Friday, August 03, 2007

Is Nana Right? Am I Doing Something WRONG with HB?—Advice Welcome

I don’t mind getting advice on child raising. Hey, I even ask for it from parents I admire and trust. So I’m soliciting it from you folks.

But first, more about my mother-in-law. More context. Part of what made me so angry is that she does not say anything good or positive about me. This in itself does not make me mad; I’m pretty thick-skinned in that way—I don’t need a ton of affirmation from people I’m not close to. But when she finally makes a comment, it’s usually negative. And this is despite a conscious effort on my part to compliment her often, since she clearly does need it and since it’s not my reflex to pay compliments in general. (Have I said lately that you guys are terrific? Well, you are!) Another thing that made me angry is that my husband was never allowed to suggest to her that her way of parenting is anything but gold medal-worthy. When his younger brother was having serious problems in high school, for instance, and my husband tried to suggest different ways to approach him, she dissolved into hysterics, sobbing, “I’m the worst mother in the world! I never do anything right! You hate me!” etc. And the things she did after she and my husband’s father got divorced were pretty awful. She meets most of the criteria for Histrionic Personality Disorder (you should see how she dresses, Oh-My-God); my husband’s thought when he first read that description was, “Hey! They’ve met Mom!” He, bless his mensch-y soul, learned pretty early that you should not take her personally in any way, and this makes my life oh so much easier. I just shouldn’t fall into the trap myself.

Enough about her. Here’s the deal with my kid. I realize it could sound like sensory integration disorder from some of the descriptions I’ve given, but that definitely does not fit him. He’s neither over or under-sensitive to anything, doesn’t seek or avoid stimulation, doesn’t swing or spin any more than average, isn’t more or less active than average, is well coordinated, will walk on any surfaces, likes a lot of different food (except vegetables), and is no more impulsive or distractible than the average three-year-old. He toilet-trained himself for the most part. And eye contact—he is the king of eye contact. I haven’t read much on the issue (and some of the descriptions sound a little like horoscopes, I must say), but no, it doesn’t resonate. We’ve talked in depth with several very talented people at his daycare, too, and they had no concerns at all in this area.

My kid is, however, a handful, and more of a handful for me than for other people. My kid is intense and willful. The things that people typically say about him are: “He really knows what he wants.” “He’s so serious!” If HB wants to do something, he REALLY wants to. There’s no particular pattern to what he wants; this morning’s examples were to leave the sand ON his shoes, to watch his father clean up the cat poop, and to have me play baseball with him; last night it was to eat candy before dinner, to hang the new shower curtain himself, to take a shower and not a bath, not to brush his teeth, etc. All normal stuff for his age. The only difference between him and other kids is how fiercely he insists and how mad he gets when thwarted. He threw a tantrum in the car the last time my parents visited because he decided that we should stop at green lights and go at red lights, and was OUTRAGED that we wouldn’t comply. He’s not much of a biter or a hitter, but he yells and cries a LOT. (TH and I almost never yell, by the way.)

The problem with car rides has never been getting him into the seat; it’s that after ten minutes or so, he wants to be doing something else, and no amount of distraction will convince him otherwise. It’s gotten better and better the more interested he’s become in watching the world go by, but there’s always the risk that he’ll, say, spot a train and then want to see another one.

As for sleep: aside from the period when he couldn’t breathe (he’s completely over that now, by the way), he’s quite a good sleeper; he’s just a night owl, and doesn’t sleep a lot. He naps for about an hour and a half each afternoon (and it is impossible to prevent him from doing so—we’ve experimented on the weekends, in the hopes of an earlier bedtime). He has a nighttime routine—bath, milk, stories, bed—and doesn’t need to be patted/rocked/sung to sleep, but does want me with him. If he is put to bed at eight, he doesn’t protest, he just tosses and turns and talks and requests politely to get up. If he is put to bed at nine-thirty, he usually goes to sleep. He wakes up at seven, usually on his own. He is not to any outward appearances overtired at night; he is in fact at his most pleasant from eight to nine-thirty. He doesn’t even yawn.

Our approach has been to try and accommodate him within the bounds of health and safety and politeness. Trying to harm someone else results in a timeout. Please and thank you are strictly enforced, even with Mama and Daddy. No TV except for DVDs (so as to avoid commercials), and fairly little of that. No candy for dinner, the car seat stays buckled, teeth get brushed, hands are washed, all that stuff. But we let him stay in his our bed at night, he can run around naked if he wants, and we try to indulge most requests for us to play with him.

