Terrible Threes? Or Unmindful Parenting?

You may have read that Monkey had the mother of all meltdowns the other week. I have been semi-joking that he is having terrible threes rather than twos because he is contrary, argumentative and testing his boundaries constantly. Driving hubs and I to distraction, and honestly it isn’t like him, yes he has his moments but on the whole he is a very sweet natured boy. We have been re-reading a couple of parenting books and thinking about rules and discipline while also wondering if we are just in another inevitable phase that will pass in its own time.

Then a couple of really interesting articles popped up in my feed (spooky timing really) and made me stop and think.

Is it a natural phase? Is it really terrible threes? Or are we at fault? Not in an I am going to beat myself up about it way, but are we making the problem worse by unmindful parenting? Could we make some simple positive changes to our behaviour that will affect his behaviour?

The first post was Obedience: Why do you have to tell them five times on Aha! Parenting. Something a lot of us ask ourselves in despair and actually it was a really great read. A reminder that our kids are human, they don’t share are priorities and don’t always want to do something just because we have said they should. The bit that really spoke to me though was the section about kids feeling disconnected from us or worse they have given up on us.

“Children naturally look to their parents for nurturing and guidance. If they’re convinced that we’re on their side, they want to please us. So if your child is defiant, or you keep finding yourself in power struggles, that’s a red flag that your relationship needs strengthening.”

It’s been a really rough month with all of us being ill, especially hubs, meaning I have had to do everything else. The result of this is that I haven’t had as much time or energy for Monkey lately. He has been left to get on with it a lot more than normal so is it any wonder then that he is not wanting to do what I say?

Throughout the article there are some great tips, not just about reconnecting, but with ways to help kids transition from what they want to do to what we want them to do and it is definitely worth a read.

The other post was How to react when your kids are disrespectful on Parenting Chaos. A little less relevant but a HUGE reminder not to engage in arguments with Monke (which I am definitely guilty of doing when I am on a short fuse and he is arguing against every single thing I say). To remember that his feelings are valid and that I need to stay calm and be the parent rather than get dragged into a daft argument. Plus, linking back to the previous post, if he is being defiant, there is a reason for it.

For example, the meltdown over going to the birthday party. I had not given him any warning about going to the party and just announced we were going. He hadn’t had any snacks (as there would be food at the party) and I know my toddler. He likes to know in advance what is going on and he is always on a much more even keel when he is not hungry. So in hindsight I can see why it all kicked off. He didn’t have time to prepare himself for going to the party and he was hungry and grumpy.

Add to this the fact that I had been tired and grumpy for a good few days by this point and he was feeling a bit unsettled anyway and it all just went bonkers. A reminder to me to let him know in advance what is happening, to take the time to explain things to him, oh and make sure he isn’t hungry! That actually if I am feeling stressed and harassed that it is even more important to spend a bit of one on one time with Monkey and make sure he knows what is going on. Otherwise I will just end up feeling more stressed and harassed with a massively unhappy toddler on my hands!

We’ve also been watching the Channel 4 series of “Born Naughty” which I have found fascinating. The premise of the programme is looking at seemingly naughty children and asking whether they are born naughty, whether the parents are to blame, or whether there is something more to it. It really is interesting and an eye opener into the scope of Autism Spectrum Disorders and I guess a reminder not to judge parents with naughty kids as sometimes there is more to it, and even if not, sometimes they just don’t know how to solve their child’s particular problems.

One of the more interesting diagnoses on the programme is about pathological Demand Avoidance, or PDA, on the Autism spectrum, where children are so anxious that they are hardwired to refuse any demand made of them. Where their instincts literally tell them to run from the seemingly innocuous request. This can build up and when they feel trapped they often become violent and the stories from the parents were quite harrowing. For example a mother having to call the Police because she is terrified of her 6 year old who is coming at her with a kitchen knife. Her story literally brought tears to my eyes.

Obviously these are extreme cases but on the programme, whether they found children did have special needs, or if they just had what they described as behavioural problems, a lot of the advice they gave to parents (in addition with making sure they had the relevant support from health visitors and appropriate schools) was about techniques to use with their kids. For example with one of the PDA children, Mum started to use sand timers to let him know when it was dinner time etc. So when the sand ran out he would come downstairs. He had warning and time to transition from what he was doing to what needed to happen next and it worked, there were less violent eruptions.

The point being that the experts in the programme helped all of the parents think about their child and techniques that would work for them specifically. There are so many techniques out there but of course the same thing won’t work for all children as all children are different. I don’t think Monkey is on the autism spectrum or think he has PDA but I think he does have some traits which respond to the same techniques they used with children with PDA. Warning him what is going to happen. Phrasing demands in a different way that makes them fun or exciting, rather than making it sound like a demand.

I have found that these things work for him by trial and error over the last few years. But when I am tired and stressed or I don’t feel like I have the energy, it is easy to forget about this. Forget how it all is going to effect him and just expect him to do what I ask him to do. Which leads to meltdowns and aggravation.

