These past few weeks, my gorgeous, funny, kind three-year-old has been replaced by a grumpy, shouty monster child. There is a lot going on: he’s started kinder two days per week, we are getting ready to move (again), Lee and I are back at work after the holidays. Our little family feels a bit like we are in limbo – our Coburg house is open for inspection but we spend weekends building the kitchen and scheming plans for Yarra Yarra, the boys kinder and swimming lessons are in Warrandyte but all our friends are still in Coburg and Brunswick. All the disequilibrium must be rubbing off on my sensitive little dude, because oh boy is he playing up.
He is not one to have big temper tantrums (except for one time at the Melbourne Zoo gift shop when I literally had to promise him that Santa would bring the seaplane toy he fell in love with (PS Santa delivered the goods)), but he throws things at me, runs away or collapses onto the floor giving me 1001 reasons why he doesn’t need to have a shower, or put his shoes on, or immediately build a firetruck out of a cardboard box just as he’s getting his jammies on for bed.
I am a pretty relaxed parent and encourage lots of playing outside, getting messy and taking risks. My kids use knives to chop food, can drill holes with an electric drill and (attempt to) skateboard on their own. I figure that taking risks now, when the stakes are pretty low, will minimise the risk taking when they are teenagers and the stakes are much higher.
We have tried time outs and reward charts but frankly, they don’t work for my kids and led to a ridiculous bargaining system that Archie quickly outsmarted. I let them jump on the bed and run around screeching like banshees and play cricket in the hallway. My theory is that with two parents with ‘anxious tendencies’ (read: full blown anxiety disorders), my best tactic for protecting my kids’ mental health is to encourage them to find their voices and strengths early so they are confident enough in themselves to be resilient in the face of anything the world throws at them. Some of our family rules posted on the pantry door are “We are loud”, “We can talk about hard things” and “We are kind to each other and to ourselves” along with the usual no hitting, no punching, no being mean.
My favourite book about parenting (and business, and marriage, and anything involving humans dealing with other humans) is How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish. The emotion-based philosophy is really coming into its own for my moody kindergartener. When he is cross, even when he is trying to hit me, I hug him tight and give a name to his feelings. When he is sad, we talk about things that might make him feel better. I try hard to take him seriously and set firm boundaries which he constantly comes crashing up against. I read once that setting loving boundaries as a child helps encourage self-discipline as an adult. And after all, he will be an adult for a lot longer than he is a child. I need to remind myself that he is still tiny, still learning and that his big emotions are terrifying, to me and to him.
And now I’m going to go kiss his sweaty little sleeping head and hope that tomorrow is calmer