You’re Looking So Very Handsome This Morning

We’ve been having some…let’s say struggles. With Pants.  Of late.  He’s always been a whole lot of child, but in the last few months and weeks and days, he’s really ramped it up.  He’s been spending a metric ton of his day in time out, and it just seems like a constant struggle for not a lot of reward.  And the frustrating thing is that I know that somewhere in there is the most amazing wonderful delightful funny sweet boy, but I don’t get to see that boy very much these days, and it’s just depressing and hard and tiring.  Some days I feel like every word out of my mouth is either “no” or “1. 2. 3. 4…”.

I try not to write very much about this here because I feel like it makes me seem like a whiny complainer.  Because I don’t know that there’s a solution besides time and age, and so I just put my head down and try to grit on through it.  Because inevitably someone recommends a book or two books or three books and I then I check them out of the library and they sit on my bookshelf unread and until I manage to absorb better parenting through osmosis, I don’t think reading parenting books is for me.  Just another check in the “bad person” column, obvs.  “Checks out parenting books but is too lazy to read them.”

Anyway.  Our number one struggle with Eli is getting him dressed.  According to his pediatrician, he should well and truly be able to get himself dressed by now, and in fact he can get himself dressed, but man, he does not want to.  What he WANTS is for us to chase him around the house waving his underpants in the air while he runs and squeals and flails bony limbs in all directions.  It may shock you to learn that this is not my idea of a good time.  I mean, I love a good naked squealing underpants waving run through the living room just as much as the next guy, but not, you know, EVERY DAY.

When he was younger and he’d pull this crap, because make no mistake, we’ve been dealing with this for YEARS now, we’d put him on the changing table and when he’d try to kick us and laugh and scream and flail, we’d walk out of the room, and we’d do that over and over again until he sat there and we could put all his clothes on him.  Now he’s waaaay too big to be hoisted up onto a changing table, so every morning, we battle, until we’re both totally pissed off.  Sometimes I get so frustrated I just throw him in his sister’s crib with all his clothes and tell him that he’s not getting out until he’s completely dressed, but he has started escalating this to the point that he kicks the wall so hard (while screaming) that last week he knocked a picture off the wall and broke it.

And then he started with the bath tub, refusing to get out of the tub when I tell him it’s time to get out.  Last week I gave him three chances to get out with my help, while I stood there holding the towel, and then he had three chances to get out on his own while the towel was resting next to the tub, and then I yanked him out, naked and wet, and he sat huddled in time out for TWENTY MINUTES NAKED AND WET because he would not say “The rule is that I get out when Mama says it’s time to get out.”  Finally I threatened to throw his most beloved possession (Torty the Turtle) in the trash and he caved.


I have been looking for other solutions, with a desperate feeling that there had to be something out there that I hadn’t tried, that lack of sleep was just making me miss.  And let me be perfectly clear.  We have tried yelling, oh yes we have.  We have tried a lot of yelling.

My first idea was just to leave him in his pajamas all day.  You don’t want to get dressed? Fine.  Don’t get dressed.  But even I am not stubborn enough to send a child to preschool in his pajamas, so at least two days out of the week, he has to get dressed, and in a timely fashion.

My mother in law got to see struggle this first hand while she was here visiting us and then last week while on the phone with her I was complaining again about this horrendous behavior and she suggested just opting out of the battle.  Not asking him to get out of the tub, just grabbing him out and wrapping him in a towel.  Not asking him to get dressed, not telling him to pick out a shirt, not throwing his clothes and his skinny butt in the pack and play, just picking out his clothes myself and grabbing him and putting them on him.

It is not a great solution, because he still yells and screams and wiggles, but it is short, it is fast, and it works.  I do not have to spend 45 minutes screaming “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET DRESSED” at a three year old, so I’ll take it.

