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!