Unmet Expectations

Twitter_PhotoIn June, I had Dr. Deborah Gilboa–aka Dr. G–here as a Sluiter Nation Recruit and to answer a question I had about Eddie’s Listening Ears.  She is back today by popular demand…mine.  I had another question that I thought maybe other  moms of kids Eddie’s age would have to.

This was my question:

Eddie is a very kind, smart boy. But he has a hard time handling anger and frustration. Instead of just getting pouty or huffy, he screams and throws things – and sometimes hits.  If we try to talk to him when he is like this, he just screams at us and will not use his words. When we send him to timeout for things like throwing toys, he screams the whole time. We ignore it and let him sit there for the 3 minutes (which he does). Is this a good consequence, or should we be doing something else?

And here is Dr. G’s answer:

Well, Sluiter Nation, this is a familiar story in the houses of three year olds everywhere.

I understand why you think he has a hard time handling anger and frustration, but I disagree. The fact that Eddie sits in time out the entire three minutes is incredibly impressive! He is demonstrating an amazing amount of self-control that he doesn’t get up, run away, or hit during that time.

So let’s talk about the development of a three year old and emotions.

He has transitioned out of the baby and young toddler age, and both you (his parents) and he have higher expectations for your interactions now. You expect him to ask, wait, listen, learn from the situation around him at any given time. He expects you to understand exactly what he wants and how he feels. And, he still expects his desires to be met right away.

What causes most kid melt downs at age 3?

  • Delayed gratification. We want our kids to wait to get something they want and they don’t want to wait.
  • “No.” This is actually harder for Eddie now than it was a year ago. Why? Because now he believes you. He understands that “No” means that he will not get the thing he wants, but he doesn’t understand (nor care about) “Why.”
  • “It’s not fair!” Three year olds (and 13 year olds) think “fair” means “equal.” So if you drink a soda, he should get to also. If his friend has 68 trains at his house and a Wii, he wants the same.

Why is it harder to handle 3 year old melt downs than it was a year or more ago?

  • He’s bigger! He is more coordinated, stronger and louder, and a little less cute when he totally loses it.
  • He regresses. Your three year old actually loses his listening and self-control skills that he had ten minutes ago, and you feel somewhat betrayed.
  • He can’t figure out what is happening. He can’t actually use his words, he doesn’t know why you don’t get what he needs or why he isn’t getting it (just like when he was a baby) during that meltdown.

So what can you do?

  • Exactly what you are doing is great. If he hits, time out. If he throws stuff, time out.
  • Separation. If he is not throwing or hitting, but needs to scream, he can choose to go do that in his room. This is not a punishment, just (like picking your nose) not something it is polite to do in front of other people. Screaming mean stuff, however, means a time out.
  • Mirror. This doesn’t work all the time, but occasionally can be really effective. If you catch Eddie at the beginning of a meltdown, you can mirror his words or emotion in short, declarative sentences (act like a mad 3 year old). Then, if he stops to stare at you, laugh a little. You might be able to break the cycle and find a more relaxed solution. This probably won’t work, though, if you were the one that made him mad in the first place.

Remember, before you know it he will be in a new developmental phase. He will handle “no” differently, and have some different challenge for you!

In the meantime, every time you put Eddie in time out (and ignore his freak out) you are teaching him he can trust you. You do what you say you’re going to do. You take care of him no matter how he behaves or what he says. He can count on you to keep your word.  You work with teenagers Kate, you know that they need, more than anything, to know that their parents will stand up and enforce consequences, right?

Thanks, Dr. G!  It’s good to hear we are on the right track.

So tell me friends, do your kids stay in time out?  Do they freak their freak while they are there?

Check out Dr. G’s website, twitter, and facebook for more great advice!

listening ears

Today’s Sluiter Nation Recruit is sort of different.  And special.

Twitter_PhotoToday Dr. Deborah Gilboa of Ask Dr. G is here answering a question I have about Eddie’s behavior.

“Dr. G is a board certified family physician, mother of four, and a professional parenting speaker and writer she follows 4 basic principals when guiding parents from toddlerhood to young adulthood – Respect, Responsibility, Responsiveness and Resilience.”

I was so excited when she contacted me about being here today.

I have talked about Eddie’s “listening ears” before, and many of you commiserated with me about having similar problems with your 2-4 year olds.  So, Dr. G is giving us some advice today!

Here was the question I posed to her:

Eddie ignores us.  Even though he knows there are consequences.  And then, when the consequences inevitably happen, he acts shocked and surprised and scream-cries every. Single. Time.

How can we get better listening ears the FIRST time we tell him to do something?

And here is her response:

Well, Sluiter Nation, this is not unique to your land! Or, at the very least this is something our two home countries have in common.

Let’s talk about “ignoring.”

To an adult, ignoring is what is happening if I ask my child to do something and he doesn’t look at me, say “Sure Mom, I’d be happy to drop this fun thing to do that super-annoying and pointless thing you want without any complaint” and then get up and do it. Immediately.

From Eddie’s point of view, he is not ignoring you!  He is (take your pick) playing, thinking, listening to something else, imagining, building, wrestling, resting, “reading” or any number of other really important-to-him activities. AND, you can only consider yourself ignored if you know he heard you.

Here are three tricks to actually getting a kid’s attention:

  1. If you don’t have eye contact he can’t hear you. So don’t start talking until he is looking you in the eye. The part of his brain that can actually attend to your words is not engaged if he is focusing on something else. Some kids can’t hear you until they have put down the toy, even if they’re looking at you.
  2. Don’t make your request until he’s participating in the conversation. Set you and Eddie up for success (defined as asking only once). Do this by calling his name or tapping him or shooting of a flare gun until he looks at you and answers you. “Yes Mommy?”
  3. If you have to repeat yourself, get quieter instead of louder. The instinct to escalate our volume when saying something for a second time is almost inescapable! Unfortunately, as volume rises, so does blood pressure and frustration. If you get quieter he will attend to your words better.

Once you have his attention you have to make a quick assessment. Ask yourself, “Is there a good chance of him doing what I’m asking?”

  • An easy one: “Please put on your shoes to go to the park.” Good bet that he jumps up!
  • Something that could use a reward: “Please put down the Legos and wash your hands for dinner. First time please so that we have time for a puzzle together after dinner!”
  • Something that might need a consequence: “Clean up that game and thank your friend for the playdate. We have to go, and if I need to ask again we won’t be able to stop at the library on the way home.”

The last tip I want to leave you with is this: If you have to repeat yourself sometimes you didn’t fail. Do you do everything you’re asked the first time? I sure don’t. Just ask my husband, or my kids for that matter! Keep in mind that Eddie is old enough to have his own “agenda” about his day and that, though your way is better for him, you are throwing a wrench in his plans! You’re (of course) in charge, but we can have a little empathy that our kids don’t really get much decision-making power about their schedule.

Happy communicating!



Thank you, Dr. G for this great advice!  Cort and I have already tried this and we get a WAY better response when we get eye contact from Eddie FIRST before telling/asking him what to do.

Find more Q&A on Dr. G’s blog and follow her on facebook and twitter (love interacting with her in both of these places!  She is ALWAYS available to answer questions!)

Bring Dr. G to come speak at your school or church or work or university.