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.
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