here. Joh 14:27 and Rom 6:23

  135. Beth A. Grass (MLSS medic) – Jasmine suffered so much in her ltitle life, she deserved this beautiful celebration rest in peace baby girl, we will all see you again some day in heaven..XOXO You touched many hearts here in NY at Mobile Life Support Svcs.

  136. Ah yes. The hair. And see I had looked at you at chcruh and thought you’d just dropped 10 pounds or so. I was thinking it must be that early pregnancy appetite aversion but layers do slenderize the face! Haaaa! That is SO my moms’ word. Slenderize . :)Come to think of it I desperately need some layers . 😮 I desperately need something ~Unslender in Snohomish

  137. on Sunday that I am slimming down but I think it must be the hair cut bcasuee I haven’t lost any more weight!Kelley, that is really funny, actually if my eyes are looking dreamy it’s bcasuee I was thinking of my pillow. My eyes were very heavy and he was forcing me to smile for the picture 🙂

  138. hey girl, i feel you. i got so frustrated i was cusnrig at the computer! lol! if you ever need any help just email me and i may be able to help you. i know my way around this thing now!

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