3 under 3

The good, the bad, the ugly…

Posted on: March 27, 2012

I’m going to share something I wrote the other night after a particularly awful ‘family’ dinner out. Since writing it, I have had some time to reflect on Tiernan and his behaviour from a slightly less-objective viewpoint. We’ve also had three consecutive days of very manageable behaviour (not perfect, but manageable) from him, so I don’t feel as intensely that something is amiss. But I certainly did at the time.

I am worried about my beautiful boy, Tiernan. Or maybe I should be more worried about myself? I know Tiernan is beautiful – he is smart, sensitive, funny, loving, happy and gorgeous. That’s the boy I know, love and understand. But often there’s another boy – an angry, hurtful, silly, rude, impulsive, out-of-control boy, whom I simply don’t understand, and whom I struggle to like (although I tell myself, and him, that I love him). At the moment I feel like this second boy is visiting us more and more frequently, and taking longer and longer to leave.

His schedule is unpredictable. Sometimes, Tiernan will be quiet happy playing with his sisters, or with the whole family, and for no apparent reason the other Tiernan will appear and spoil the fun. This boy will sabotage the game, take jokes too far and deliberately provoke us. Then, when he is asked to stop, he will become angry and sullen, say hurtful things, and refuse to remove himself from the situation to calm down.

He almost always comes out with us, and since he is never, ever, invited, this makes for a very frustrating and stressful time. Playgroup, shopping trips, walks to the park – all are frequently turned upside down when this Tiernan repeatedly runs away, takes items off shelves and opens them, ignores all of my instructions (even those aimed at keeping him safe), refuses to hold hands or stay near me, enters shops without me and tries to engage me in a humiliating chase around the store, and then rolls on the floor and refuses to move once I have become cranky and tried to discipline him.

I know that children do these things. I know that parenting is not easy. But is it supposed to be this fucking hard nearly every day?

How many other parents (at least once a day) lock their 4-year-old out of the house for short periods (in the safe, fenced back yard) because their behaviour is so uncontrollable and there is no other way to get them to stop, and you are so cranky you’re worried you might snap at any moment? How many parents have to physically move their 4-year-old out of the room, and how many 4-year-olds respond by scratching, kicking, pinching and name-calling. How many parents regularly feel completely humiliated by their 4-year-old’s behaviour out in public, to the point where even going out together as a family on weekends seems to be nigh impossible?

How many other parents can’t take their 4-year-old to a family friendly venue for dinner because the 4-year-old will spend the entire time refusing to either play in the play area or sit at the table – instead wanting to run around, climb all over things, touch buttons, pull leaves off plants, interrupt other diners, etc.? How many other parents end up dragging their 4-year-old downstairs to have ‘time out’ and the 4-year-old is so worked up that he won’t let you touch him and keeps asking you to go away and leave him alone. How many parents put their head in their hands and wonder what the heck is wrong with him? (For the record, I chose this moment to say ‘I love you, Tiernan, even when you’re being like this,’ and I did eventually talk him into calming down and joining us for dinner).

So maybe you answered ‘Yes’ to all of the above? Would you say it every day? Right now, I feel like I could say yes every day. But maybe that’s not the case. I know we’ve had good days recently, I just don’t remember them at the moment.

But if all the other parents out there are also saying yes to all of the above, then where are you? I don’t see you in the supermarkets, blocking Aisle 11 with your intense stand-off over buying Ben 10 plastic crap. I don’t see you chasing your 4-year-old out from behind the counter in the bakery, moments before he grabs himself a chocolate donut. I don’t see you hiring professional negotiators to talk your child down off the top rung of the six-foot ladder someone has helpfully left out. I see plenty of 2-year-olds doing these things, but none who are almost 5.

I know I shouldn’t compare my children, but my 3-year-old seems to behave more appropriately (out in public) than Tiernan does. Yes, she gets silly. Yes, she has tantrums. Yes, she misbehaves. But usually I can at least understand the reasons behind her behaviour and sometimes talk her around before it escalates. With Tiernan, I am clueless, and even if I am able to figure out the cause, Tiernan often will completely shut down and refuse to listen. So we just have to wait.

I know I’m not painting a balanced picture here. He is not always horrible. He can be wonderfully sweet, kind, loving and generous ,as well. His teachers love him at preschool and at Family Day Care. He behaves appropriately (most of the time) for other people, and when visiting friends. He is able to engage and play beautifully with other children, no problems at all.

But when I look at the overall picture, I just can’t help but wonder what’s going on. Is it Tiernan, or is it me? Am I expecting too much of my 4-year-old, or am I simply not coping with the normal, everyday demands of parenting? Does Tiernan need help, or do I?

Since that night, Tom and I have discussed our feelings on the matter, and we both agree that maybe, regardless of whether Tiernan’s behaviour is completely normal or not, we should seek some help. I have done parenting courses and read books about ‘positive’ behaviour strategies, and while I feel they have their place, I don’t believe they are the whole story. I think parents need to use a variety of strategies because children are all different, and what works in some situations may not work in others. My biggest problem at the moment is being able to pinpoint exactly what is causing Tiernan to become so unmanageable. I have been looking for possible triggers but can’t find them – it doesn’t seem to matter whether he has slept or not, whether he has had a quiet day or a busy day, whether there are two parents in the house or just one, whether he has mostly done as he’s pleased for the day or whether he has been dragged around for a day of ‘errands’. I can’t figure it out, and therefore am at a loss as to what I should do to change things.

The only possible lead we have is hearing. About a month ago we had Tiernan’s hearing assessed because we were worried about his behaviour (children who have difficulty hearing can demonstrate similar behaviours to children who have ADHD, but the behaviours are motivated by different causes). The hearing test showed he has a mild hearing-loss in one ear, but as he had a slight cold at the time of the test, we are still waiting for a re-test next week. I guess I am hoping that his frustration at having to work so hard to hear is the reason for his difficult behaviour. Knowing won’t fix the problem, but at least we will have somewhere to start.

So this is where I’m at with Tiernan right now. Stuck between thinking everything is wrong, and then thinking everything is fine. Wondering whether to seek help, or not? For the moment, I am happy to wait it out a little longer (we’re on a roll at the moment, after all), and we do have another hearing test next week, so I guess we’ll see what happens then.

“‘…What a thing it is to have an unruly family!’ said Mrs Tabitha Twitchit.”

(Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Samual Whiskers: Or the Roly-Poly Pudding, 1908, p. 14).

Exactly, Tabitha. Exactly.

1 Response to "The good, the bad, the ugly…"

The crankypants are making the rounds! Libra, at nearly three-and-a-half, has runs of temper like these. My partner comes home and I all but run out of our apartment, desperate to get away from my beloved child, who has done everything in his (considerable, given) power to keep those crankypants on high and tight. And like you, I’ve found that it doesn’t seem to matter whether he’s slept enough, eaten enough, played enough, etc.

My mother assures me it’s a phase. I apparently went through it, my brother for sure went through it (I was old enough to remember his). She remembers each of her sisters having done it.

That doesn’t help with the dealing and managing it, exactly, but it does help to know that I’m not as alone as I feel. Because it really does feel like I/you’re the only ones out there with the completely ridiculous limp-noodle kids, the ones who throw themselves down at the top of the down escalator and refuse to budge, even when a line of annoyed shoppers is building up – the ones who will kick and scream if you pick them up – the ones who slam the stall doors in the bathrooms and throw food at other patrons in restaurants. Been there, done that. Now I just hope for more good days than bad, and hope that on the worst days I manage to wait until my partner gets home to leave, and that I can summon the energy to go back while I’m out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: