I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, “terrible twos” is a misnomer. My amazing and strong-willed little guy has really struggled with his threes — a number we are NEARLY through. But the challenging behavior may not be on its way out just because he turns 4. I don’t think it is that magical.
It’s not as if my kiddo is out slashing tires, knocking entire rows of spaghetti sauce off grocery aisles or leaving Sharpie graffiti on our living room wall. He’s acting and behaving like many 3-year-old little boys I’m sure.
I’ve just never tried to corral a 3-year-old full-time before. I’ve never been face to face with what — especially at 10:30 p.m. after a day of battles — feels like a tiny tyrant taking over my world. This has been the first time for me to navigate these pint-size challenges (yet seemingly coming from the most stubborn 6-foot-4 full-grown dude).
So yes, it’s felt pretty rough at times. I’ve cried my fair share of frustrated tears and tossed and turned wondering if things will ever feel peaceful again.
And while at first I had an “oh my goodness, I’m the first one EVER to deal with a kid THIS stubborn” kind of an attitude I quickly realized that my situation is far from unique. I often asked my mom, a clinical social worker who knows ALL OF THE STUFF, “Is this normal? Should I be worried? Do we need to be seeing someone?” She’d laugh and say, “He’s 3!”
He’s like other children who are strong-willed and “spirited” — that’s the term I found used most often when turning to the internet for some solutions and support. Let’s be real, spirited is the politically correct term for difficult or challenging. These kids are described as “more sensitive, more intense, more persistent, more perceptive and slower to transition.”
An explanation often given is that these spirited kids feel their emotions so strongly and are looking for some control. Power struggles are a big thing in our house. Because — and this fact will not come as a surprise to anyone who knew me even very briefly as a child — I was a spirited child myself I have grown into a “spirited” adult. Yep, I’m difficult. I’m strong-willed. I’m Stubborn (that capital “S” is not a typo.)
Often the traits that are seen as difficult or challenging for kids are seen as positive for adults and help lead them to success. I’d like to think they are good for something.
Back to the internet … I’ve read a lot about strategies to help. And one thing I saw over and over again was the power of “Yes!”
So I gave it a shot.
Saturday was our day (well realistically it was a late morning and afternoon) of “Yes!” I make a concerted effort to spend special one-on-one time with Miles leaving his now nearly 9-month-old brother at home with dad. And Michael does the same with him.
Just the two of us went to the Franklin Street Bazaar. He chose the path we took to look at the vendors. He chose what vegetables we bought (lots of tomatoes of course) and which of the particular vegetable. Miles also asked for cookies and muffins. Yes and yes.
It was the day of Yes! after all. He wanted to follow the superheros that were at the West Branch of the library for an event. So we did. He wanted to make his own super hero mask. We did. He wanted to mix up all of his paint creating a lot of gray and brown. I didn’t bat an eye.
We left the library with our mask in tow after hugging and visiting with the superheroes and went back out to the market area and walked by a GIANT mud puddle. What kid wouldn’t go crazy for a puddle.
“Momma, can I?”
For about 20 minutes I stood by as Miles jumped and jumped and jumped. He ran and jumped. He jumped in place. He hopped. He skipped. He did nearly everything but cartwheels through that puddle. The puddle was near the walkway through the center of the green space at the market but wasn’t too heavily traveled. But when someone neared he would stop. That became a game in and of itself.
“OK, pause!” I’d shout to a gleeful Miles. He’d freeze until the people walked by and the game resumed.
I got some giant smiles and positive comments. One woman even joined in grabbing Miles’ hand so they could jump in together. I also got a few sneers. I’m sure a few other parents weren’t too pleased with me that I was letting my heathen child jump in the puddle while their kid wasn’t allowed. Sorry about that!
“Momma, will you jump too?”
For another 15 minutes we jumped in that puddle together until all the water was nearly jumped out. We were soaked from our toes to mid-back, our shoes and shins covered in mud and grass. But we laughed so much.
We eventually had to return to the real world, a world that has to have a few “No’s” in it. There was lunch to be eaten and naps to be had. And of course, a few battles, tantrums and tears (from both of us.) But for those hours it was pretty darn blissful.
Realistically it can’t be a world of Yes. But I refuse to “break his will.” It will not happen. We are working on finding a balance. But I want him to be courageous, strong in his opinions and values and have passionate emotions.
We’ll get there. We’ll figure out that balance. But in the meantime … it’s tough.