The other thing she mentioned, just in passing, was something about five compliments, five good things, for every negative.  She’s told me this before, and I’ve immediately dismissed it, I think because it made me feel criticized.  It made me feel like other people think I am  a terrible mean mother, so I skipped right over that advice, but this time it stuck in the back of my brain and I figured, hey, what the hell? Why not.

Um, so.  It’s basically the most amazing thing ever.  First of all, it turns out I am a terrible mean mother!  Because wow.  When I started paying attention, I was saying A LOT of nos.  I was giving A LOT of rebukes.  In fact, I was dishing out so many negatives that to say five nice things for every bad thing, I pretty much had to say nice things to the kid ALL THE TIME.  I could not say them fast enough to equal out the bad things.  I had to dish out those compliments in a never ending non stop stream of nice.  And dudes?  He loved it.  HE LOVED IT. It was scads of extra verbal attention from his mom and he LOVED it.  And then pretty soon he was saying nice things to me.  We were engaged in a nice off, practically!  And I started having to think really hard for nice things to say and it made me start to think of all the things I love about my dear sweet boy, and then, I’ll be damned! After this nice bombardment, he actually started to act pretty nice and sweet.  AND also?  A side benefit?  Well, you just try being in a bad mood while you’re forced to dish out an endless stream of nice to someone.  It’s basically impossible.

And then just this morning I thought to myself, “Huh.  I wonder what might happen if I said five nice things to EVERYONE I KNOW, instead of just my 4 year old?” And then I realized it has taken me THIRTY FOUR YEARS to figure out that maybe people, four year olds and husbands and best friends and mother in laws, all those people  like it when you are nice to them.  And then they are nice back.

Mind blowing, I tell ya.


23 Responses

  1. We are living parallel lives. I have long since given up asking him to get out of the bath. Every night, I haul 44 pounds of flailing wet three year old onto the bathmat. It hasn’t changed anything, except that one less battle I’m fighting.

    I definitely need to try going the nice route, because it seems like all day long I’m either putting him in time out, or threatening to put him there.

  2. My piece of ass-vice, when one of my boys was three (I call that age EVIL – and also my favorite – one or the other, no middle ground) I took him to preschool in his pj’s and brought clothes. He was embarrassed and I actually played that up and told the teacher to also. He got dressed when we got there and has never pulled that crap again. (He’s 14) Wait! Once in first grade he tried it and I said I would take him to school in his pj’s. When he challenged me on it I reminded him of the time I DID do it. Instant problem solved. Also, none of his brothers ever tried it because they only had to be reminded of that one time. So… well, there’s that. (Long but shorter than a whole book)

  3. Oh, and the bath? I emptied the tub and let them sit there. Not as much fun in an empty cold tub.

  4. I’m going to have to try that. One thing I’ve done to stop myself from yelling at mine so much (i know I’ve mentioned this somewhere in the blogosphere, so if it was here then I apologize) is to punctuate everything I say to my 3 year old with “sweetheart”. Because it’s really hard to yell at someone if you are calling them sweetheart; you just feel ridiculous. Also, I have had recent success with giving him choices that both benefit me – it’s win-win. So instead of “do you need to go potty?” I say “do you want to use your potty or momma’s potty?” “let’s get dressed” turns into “do you want to wear the green or blue shirt?” Or “do you want to get dressed in your room or in the living room”. He feels like he’s in charge… But not really.

    • I do the limited choice thing, too. I think that toddlers need some choice, but too much is overwhelming. I think that really they mostly want you to take charge, and all they need is some wiggle room.

      If neither choice is acceptable, then I just say, well, choose by the time I count to three, or I choose for you. And then that’s that.

      The five nice things idea is awesome. Plain and simple.

      And go easy on yourself about the parenting books. Maybe just skim a chapter here and there that sounds interesting– you probably don’t need an encyclopeida of info, just some inspiration.

  5. Thank you for this. Thank you thank you thank you. My son just turned 4 two weeks ago and in the past two months he has gone from a wonderfully polite and sweet boy to a crabby 13 year old girl. He is constantly arguing with us, tells us “NO” which he NEVER did before and yesterday actually rolled his eyes at me and said “Ugh. Whatever.” I suppose this is my payback for never having dealt with the terrible 2s or 3s, but god help me, it is SO HARD. It’s like he’s pushing my buttons on purpose and somehow he knows exactly what to say/do for optimal mommy madness. But I’m going to try this!

  6. Oh, my three year old is a total and complete pain in the butt when it comes to the bath. He will just not. get. out. I ended up once (and I am not proud of this) LOCKING HIM IN THE EMPTY BATHROOM (water drained from tub), and then when THAT didn’t work, turning out the lights. He got out then. Sure, he’s traumatized for life, but hey! He got out of the tub. That’s *my* version of awesome parenting.

    That five nice things idea is great. I’m stealing it. I’ll start now: Elizabeth is an awesome blogger and I hope she posts EVERYDAY and I don’t care if it is considered whiny. It’s not! We love it!

  7. I don’t even begin to pretend I understand the struggles of dealing with stubborn child behavior but this 5 Nice Things concept actually IS kind of mind blowing. I mean yes in a kind of Oprah-Gratitude-Journal kind of way, but man, sometimes that stuff just works!

  8. AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. My dad has mentioned the 5 nice things to me before, but in terms of marriage. (He’s a psychologist.) Apparently healthy marriages have 5 positive interactions for every negative one. Makes sense that it would be true for other healthy relationships as well.

    I’m totally with you on not reading parenting books. Whenever I read them I find myself a) disagreeing with the suggestions and being annoyed at the author b) saying, “but I already DO that!” or c) feeling guilty about things I know I SHOULD be doing and want to be doing but am not doing. So I find them pretty useless.

    Also, I’m going to second April’s suggestion of giving choices that both benefit you. Works well around here.

  10. I love and use the opt-out technique. What I’ve found is that then I get to a natural point later on where I’m done with the opt-out, and at that point it inevitably goes smoothly to have the child start taking on the thing I was opting out of: by the time I’m tired of it, they’re past wanting to fight about it.

    I’ll try the nice things per critical thing idea.

  11. Sometimes those mothers-in-law actually have good advice, don’t they? Dammit 😉

  12. I learned from my niece, who is 20, that you should never bother to argue with a kid because they’re always wrong. And you know what? She’s right! I have stopped arguing with Jack. When I catch myself, I say, “I’m not arguing.” And I stop. And it seems to work.

    I have the advantage of having a FOUR-year-old, though, which makes a HUGE DIFFERENCE. Three is the devil’s age.

    I love the nice things idea.

  13. Um. I don’t have a kid, but I am totally stealing the five nice things for every not nice thing for my nieces and nephews because I’m fearful that I may become the crotchety old mean aunt if I’m not careful. My husband and I often come home from family events and discuss our version of “discipline” which has no basis in reality being childless and all. But. From here on it, it’s going to be sunshine and happiness and occasional “we don’t hits” and “let’s share with your younger brother and not kick him in the heads”.

  14. Totally awful weird blog-stalker moment, but are you doing free museum day tomorrow? Want to have a Sacto blogger/reader meetup, maybe at the zoo?

  15. I’ve been told I was doing the refusing to get dressed for preschool thing when I was 3, so my parents did take me in my pajamas. And I apparently dove headfirst into the ‘lost and found’ bin to get out clothes as soon as I got into school because I was so embarrassed. Never happened again.

  16. Hmm, that five nice things idea is worth a try.
    My son gets defiant at different things – things that I haven’t figured out tricks for.

    But for getting dressed, every morning he and I have a race. I make sure he knows I’m a bit behind him (I don’t even know what I’m going to wear yet!), and he’s so competitive he can’t stand to lose. Even when he digs in a stays on the living room couch, as soon as he thinks I’m in my room getting dressed he zooms into his to surprise me by winning.

