Tuesday, March 3, 2009

SOS – Three Kids under Three!!

Great Ideas for That Child That's Out of Control

Note From Beverley: One year ago, Susan joined my parenting class looking for ways to stop having meltdowns or ‘adult tantrums’ around her children. She went home after that first evening encouraged and on a mission. She was hooked!

Today, Susan radiates calmness and improved confidence. And no wonder… she and her husband are communicating more effectively, and they’re both enjoying more cooperation, respect and closeness with children.

So it’s with great pleasure that I share with you this month’s article “SOS – Three Kids Under Three!!” written by Susan herself. Full of tips and solutions for those stressful moments when a child is out of control!

“SOS – Three Kids Under Three!!”
By Susan Inglis

This is the tale of one busy and blessed family! Two beautiful boys and a brand new baby girl make for an interesting dynamic and offer some real challenges that many readers will relate to and can learn from. Let’s take a look at their situation:

The eldest son, Sean, is three. The newly crowned middle child, Thomas, is one and a half, and little Suzie sunshine is three weeks old. The first few weeks of settling in with a new baby are relatively peaceful and trouble free -- filled with visitors, food and presents. But by week four the reality of this situation has begun to sink in. Dad is back at work full-time and mom is dealing with sleep deprivation and the demands of handling three small children. There is laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping …and trying to find the time to meet the needs of Sean, Thomas and Suzie (not to mention herself!). No matter how you slice it, three under three is not easy!

To make matters worse, the middle child starts to live up to stereotype and begins to act out. Thomas absolutely refuses to go down for his afternoon nap and quickly turns to screaming, yelling and running from his room. Mom patiently returns him to his “big boy bed” only to have him repeat his behaviour. No amount of cajoling and compromising will suffice and the minutes tick by. Finally, after two hours of frustration, Thomas falls asleep from exhaustion.

Unfortunately, this situation continues to escalate and a few days later he decides to dump a one-litre bottle of cooking oil all over his bed just prior to nap time. And while his mom is busy cleaning up, little Thomas gets into the fridge and dumps milk on the kitchen floor. Mom is able to remain calm on the outside, but inside she is feeling progressively more helpless, powerless and disappointed in her son. Thomas continues to push her buttons. He continues his rampage of yelling, grabbing everything in his warpath, and even taking a swipe at the baby.

Mom’s patience finally wears thin as the baby starts crying and the three-year-old begins whining for a drink. It’s not long before she really starts reacting to Thomas’ behaviour and begins her own tirade of yelling, demanding, threatening, and handling him more roughly than usual. And then there’s the guilt that consumes her following such an episode.

Can you feel the frustration this mom is experiencing? Listening to this story, it becomes clear how even the calmest of parents could get to the point of yelling and sometimes, even hitting, a child. We love our children more than anything in the world, yet all too often we get sucked into their drama and react to their behaviour. In this scenario, mom needs to take a big step back, gain some perspective on the situation and come up with a new game plan. Hurting the child, as she’s feeling hurt, is not an option.

Beverley Cathcart-Ross, a parent educator for more than twenty years with the Parenting Network, says the first thing parents must do is to find a way to stop reacting and getting discouraged by their child’s behaviour. This can be a tall order. But if we don’t make a concerted effort, we run the risk of feeling hurt and our reflex could be to hurt back.

So a good place to start is to look behind the behaviour at what Thomas may believe to be true. There is purpose to his behaviour even though it may not always seem logical to us. A child that is acting out is a discouraged child, a hurting child. And this is the big test for parents. It’s vital for a child to have the confidence that you love and believe in them regardless of their behaviour. Unfortunately, it can be so easy for negative thinking to creep in during stressful times and we can lose faith in our child or ourselves as a result. So, when ‘you know what’ hits the fan, remind yourself that this too shall pass. Dispel that crazy thought that your child is going to end up living on the streets in a life of crime!

For like all children, Thomas simply needs a sense of connection and belonging in his family. The addition of the new baby has completely upset his world. Old familiar routines have changed or disappeared. His place and role in the family has been irrevocably altered and new routines and roles have not yet been established. It’s a time of transition for everyone in the family and transitions can be very unsettling for young children. He’s feeling confused, hurt, maybe even abandoned, and unloved at times.

However, Thomas’ parents need to realize that reacting to this behaviour only reinforces his feelings of unloveability and abandonment. So what CAN a parent do in this situation? Beverley offers the following advice:

1. Connection – Be Proactive – Give him attention before he demands it with his unruly behaviour. It is important that we give our children our undivided attention at least three times a day – morning, noon and night. It only takes a moment to make eye contact with your child, give a hug and/or kiss. Yet, too often the endless ‘to do’ list in our head keeps us running from morning to night. When the kids are playing nicely, we tend to work on the dishes and laundry. Taking a moment to check in and notice your children during these positive moments will help them feel connected to and appreciated by you.

2. Belonging – What is my new role here anyway??? Hugs and cuddles are great for connection, but what about belonging? A child needs help finding a positive place for himself in this new family dynamic. One tool that can help is to give him ways to contribute around the house. Mom doesn’t have to do it all. In fact, the more she can include the older children in daily household tasks, the better. Young children can match socks or learn to fold the dish clothes. In the kitchen children can help to mix, stir, pour and they can even help set the table. Next time mom could say “I need some help setting the table, Thomas, can you help me?”, and watch the pleasure he gets from feeling needed and contributing to his family. The benefit to him far outweighs the extra time it takes for mom to have him involved.

3. Routine, Routine, Routine!!! I really can’t stress this one enough. The more predictable and consistent the daily routine, the more secure the child will feel. When he knows he’s going to have 10 minutes of playtime with mom as soon as the baby is asleep, he can relax and stop interrupting and making demands for her attention.

Now that child #3 is here, old routines have changed. Taking some time to figure out what the new routine will be is worth the effort. When will breakfast, cuddle and playtime, story time, outdoor time be? What is the special activity for today i.e., a playmate with a friend or grandpa coming over for dinner? Make sure you include your needs in the routine, i.e., arranging to have a teenager come over after school to be a ‘mother’s helper’ for a few hours before dinner can be a nice routine and give mom a breather.

Hopefully, implementing these suggestions will completely eliminate Thomas’ outbursts. However, because we ultimately cannot control our children, there is always the possibility that unwanted behaviours may resurface. If this happens, Beverley suggests the following:

Keep Calm and Carry on - Find a way to keep the child safe, to stay calm yourself and to not engage the child in lengthy discussions and explanations. Children under three are not yet in the age of reason, making a lot of words and explanations unhelpful. With consistency and the following important attitudes, Thomas will find his positive sense of belonging in time. And with it, he’ll be a happy guy to have around.

1. “This too shall pass” – Accept that what is happening is happening right now and that it won’t last forever. Have faith that you and your child will get through this. I used to set my watch timer as a distraction to see exactly how long it would take for the wave of outrageous behaviour to pass.

2. “I still love you but I’m not crazy about THIS behaviour” – Separate the deed from the doer. There is a great book published by Scholastics called Bombaloo. It is worth getting a copy of this book. It describes a child that is taken over by her hurt feelings and goes ‘bombaloo’. When your child goes ‘bombaloo’, they really aren’t themselves. It can be a little scary for them too when they get taken over by their strong emotions. It is important to reassure them that you still love them, even when they are ‘bombaloo’!

Good Luck!

To help you make the shift towards more respectful, democratic approaches with your children visit Parenting Network for our listing of popular parenting classes. Registration is now on!

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1 comment:

Mrs Terri said...

Wow...this was good....