If you follow me over on Instagram, particularly if you watch my instastories, then you’ll know that I’ve been having a bit of a tough time with the old threenager stage of late. Now I’m not saying that my son is the devil, I’m simply saying that his blonde haired angelic looks seem to have become a disguise for his inner terror whose irrational tiny dictator ways are slowly taking over this house one meltdown at a time!
In all seriousness though, my baby is struggling; yes he is three, and he is doing what three year olds do, but he’s also going through a huge transition, his parents are separating and it’s a scarily confusing time for me so I can only imagine what his mind is making of it all.
I’ve been trying my best to analyse; okay I’ve been overanalysing – a not so wonderful attribute of an overthinker; but I’ve realised that instead of working out which behaviours are due to him being three and which ones are due to the grief he’s feeling; I should simply be focusing on him, the here, the now and the how can I tame this particular tantrum with minimal collateral damage.
Of course the separation situation is something that I need to tread carefully with; what I say to him and in front of him, how I answer certain questions etc but that’s for another post. It’s for a time when I actually know how the heck to handle it myself before I even begin to share my words of new found wisdom. For now though, I can focus on how I parent my baby, how I not only deal with behaviours when they arise but how I parent before and after those behaviours to try and avoid them and make sure that they are moved on from correctly.
So when I talk about behaviours I don’t think it’s anything too crazy; yes I was horrified the day when it all erupted and I was a blubbering mess wondering where my sweet boy had gone and where this spitting, throwing terror had come from but after a few dozen reassuring messages from fellow mamas in the same situation, I realised that this in fact is normal, this is ‘three’ and this can all be handled with a few parenting tweaks.
Now I’m a pretty sit on the fence kind of parent; fed is best, happy mum happy baby etc, I’m not strict but I’m not a pushover so I’m not surprised that I’m left feeling a bit out of my depth when it comes to a toddler who has been throwing food, wetting himself on purpose, throwing things down the toilet, telling me that I’m horrible and not his best friend and generally getting very angry, frustrated and upset. I’ve found that instead of looking for the right kind of discipline, adapting my parenting technique may be the better solution. So here are 9 ways that I’m slowly changing my parenting style:
Saying ‘yes’ – My instinct with most of Jaspers questions is to say ‘no’. Not to be cruel, but because I’m a worrier, I panic and let’s face it, most of his requests consist of eating something inedible or climbing on something moving. I tend to say ‘no’ or ‘I’m not sure’, while I suss out the situation and while that’s better than saying ‘yes’ and then having to take it back when I realise that it’s far too dangerous; I think that becoming more of a ‘yes muma’ may make a really positive impact. Jasper pushes the boundaries sometimes, maybe he assumes I’ll say ‘no’ and asks anyway, maybe he assumes I’ll say ‘no’ so he doesn’t ask and feels upset deep down. I’ve found since saying ‘yes’ more instinctively the past few days, he’s been happier, there has been less moaning, his requests haven’t actually been as farfetched as I expected and I’ve felt much less guilty.
Ignoring certain behaviours – This is one that I find really difficult. When Jasper throws food or wets himself on purpose my instinct is to tell him off; to make him understand that what he has done is wrong and to assure me that he won’t do it again. Sometimes though this can make it worse; I’m not saying that ignoring every behaviour each time is the right thing to do but picking my battles is. If I can pick the food up, put it on the side and carry on with our activity it gives Jasper a chance to a) realise that he’s not getting a reaction be it positive or negative and b) to calm down. This will be a case of seeing how it goes but the way I see it is we all do things wrong and if we’re punished the same way for each thing that we do it kind of becomes ineffective; if I can ignore behaviours that leave minimal mess and he realises himself that there’s no point in doing them then I’d rather that then telling him off and forcing him to realise. It’s a learning curve after all.
Distracting from tantrums – This is one that is tried, tested and 90% of the time works so well for Jasper. I find that he works on a bit of a traffic light system and I can always tell from subtle signs in his voice, body language and behaviour whether he’s on amber and about to go into full blown red meltdown mode. Distracting him when he’s on amber almost always stops a tantrum ahead of time and more often than not distracting him during a red moment can stop it in it’s tracks too. The best distraction method I’ve found for Jasper is grounding; I go to his level whether it be sitting with him, laying with him or cuddling him and I speak very softly asking him to find me different things in the room. Typically this technique is used during panic attacks to find 5 things you can see, 4 you can touch, 3 you can hear, 2 you can smell and 1 you can taste but for Jasper I try 5 blue things, 4 green, 3 red, 2 yellow and 1 black, or maybe different textures, types of toy etc. He can either go and get them or he can tell me and 9 times out of 10 he’s completely calmed down half way through and goes off to play.
