Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oh, three and a half

Le Petit is suddenly, irritatingly three and a half.

He's got a textbook case of the age, just as the weary moms who've gone before me have described. He's testing limits, pushing buttons, making loud noises. He's implementing a demonic strategy to undermine my housekeeping, grind the daily schedule to a halt, and drive both of his parents to distraction.

It's cleverly simple, involving just three principles:

1) If you can do it by yourself, refuse.

2) If you can't do it by yourself, insist.

3) If you know you're not supposed to do it, do it anyway.

Principle Number One leads me to ask him, five, six, seven times, to put on his shoes, eight, nine, ten times a day.

I say something like, "We're going to leave the house. Soon. Now. Don't you want to go to the store/park/Louvre/Versailles/Grandma's house? You do? Then shoes. [Le Petit], YOUR SHOES!"

Then, inevitably, I put his shoes on for him.

However, when someone is about to leave the house solo on some time-critical mission -- say, my husband is going to the basement for a bottle of wine to serve with dinner, or heading out to get bread before the bakery closes -- le Petit desperately wants to come along. On those occasions he rapidly crams his feet into his shoes himself, closes the velcro, and in ten seconds is ready to go.

Now, Principle Number Two has me biting my tongue, trying encourage self-sufficiency without losing my mind.

Sometimes, le Petit knows how to do something, but decides to improvise in fun ways. I try, for example, to limit collateral damage to my bathroom from I-can-do-it-all-by-myself hand washing. Le Petit knows how to turn on the water, soap up his hands, turn off the water, and dry off with a towel, but sometimes that script is too boring, and that's when he starts by locking himself in the bathroom, then proceeds to finger paint the mirror with wet hands. (I keep a screwdriver handy so I can quickly unlock the door from the outside.)

Sometimes, he doesn't yet have the knowledge, practice, coordination or physical strength to do something, and doing it himself becomes all the more urgent. Take pouring a glass of water from a nice, full plastic bottle.


Principle Number Three is the worst at the moment. That's how he'll finally succeed in undermining my sanity once and for all. The other day he disappeared into the kitchen with a crayon, then came looking for me afterward with an mischievous smile.

"Viens voir ce que j'ai fait, maman." Come see what I did! He proudly showed me where he'd scribbled all over one of the cabinets. I told him calmly that we didn't do that, that he knew that we didn't do that (as obviously he did), and then shrugged and handed him a sponge to clean up.

I feel like this behavior never stops. When I ask him to be quiet, he does everything to be louder; when I ask him to eat with a spoon, he shovels his food in his mouth with both hands. I know what he primarily wants is a reaction, so I try to make mine as firm and as boring as possible. I rely heavily on natural consequences when appropriate, taking things away that are misused, or involving him in clean up, if only symbolically. I also try to explain why something isn't possible. Against all expectations, that often works the best.

The other night, le Petit was making a break for the front door, which we'd forgotten to lock. I was trying to hold it shut, telling him that it wasn't time to go outside, that it was bedtime, that there was NO WAY I would let him out the door. He was having none of it, and was about to launch himself into a tantrum. Then I had an idea. I calmly mentioned the two kids that live down the hall, and told le Petit that they were probably sleeping and that we wouldn't want to wake them up. To my surprise, le Petit accepted that, and the story was over.

I don't know how well I'm dealing with all this. Before, le Petit often frustrated me, but it rarely felt intentional, so I was able perhaps a bit better to take it in stride. Now I know this is all age-appropriate limit testing -- not his fault, in the great scheme of things -- but man, it's wearing me down.

Any other stories of three-and-a-half? Commiseration, perhaps?


Cloud said...

Oh, we're right there with you, counting the days until our little terror turns 4 and (hopefully) becomes a little easier to handle....

Today, we had: (1) an hour long whining session because I refused to buy her jellybeans at the grocery store. We finished the shopping in 30 minutes. (2) A refusal to take a nap that resulted in me carrying her into her room, putting her on her bed and informing her that she was going to try to nap "god dammit" (one of my prouder parenting moments). (3) A meltdown at a playdate because the other kids wanted to play with the marbles, too. (4) A meltdown at home because I gave her little sister a phone to play with after Pumpkin had taken away a different play phone. Suddenly, she wanted the play phone that Petunia had. And whined and screamed about it until she flounced into her room, still screaming. She came out 5 minutes later, ready for snack, and basically happy.

Ugh. I'm thinking I need to buy Sharon Silver's parenting book and see if it has anything that will help. It is only $10. I think it is worth a shot....

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@Cloud - I appreciate your commiseration! I've ordered Sharon's book, with international shipping and all (I hate reading books on the computer), to give you an idea of how hard I'm looking for answers. It isn't that I think le Petit is particularly difficult or anything (I mean, for a three year old), but *I'd* just like to feel as if I'm handling it the best I can. Especially since I'm spending so much time with him this year, I'd like for us both to remember it fondly!

