Gathering Kindness Stones


“I don’t yike you guys. I don’t yuv you either. I don’t yike ANYBODY.”

This is Eddie’s go to response when he is angry or frustrated or disappointed.  We never taught him to say these words, and we have NEVER said these words to him or to each other.

But this is his response to not being able to play Mario Kart or having a toy taken away or being denied a cookie after dinner or…well, you get it.

At first we were just glad he was using his words at all.  Up until recently (and really he still does this from time to time) he would furrow his brow and grunt or give little screams at us when he was upset.  Grunts and screams that interrupted what we were trying to explain or say to him.

“Use your words, Eddie.”

Between our efforts and practice at daycare, Eddie slowly started to use his words.

“I AM SO MAD RIGHT NOW,” he would say with gritted teach and fists clenched,  pushed down toward the ground. His scowl–complete with flared nostrils–was enough to burn a hole in your heart.

And recently he has started adding, “and I don’t yike you. Or yuv you.”

It’s as if he doesn’t know how else to put words to his disappointment or frustration.  As soon as he feels he has been wronged, I watch the temper rise. I can almost see the boiling instantly begin.

You know how when a cartoon character gets really mad, the blood rises up to his face and he turns all red and steam blows out of his ears?

That happens to Eddie.

He has also started to give ultimatums.  For instance the other day he colored (on purpose) on the kitchen table and I calmly said, “Eddie. You know we don’t use the crayons on the table.  Just on the paper, please.” I knew he was tired and being defiant because he was transitioning back to daycare after a week off for spring break.  We had just gotten home and I knew he was temperamental.

But what happened was a shit storm.

“FINE!  I WILL TEAR UP THE PICTURES I MADE YOU AT NAE’S HOUSE!” and he proceeded to rip up the pictures that he had held on to so carefully the whole drive home.  The pictures that he had spent the entire 10-minute drive explaining to me about the “dinosaur with the really looong neck because I like T-rexes.” The pictures he asked if I wanted to take to my work and hang up. He ripped them to shreds with tears flowing down his face.

Before I could stop him, he had shredded his pictures.  I didn’t know whether to cry for him or be angry.  He was so distraught.

“I AM GOING TO THROW ALL OF THESE CRAYONS IN THE GARBAGE!!” he was shouting as I was still trying to figure out what to do.

“No, you’re not, Eddie.  They are fine and don’t need to be thrown away.”

I calmly took them from him and he started screaming and crying LOUDLY.  So I sent him to his room to calm down.

Recently, in an attempt to curb his mean comments (and occasional unkind behavior),  I set up a Kindness Bucket in the kitchen.  I have a little baggie of stones next to it called Kindness Stones.  When he displays kind and loving behavior, we put Stones in the bucket.

These are easy for him.  Over spring break he had gathered almost all of the Kindness Stones in his bucket just by being himself: giving Charlie the last cheese it (unprompted), helping me with laundry, volunteering to swifter the floors, picking up his toys as well as Charlie’s.  All of these things he just does without being asked to, so it’s fun to call his attention to how many times he is kind during the day.  And he LOVES it.

He loses stones from the bucket when he is unkind.  If he pushes his brother or screams in someone’s face or tell us he doesn’t love us, he loses a stone.  We are trying to teach him that he is a really REALLY kind boy, but sometimes he does things that are unkind. That hurt his family.

We even talked about what he thought would be a good reward for earning ALL of the Kindness Stones.  He told Cort he would really love to have dinner–all of us together–at Red Robin.  Cortney and I agreed that was a fabulous idea.  So that is what Eddie is working toward.

The problem is that he gets SO frustrated lately.  When he loses a kindness stone he will yell, “FINE!  TAKE THEM ALL OUT!  ALL OF THEM!”

It makes me so sad.  Of course I don’t take them all out.  And I explain to him there is no way I am taking all of the kindness he has shown away for one small act of meanness.

I know it’s his age.  He is three-going-on-four.

I know he is still learning how to express himself.  He feels his feelings but doesn’t know what to do with them or what words to put with them.  Let’s be honest, I’m 35 and I STILL have trouble putting words to my feelings sometimes too.

Sometimes, when he blows up and just says, “forget it, take it all away!” I know how he is feeling.  How many times have I wanted to upend my desk at work or throw my laptop out the window?  How many times have I felt like I would rather just have someone take all the good away if I can’t have it my way?

Cort and I are struggling with this phase.

We know he needs our guidance.  He needs our love and patience.  He needs our safety while he figures it out.

But he also needs us to let him know that is not the best way to deal with being frustrated, disappointed, angry, or sad.

Yesterday, after he lost his mind once again and we sent him to his room, Cort and I were deciding who would go talk to him once he calmed down.  Cort “won”.

“What are my talking points on this one?” he asked.

“Um. Hey Ed. Here is your shit.  You lost it upstairs?” I offered.

“Heh.  Right on. I’ll just give him his shit back.”

That is what Cort did. He helped Ed find his lost shit, as I took a kindness stone out of his bucket hoping he would earn it back quickly.

And he did.

About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.


  1. Ugh. This is such a tough age. My R is also three, and we frequently hear “I don’t like you” or “I don’t like my mommy and daddy.” Like Eddie, he says this after we’ve told him something he doesn’t like, or we’ve told him no on something. I like your idea of the kindness stones — I might have to implement that at our house too!

    Good luck getting through this phase!

    • The stones are a hit in this house. Eddie likes to count how many he has and talk about how many he got. It’s cute because I keep them up where he can’t reach them, so I will randomly say, “oh, you get 2 kindness stones! one for this and one for that!” and he will suddenly remember and get so happy!

  2. TheNextMartha says

    Three. Oh three. Four is better. Five is best. Hang in there.