Using more positive language – I’m very quick to say ‘no’, ‘not’ and ‘don’t’; but I’m really making an effort now to change to more positive language. Instead of ‘no you can’t have sweets, it’s bedtime’, I try, ‘you can have some milk now and some sweets after breakfast’. Lot’s of ‘cans’, ‘wills’, ‘okays’ and most importantly more ‘yes’s’.
Praising more – This is something that for me has become second nature; praising the excelled behaviour, e.g. good painting, sharing etc; and telling off the tantrums. In doing so though, I forget about the in-between behaviours, the not having tantrums, the playing nicely and simply being good and even though I don’t think that praising everything teaches our children the reality of the grown up world, I do believe it helps when the threenager stage hits.
Constant reminders of how well he’s watching tv, how nicely he’s playing with his brother and how good a boy he is keeps him surrounded by positivity, it leaves less time for him to feel in need of praise and he’s therefore less likely to act out for attention. I also try to praise him for how well he turns things around after his tantrums ( this of course depends on whether or not he does and how bad a tantrum it was).
I basically don’t want him to feel like he’s ruined his chances of a fun day or a treat, I want him to know that things can be forgiven, I will always love him and support him and even though tantrums are not acceptable, it’s okay to be upset, we just need to learn how to manage those emotions better next time.
I’ve found praising Jasper for calming down nicely, helping me to tidy up what he threw and getting himself changed after he’s wet himself doesn’t teach him that he’ll still get a reward if he’s naughty but it shows him that positive behaviour is the reason for the reward and is always the better option.
I personally feel awful if he’s been amazing all day, has one tantrum over something insignificant to me but clearly very important to him and then he loses his treat that he’s worked so hard at being good for. We all make mistakes, get frustrated and lose our temper a little but the difference is he is three, he only has three years of understanding so I always try to show him he can still make a change and have a positive outcome.
Paying more attention – 9 times out of 10, when Jasper has a tantrum I’ve been busy. Yes there are times where we’ve been playing and my focus is on him and something causes him to go into meltdown mode but for the most part I’m either on my phone, cleaning or chatting to a friend. The more attention I’ve paid to him, answering him the first time, not telling him to wait, the less he’s gotten frustrated and I bet if you have an hour of uninterrupted play with your little one you’ll notice just how much of their interaction with you, you may have been missing.
Being more consistent – I am terrible for have 5 different punishments for the same crime. Jasper could wet himself 5 times and the first I’d ignore, the second I’d put him on the naughty step, the third I’d comfort … you get the idea. Consistency is key to not only helping your little one to feel more secure but for them to be able to understand the consequences to their actions. This doesn’t just mean consistency with your own parenting though, it’s best to make sure that your partner, grandparents and childcare team are using the same method as you are.
Understanding why – Even though it may seem like it at times, children don’t have meltdowns for no reason. Yes they may be ‘silly’ reasons, like wanting a blue cup instead of a red cup but when you think of it on an adult scale, if I wanted my favourite mug and you gave me a mug that I didn’t like, and I asked you to change it and you said no, I may be a little annoyed too!
It all goes hand in hand with distracting as if you can notice their frustration, confusion or upset early on and understand why they’re feeling that way, it’ll be easier to put things right or distract from the behaviour before they get too upset.
I work my way backwards, so Jasper wet himself because I told him off for throwing his breakfast on the floor, he threw it on the floor while I was putting Jenson in his highchair and telling him he couldn’t swap for his Spiderman bowl because it was dirty. Maybe if I’d taken an extra minute to wash his bowl and swap it before moving on to sort Jenson out, it would have avoided the meltdown. Like I said this isn’t a realistic expectation for Jasper to have growing up but for now he needs that extra TLC and if me putting a little extra time and effort in to help him to feel more secure will do that then I most certainly will!
Giving options – Too many options can be confusing and sometimes if I ask Jasper to simply choose his bowl from the cupboard or his clothes from his wardrobe he can get flustered and either meltdown before choosing or choose and then change his mind a million times. It can be overwhelming so I’ve been trying to take the pressure off and where applicable give him the choice of two types of breakfast, two different cups, two tops etc. I ask if he’s sure, give him a chance to change his mind (which he usually does), and then we agree. This at least makes me feel less guilty if he does throw it for want of changing it because I had tried to give him the choice first.
Well there you have it, some of the parenting techniques I’ve been trying and even though it’s early days I’ve seen the benefits almost instantly! Yes Jasper has still had multiple meltdowns a day but the way that they’ve been handled has not only left Jasper feeling more secure, but me feeling more in control and also me and Jasper feeling more in tune!
I will be doing individual posts on all of these, as well as videos as I want to really document myself trialling them as well as giving examples and sharing how (hopefully) they’re become second nature; so please do stay tuned!
If you practise any of these or have any more to add then please do comment below, I’d love to get this blog back to being more of a place to chit chat!
Thanks for reading,