So we have been a lot more mindful of Monkey and the way we are parenting him recently. We can’t expect him to just go along with what we are saying all the time. He just isn’t that child, and actually I’m not sure I want him to be. I want him to be confident and know his own mind as an adult and for that to happen he needs to be confident and know how own mind now. That may not always make life that easy but we just have to think a bit more about our behaviour and adapt the things we say or the way we do things.

Things have definitely improved. He is 3 so of course he is contrary sometimes but he isn’t quite as defiant. I have made sure I have been spending more time with him one on one while LM is asleep. The TV has been on a lot less as we were using that far too much while things were tough, in order to get things done.

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Silly Selfie Cuddle Time with Mummy


There are still a few issues as we have been in a really bad phase of fussy eating with him lately, but last night he ate all his dinner, which is huge for us, so we will see if we are moving out of that bad phase… I will talk more about that in a whole other post as there is too much to go into here!

Do you ever have times like this? Where you realise that your child’s behaviour is actually linked to your behaviour? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Blurring Behavioural Boundaries

I may have mentioned (once or twice ;)) that Monkey has been poorly over the last few weeks. When your little one is poorly and just not themself it is impossible to be as firm about some issues as you would normally be. When they are irrationally upset about everything because they don’t feel well, there are some things that just aren’t worth pushing.

WP_20150224_11_23_51_ProYou see their forlorn little face and you would do anything to make them happy and you certainly don’t want them to be more upset, so you relax some of the boundaries a little. You want to eat on the sofa? Ok darling. You want to wear your PJs all day? Ok sweet pea. You want to drink more milk (the 10th cup that day)? Of course my darling. You got loads of toys out but now want to cuddle back on the sofa as you don’t feel well? Don’t worry. You don’t want to have a bath tonight? Ok my love.

It makes sense, obviously there are some things that are never ok, but then there are things that aren’t that important. That aren’t worth causing any more upset. There are some things they are only doing because they are poorly and so little and don’t understand what is wrong with them. Your nurturing instincts kick in and you snuggle and coddle and reassure our little darlings until they feel better…

The problem is though, strengthening those boundaries again when they are well. Or rather when to start again. Where do you draw the line? How do you know they are 100% better? Or, more to the point, how do you know whether they are still poorly, or whether they are trying to pull a fast one? Toddlers are clever little mites and if you give them an inch they will take a mile and once they recognise they can get away with a little more because they are poorly they are bound to take advantage.

We have the same struggle with discipline whenever Monkey has been poorly and we have been a bit softer with him. Because he is a fussy eater and we struggle with food with him at times, food is one area where we do soften the rules when he is poorly. We still try to keep him eating healthily and keep up with his faves such as veggie burgers, but with a reduced appetite you can’t help being pleased that they are eating anything. So there has been many more occasions where he has eaten cheese on toast, or peanut butter on crackerbread (he loves the stuff) instead of something more substantial. Because he needs to keep his strength up and is just not in the right frame of mind to be persuaded to eat things he is less sure of.

But we are all too aware that we can’t let this go on for long, otherwise it undoes all of our hard work to keep mealtimes happy and we end with battlegrounds over food again. Like I say though, the trouble is knowing when to start enforcing the normal rules again. While he has been poorly we haven’t always enforced the rule aboout eating at the table, or the rule about not drinking milk right before dinner time (as he will happily survive on milk in the evening and won’t touch dinner if he has milk) as we know he needs something inside him to avoid meltdowns and keep his strength up. But there comes a time when we have to enforce these rules again.

No use crying over a cup of milk...

No use crying over a cup of milk…

We decided to enforce them one day last week, and in hindsight it was a day too early. I won’t go into details but it descended into carnage with our boy wailing and crying so much and both hubs and I eating cold dinners by the time we had calmed him down and done what we never do – we backed down and gave up on the naughty spot (for the first time ever it just didn’t work and was chaos) and gave him what he wanted. A cup of milk. He didn’t eat his dinner and we felt thoroughly dejected and miserable  that
a) we had enforced the rules too early and he had overreacted massively which meant that
b) we had to go back on what we said and give in, which feels totally wrong. We felt like terrible parents just getting it so wrong.

I remember watching supernanny before I had kids and scoffing, thinking the mistakes of the parents were so obvious and avoidable. Little did I know how hard the reality actually was! But sometimes I think to myself “what would supernanny say?” because I can see in us the parents I had happily scoffed at back in the day. Sometimes though I don’t know what she would say. Would she say  “Well of course it didn’t work, he’s not very well” or would she say “You should have persisted, you can’t give up!”

The less we enforce discipline in general, the worse Monkey’s behaviour gets. We aren’t massively strict or anything but he actually reacts really well to boundaries in general and is for the most part a good boy, but a bit of laxity from us and his behaviour can descend quite rapidly.