If it makes you feel any better, I'm pretty sure I've used "goddammit" in a nap showdown before. Le Petit mostly gave up his naps at two and a half... and the last time I even bothered to try was in September. Heh.

Jac. said...

Nothing but commiseration. DS (3.5 next month) is KILLING me. Your universal principles sums it up so nicely. Really, I don't know what I found so difficult about taking care of a small baby because DD is ridiculously easy in comparison. I'm going to email a link to this post to my husband. My MIL is bipolar and my husband is worried that DS is manifesting some symptoms (similar to @Cloud, the tantrum one minute and happy as a clam the next). I've being trying to tell him that it is developmentally normal but I don't think he believes me.

I have Sharon's book and I think it is well worth it. I am only trying to implement a few tips at the moment (when I think about it and I'm not too tired) and I do see some results.

Small blessing, DS still naps 1.5 hours most days.

Melba said...

Oh, count me in. I have a question though... does three and a half really end at age 4? Or does this behavior just carry on and on and on until 5 or 6? Because I honestly see no end in sight and no where near any improvement as we march steadily past three and three quarters well on our way to four. If anything it's getting worse. If that's possible.

Today I had a case of principles 1 and 2, AT THE SAME TIME. Rosie wanted to play one of my husband's video games that she clearly does not have the coordination to do (it's a kid friendly game, Super Mario on Wii, which may I add is REALLY fun for people like me who grew up playing the original in the 80's). But at the same time, she was not able to sit in the living room by herself because she's too scared to be alone. We have an open concept house. I am 10 feet away in the kitchen, within sight. Not good enough.

Cloud, I think Pumpkin turns 4 before Rosie. Tell me if something magical happens on her fourth birthday, ok?

Melba said...

Oh, and one more thing, on the subject of naps.

At daycare, she goes down on her little mat like a good little girl and has a nice hour long nap with all the other boys and girls, every single day, without tantrums or whining.

At home, she only naps after a half hour long tantrum whereby she trashes her room and inevitably wakes up her sister. So therefore she does not nap at home. Its not worth it.


Laurie said...

3.5 next month and yes, yes, yes. We are working on actions having consequences and it is being met with tantrums.

Regarding naps, he will still nap for 2 hours at day care but we've given up on weekends. I miss the break but it does free up the afternoon schedule.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@Jac. - I also have been asking myself often just what I found so challenging about taking care of just one infant. I know that Mademoiselle is pretty chill compared to her brother at the same age, but still... a day with *just* a baby on my hands feels like amateur stuff, you know?

And I think that mood swings are totally normal for the age. That's partly why distraction -- a strategy I didn't mention, although I use it all the freakin' time -- works so well. Heh. One minute they're ready to stage a sit-in or a street protest, and the next they're all happy grinning kid, just like in the phone company commercials.

@Melba - I have this theory that things get worse right before they get better. Seriously, though, I think that there's a lot of disequilibrium (to use the Moxie phrase, I think) that goes on right before the next developmental leap. So it may all magically fall into place just when Rosie turns four. (But do let me know; I don't want to get my hopes up come July, ha ha!)

@Laurie - we eventually decided to look on the bright side, we were no longer stuck at home all afternoon on the weekends. Mademoiselle can still nap on the move, so the whole family can get out (or could, theoretically, if the weather would only cooperate).

Of course, Mommy would still love a nap. Yeah, right!

hush said...

DS is 3.5 in exactly 2 months, and AMEN to all of the above stories of frustration and saying things I regret, and just feeling bad about it all.

DH actually came THIS.CLOSE to spanking DS the other day, that's how shitty things have gotten around here. DH is currently reading Sharon's book, which I just finished. It is a quick read full of stuff you can put to work immediately.

mom2boy said...

Yeah, right there with you.
I've gotten us into the endless negotiations cycle and while it's probably going to be a painful process to fix it, I definitely need to get a handle on it now. I say two, he says three, etc. I don't think either of us really care most of the time it's just a power play and since I am the adult I need to be the one to set the limits. I'm finding Sharon's book to be really helpful in not just the hows but also the bigger picture whys. (And yes, distraction works wonders with these little creatures who can go from stormy to sunny in the blink of an eye.)

Half Acre Farm said...

Been there seen it done it, twice, I've just sent a link to my son who now has a child of his own. I do enjoy saying "you were the same", when he complains about his son.

caramama said...

Your Three Principles are right on! Plus mom2boy's endless negotiations, which are really just a power struggle!

My daughter is turning 4 in eight more days! I'm so hoping for a miracle, but one of my good friends' daughter did not stop being difficult when she turned 4, while my sister's daughter did. So I'm still just crossing my fingers... for all of us!