Recently, my soon to be three-year-old son has been more dramatic. Initially, he would just cry when he doesn’t get what he wants. Now, he rolls over, screams and cries. It takes more time to bring him out of the shower, change his clothes and actually get out of the house. He has become more particular about the clothes and shoes that he will wear. He also attempts to give commands to family members around the house. I used the word “attempt” because he still knows that there are rules that he has to follow. Now I know why some mothers call this stage the “Trying Threes”.
Christian’s favorite words are “ayaw”, “Etan lang” and “no”. I have observed that he wants autonomy e.g. “No hawak, Mommy”, “No touch”, “Akyat Etan lang”. We have our series of battles and as a parent, it has been a challenging matching game. I have to match my reaction to his behavior. My goal is clear: I have to elicit more acceptable behaviors than unexpected ones. One thing is for sure, my almost “threenager” son makes sure that his Mom feels her age at the end of the day.
I am sharing these pointers that have worked so far. His behavior changes over time so I have to keep my bag of tricks to match his newly discovered antics.
Provide specific rules.
These rules should be short and clear. One cannot overwhelm the little ones with rules like “You don’t eat in the bedroom because the ants might come and they will bite you. When they bite you, you’ll have rashes and then you go to the doctor”. Simply say, “we eat together in the dining room”. Emphasize what the child should do. Sometimes, we are too focused in telling our kids all the things that they shouldn’t be doing and in return they simple ask, “so what am I supposed to do now?”
It is important for these rules to be clear and short so other members of the household can remember them too. It is better to work as a team so no one will end up as the wicked witch in the family. It is easier for children to follow rules when adults are also consistent with their expectations. When my son appears to be possessed while having a tantrum and my husband finds it hard not to soothe him, he would just leave the room and allow me to handle Christian so we will be consistent.
Make sure to associate actions with feelings. We cry when we are sad or upset. We shout when we get mad. We whine when a task is difficult. Tell your child that it is okay to be sad or mad. We can express these emotions in a more acceptable way. We can always tell them to “use their words” instead of throwing or banging things.
When Christian is too upset and no amount of words can pacify him. Redirecting him to more acceptable tasks and items work to comfort him. Good thing that he loves animals including insects. So when I cannot stop him from running and grabbing items in the grocery store, we would look for spiders and he slows down.
Catch good behavior and reinforce it.
I think it’s more natural for parents to notice bad behaviors instead of being generous in praising good behaviors. We have to be aware of our words and actions. Praise the times that our kids were able to eat properly, brush their teeth well or pack away their toys neatly. When we give more attention to acceptable behaviors, we reinforce them.
Offer them choices.
They feel “empowered” when they are the ones making their own choices. We have to be smart in providing choices since we know that these choices should be favorable for both parties. When your child refuses to wear his socks, simply ask, “Do you want the one with the shark, the one with robots or the one with cars?” The outcome is clear, he has to wear socks so “no socks” is not an option.
These pointers have worked with children with special needs too. Children will always try to manipulate people in their environment to make things easier for them. It is then up to us, the discerning adults, to teach our kids to adapt to their environment. Children will always try to do things their way but we have to facilitate the development of skills for them to adjust to changes and comply to rules. It saddens me when I hear parents at work say, “eh ayaw niya eh”, so we see kids who are picky eaters and others who do not even know how to brush their teeth. I would always tell parents that although their children might have delays, it does not mean that they cannot learn the things that we teach them. Their diagnosis is the reason why they cannot do the things expected at their age but it is not an excuse for them not to achieve their full potential.