The day after the cup of milk incident we saw the evidence of our mistake. Monkey hit me. Not hard, but in our house, hitting is not acceptable, under any circumstances. Not by accident, not in jest, just not acceptable. I told him off, explained that hitting is wrong and threatened the naughty spot if he did it again. We are very much in the “Why” zone with him at the moment and he said “Why not?” and hit me again. I had to be firm on this so put him on the naughty spot and after only a couple of tries he did stay put and it did work. The difference a day makes as he was definitely feeling more himself again and it showed. He cried and kicked off but accepted the naughty spot and apologised afterwards.

It was a turning point and he has been a lot better behaved since. Not all the time, obviously, and we have our moments but although we have threatened the naughty spot a few times we haven’t had to use it again. So I guess our relaxing of the rules, and our mistake and failed naughty spot attempt haven’t caused any problems long term. He is back to himself and the boundaries have been restored. Will he test them again? Of course. Will we go through all of this again next time he is poorly? Without a doubt. We will keep learning at this parenting lark and maybe one day we will know what we are doing without everything being a bit trial and error!

Do you relax the boundaries when your little one is ill? Do they ever try and take advantage?

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Supernanny’s book and the Dawn of Discipline

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We knew this day would come, but it would seem that the terrible twos have arrived. I’ll be honest I don’t think he is actually that terrible but there is definitely an edge to his behaviour lately that we haven’t seen before. The tantrums are worse than before and there is some serious defiance going on – so it is definitely time for some firmer discipline.

But what discipline? We are not fans of smacking, it just isn’t for us. I have blogged recently about Monkey’s love of counting, so counting to 3 in the hopes he stops before I reach 3 failed miserably the once I tried it as he then just started off counting on his fingers!

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First night in a Big Boy Bed! – 23 months

We did it! We have made the move from cot to bed and so far all has gone pretty smoothly!

We talked about making the transition a few months ago, and felt perhaps that neither Monkey, nor Daddy and I were quite ready for it. Then I fell pregnant and the problems with my pelvis started to flare up. With a new baby going to be needing the cot at some point we wanted to make the transition far enough in advance that Monkey wouldn’t feel pushed out of his cot. But then with my pelvis problems meaning that I shouldn’t lift him very often, if at all, we know we really should make the transition even earlier.

A while ago we bought his bed in the sale and he had really liked it in the shop. Keen to involve him in the process we took him shopping to buy some bedding, even though I had an idea of what to get him. A lot of the soft furnishings in his room are already matching, with a lovely cloud pattern which he adores, so I hoped that buying the same range of bedding would attract him to it.

We weren’t sure whether to ease the transition by having both cot and bed in the room for a while, or to go cold turkey and take the cot out straight away. In the hopes that it would make it easier, we did the former. He liked his bed immediately and cuddled up with his bedsheet – though he hated the duvet and pillow and wanted nothing to do with them! We will worry about those at a later stage I think! Too much all at once.

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But even though he liked his bed and lay down on it, as soon as it was nap or night time, he would get off the bed and try and get in the cot. A week of this and we realised that he would never sleep in his bed while his cot was in the room. Which makes sense really, but we were nervous of his reaction to us taking his cot away so we waited until the Easter weekend, when we had a good stretch of hubby being off work, in case we had a few sleepless nights!

Good Friday was the day. After his nap, hubby dismantled the cot and put it away, moving his bed to the position his cot was in, and hanging the little cot pockets that used to be on his cot, onto the end of his bed. I know this seems to be a weird position, but has always slept with his head by the door, and well, why not if it makes him happy?

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Anyway, we had talked about how best to go about it should things not go smoothly and he not stay in bed. I always liked watching Supernanny on TV and while I don’t agree 100% with everything she says, I do like her common sense approach to things, so we have Jo Frost’s book on Confident Toddler Care and looked to see what her advice was. We ended up using her stay in bed technique.

Basically you follow your normal routine, and put them in bed. When they get out of bed, you say ‘bedtime darling’ and put them back. The next time it is simply a firm ‘bedtime’ as you put them back. After that you put them back in bed with no contact whatsoever. No talking, no eye contact, no form of communication. And so on until they eventually give up.

We felt this was definitely worth a try, so hubby took him for bath and bed as normal. Monkey was really excited about his bed being in the place of his cot as soon as he got upstairs, and didn’t even want his bath! Very unusual but we wanted to use his excitement if we could. Hubby did at all as planned and followed the technique to the letter, and you know what, it worked amazingly!

Monkey got out of bed 5 times, then resigned himself to it and stayed put, and stayed put all night long! He can be seriously stubborn sometimes so this really did surprise us! He even slept in a little late in the morning, bonus! We were concerned nap times may suffer, but nope the next day he went straight down for his nap and slept really well!! Hooray!!! The same happened that night.

In hindsight, we probably “should”/could have done it cold turkey, but in the end this worked so well I think because of the preparation and I think the technique really helped too. Either way all is well that ends well and our little boy is growing up! Bless him!

So, while this was a very special event, it will now be a very ordinary moment, a real sign he is not our little baby any more!


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