    • It’s hard to wish this time away since three is also full of quite a bit of silliness and awesome, but in those breakdown moments? Oy.

  3. I ask Laura if we can work to pull herself together. Laura just starts sobbing harder, saying “I can’t find my pieces!” It’s so tragic!

  4. Oh, three and a half. You asshole. Z is squarely there and although he tends to be very verbal (I am so angry with you; I’m sad right now, you no talk to me, kay?), I’ve noticed this weird groan/grunt/maniacal I’m going to kill you all sound he makes when he gets angry lately. He just stands there, fists balled up, and makes this sound so…so…REDRUM like.

    I love your kindness stones idea, though. And yeah, it’ll pass. Look at it this way. His shit is findable, just lost, misplaced, but able to be found.

  5. I just read somewhere (don’t remember where) recently that boys get a surge in their testosterone levels as they approach four causing them to “lose their shit.” I really wish I would have heard that when my son was 3 going on 4. It would have explained a lot.
    I also wish I had thought of kindness stones back then!

  6. My 5 yr old daughter is in the midst of this I don’t like you phase and it is heartbreaking sometimes. We are currently using the I am sorry that you feel that way, I love you reinforcement. She understands that right now we have to be parents but when she is all grown up we can be friends.

    • we say that A LOT too, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I love you for always!” I also say, “when you calm down and find your words, we can talk about this. Until then, sit in your room or lay on your bed and try to find those word. I love you.”

      He also likes to tell us we are mean. This morning Cort responded “if keeping you safe makes me mean, then I will be the meanest parent because that is how much I love you.”

  7. I almost cried when you said he ripped up his pictures. My oldest (4yrs) is a crier, and goes to her room until the tears have stopped and then we talk about it. She’s remarkably good at talking through things once the tears stop! I fear my youngest will be more physical in her anger.

  8. Katie…as an In Home Behavioral Therapist you are doing an awesome job <3 I have families who use this technique with many behaviors and he will get it….if he does well with verbal praise utilize that in between, and if you want behavior chart Ideas let me know…sometimes if the kindness jar is all he's got an immediate reward (praise, a sticker with a short term reward (like daily) often helps offset the building of the amount in the jar and the loss of something he's worked so hard for…

    • This is so reassuring! Thank you! We do have a responsibility chart too that lists “duties” like pick up toys, use “please” & “thank you”, brush teeth, etc. It’s magnetic and he gets smile faces when he does them. If he fills up a week, he gets to choose between the Donut Shop with daddy or Starbucks with mommy. Like a little date 🙂 He responds VERY well to that which is what gave me the idea for the kindness stones (we also used sticker charts for potty training and for when he transitioned to a big boy bed.) Home Slice is ALL about getting positive reinforcement so we praise him a LOT.

      • You’re welcome!!! And this is Awesome! the little carrots are the perfect way to go with things like chores and then using the long term rewards (like the kindness jar) to work on the things that are more widespread 🙂 as someone who does this work in homes for a living I’m glad to see a mother who can come up with these things on her own and be consistent 🙂 it all sounds perfect 🙂

  9. I love the idea of a Kindness Bucket and Kindness Stones. I need to do this once my little guy can understand concepts (we start speech therapy this weekend!).

    I’m sorry it’s been so tough. I do think you’re doing wonderfully.

    • Exciting that he is staring speech therapy! I will be thinking of him (although I think about you guys lots and send up random little prayers for stuff like that. Creepy? I hope not!). And yeah, Eddie responds VERY well to positive reinforcement, so we try to remind him of all the ways he is a great kid as much as possible.

  10. Love this! My almost four year old just dissolves into a puddle of tears over the littlest things. It is just heart breaking. I love this idea. And he LOVES rocks!

    • Oh yeah, it is tear-fest here lots of times too. And it’s at the drop of a hat! One minute he’s the happiest kid on the block, the next? It’s like we need an exorcist!

  11. I love the idea of a Kindness Bucket. My daughter has been going through this for months (but maybe now is emerging????). It’s so sad and frustrating to watch. Especially since I sometimes want to do the same thing…

    • Right?!? It’s heartbreaking to see them go through stuff you can’t just fix! The Kindness Bucket has been great for us. Eddie REALLY responds well to positive reinforcement!

  12. The kindness stone idea seems like a great way for us to handle things around here. Sylvia is the same age so I understand how challenging 3.5 really is. I sometimes get slapped or kicked and I get so upset that my daughter would treat me like this. But she doesn’t know any better. It’s my responsibility and my husband’s to teach her that is not the way to express her feelings. I bet this kindness bucket will work! Plus I’m ordering the Melissa and Doug chore chart you have. We need to step it up in this house.

    • Eddie responded so well to the M&D responsibility chart (after doing well with sticker charts I made him for potty training and for staying in his big boy bed when we did that transition), that I came up with the Kindness Stones idea. Positive Reinforcement is definitely the way to go with Eddie. It will be interesting to see if Charlie is the same way or if we will have to take a different approach with him.

  13. Oh my goodness, this age is so difficult sometimes. I don’t want to wish it away, but those tantrums? Oy. We’re going through the same thing here with my son. I absolutely love the idea of Kindness Stones so I think I’m going to try to apply something similar in our house.

  14. I love the idea of kindness stones.
    It really sounds like you’re dealing with this stage really well though. I can tell just by your words. I hope when my kids reach that stage I can be as patient and understanding. I think you’re really teaching him well.

  15. Oh my. That must be pretty heartwrenching every time it happens. I can’t handle kids who scream mean things at me. I’d probably cry. And I totally know how it feels to be frustrated like that. I’m not a very good communicator.

    I hope all gets better soon. …smiles…