    As for the bath, as soon as he gets in, we negotiate a time when he’s gonna get shampooed and a time when the plug gets pulled, and we’ve got a gigantic digital clock in there. We’ve been doing this for years (he’s now 6). I say, ok, pulling the plug when the clock says 8:00, and he’ll say, 8:15, and we meet in the middle.

    Other stuff? I’m going to try the five nice things when I feel like I’m going to scream.

  17. When I was teaching preschool, it wasn’t that unusual for kids to come in their pajamas (or Halloween costumes, or raincoats and tutus), and I definitely would have told any parent to just opt out of a morning argument by letting their kid come dressed as is. (If it bothers him when he gets there, there’s usually a change of clothes to be found).

    I love, love, love the five nice things idea: I find I’m the overly cautious Auntie, who’s always saying things like “maybe we don’t need the sharpest pair of scissors in the house to cut out our valentines” or “it’s probably not the safest idea to do headstands on the kitchen counter.” Which often makes me feel like the bad guy, because I am obviously spoiling all the fun. So I’m going to try to balance out every ‘OMG why are you trying to poison yourself by eating dead things from the yard?” with something nice. Because there’s a lot of nice to be said about these kids, for sure.

  18. Three year olds. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. or whatever. Seriously, when Eli isn’t being heartbreakingly sweet, he’s being a menace to society kind of child that causes total strangers to recoil in horror and rush to refill their birth control prescription. But the sweet is SO sweet. Thank goodness.
    I’m glad you found some solutions that are working. Dude, sometimes it IS hard to remember to be nice to the people we love the most. Especially when they’re acting like little terrorists.
    Also, this is a comment for your last post, but omg, YES, my yard makes me want to give up in exhaustion and just let it go to weeds. I feel like it takes so much work just to keep it looking decent, much less attractive. I have no idea how people get their yards to look so pretty. By not having jobs or children, I imagine.

  19. Awesome. And I know you said you don’t really want to read parenting books (I don’t usually either), but The Nurtured Heart Approach is a book all about the method you just described. It describes how to use it really effectively to curb behavior issues–but the really great thing about it is that the author doesn’t believe in just doing it as a discipline technique but as a way to build a positive foundation for your child to truly believe in their own greatness.

    It’s what our daughter’s Montessori uses, and it is probably what some might consider a hippy-dippy approach (very opposite of Love and Logic), but it is hard to read it and not be convinced of how important it is.

  20. I have a three year old that seems to fight everything that I try to do. I have to chase him around to get dressed. I have to try and pull him out of the tub because he won’t get out. Its pretty hard to pull a 42 pound boy that’s fighting me out of the tub. I’m surprised I haven’t pulled a muscle in my back. It seems that everything is a battle these days. I’ll have to try saying nice things to him. So far, everything I have tried doesn’t work. He will put himself in time out just to spite me.

  21. I don’t write very much about my oldest (he’s five) because it seems like 90% of my interactions with him are arguments. I generally try to opt out, but its difficult to reach a compromise with a person who screams “I will never want to do anything you want to do!!”

    When he was 3, we had daily battles over getting dressed, both in the morning and the evening. He liked to wear mostly tshirts and sweatpants, so I started dressing him for school the night before, instead of pajamas. It was still a fight to get dressed at night, but the morning was no fight over getting dressed, because he was already dressed.

    When he figured out that plan and started insisting on wearing pajamas, I bought five matching tshirts and sweatpants, and those were his pjs. Want to stay in your pjs all day? No problem, since they are actually real clothes! Bwahahah!

  22. I am filing this away to use in 3 years.

    However the five nice things also works with spouses, etc. My husband is a bit of a perfectionist while I am not. Sometimes, I feel like everything he says is a critique. I have heard about the five things to every negative and have told him about it. I am not sure that he actively follows the rule, but it helps to remind him that he needs to say plenty of positive things to counteract his “strong preferences.”

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