The toughest part for me is that he’s so very attached to me. He would love it if I would carry him everywhere (and I do carry him a LOT. It has done wonders for my upper body strength—you should see my arms: I’ve got guns). He’d like to be able to pat and stroke and blow raspberries on me all day and all night. It’s tempting to say that this is because I work a lot. This is probably why I didn’t wean him for so long and it’s definitely why we never made him cry it out at night and let him sleep in our bed. But putting more time in with him doesn’t really change him. He’s exactly as clingy and demanding on the seventh day of a vacation as he is on a Monday night. No matter what, I get the brunt of the intensity and rage, and when he’s really on a roll, it’s no fun.

It’s gotten easier, for sure. He can now be reasoned with; if I can explain to his satisfaction why I want him to do something, there’s a fair chance he’ll agree. He’s also gotten more interested in doing things for himself, thank heavens. And I can tell that I’ll enjoy him even more as he gets older. Last night I showed him how a toilet works, which was pretty cool. I feel like if I can make it through the next couple of years, it will be mostly a blast to be his mother.

So … any advice?


resident mama said...

He sounds A LOT like my three-year-old, especially in the sleep and willfulness department. Maybe it has something to do with being insane enough to take on medicine and mothering at the same time.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with him? It sounds like he's...him. And it's tough to be that kind of a kid when you're a toddler and have no control, so you yell and scream a lot. But when you get older and you can do more with your energy, it gets easier.

This sounded really familiar to me: "If HB wants to do something, he REALLY wants to. There’s no particular pattern to what he wants; this morning’s examples were to leave the sand ON his shoes..." etc. My youngest son is the same way. He's not ADHD, especially willful, or anything like that: he just formulates very specific desires and mostly manages to communicate them, and then is not happy when we can't accommodate them.

My boy goes through phases where he is relatively distractable (sp?), and then phases when he is most.definitely.not. The phases when he is not coincide with times when he is especially tired, sick, or teething.

Sorry this is not much help, but it sounds to me like being consistent and setting ground rules for things that are important, but letting the non-important stuff slide so he can feel like he has some measure of control, is the way to go, and you are already doing that.

I didn't comment on the other post but I am so pissed at your MIL for suggesting therapy. If someone suggested that when one of my kids was having a routine tantrum, I might punch a wall. Just what you don't need.

Anonymous said...

I just wrote this long comment and then I realized I wasn't sure what question you were asking.

I'm trying to get a sense of your worry, first. Your son sounds very much like my daughter in a lot of ways. If my kid were an adult, she would be certifiable. The thing about wanting one thing one second and another thing another second e.g., wanting to wear a coat in 100 degree weather and then having a crazy meltdown if they are forbidden this? This is classic three year old behavior. I hope anyway!

It probably comes in various grades of intensity and your child may have it in a higher octane.

But was there something you were worried about with his development or were you wondering about this crazy stage?

Is the worry there is something wrong with him? I think it sounds like probably there is not if the people at daycare are not having a problem.

If you can reason with him, there is hope!

I discovered with my own daughter that yes, she needs to spend LOTS OF TIME with me. LOTS. And the more time she spends with me, the happier she is. And now I'm at a point where I can't spend that much time with her but I did for months and months and I saw a definite change. So maybe this is true for your son, but I don't know.

It WILL be a blast.

Sorry I couldn't be more help. I'm not an expert mama!

KC said...

My daughter is also willful and intense and I just wrote about how I don't always handle this well.

I think you are doing the right things by being consistent, setting limits, and giving way when no real harm will be done. They want control, independence and sometimes are freaked out by realizing they are still small.

A stiff drink helps too.

DoctorMama said...

I DON'T think there's anything wrong with HB; I'm more asking if I'm doing something wrong. I changed the title to reflect that.

It's a little hard to explain the difference between how HB acts and how other kids his age do -- it is mostly a matter of degree, but it's also that he almost never amuses himself. Ever. He won't even watch TV by himself (and really, what's the point of TV if you can't use it as a babysitter?).

Stiff drinks do help a lot.

Sarah said...

Echoing the above commenters. Three is a difficult age - they figure out that they want things, and feel that they should be able to control their environments. When they can't, they get frustrated. A three year old needs to learn appropriate ways to deal with that frustration and learn that the world will not always bend to suit them. Sounds to me like you're being firm and consistent, so the next thing to do is wait it out.
One thing that comes to mind is good old Mr. Rogers. I remember an episode from way back when about different ways to deal with frustration. It seems from your post that the biggest problem is the tantrums - maybe you could work with HB on alternative ways to work off the angry energy?

I've got a three year old. We did the tantrums thing last year, but it burned out relatively quickly. (mostly we ignored them - not always easy or feasible, but it worked) Now we're working on the constant whiiiiiiining.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I'm sure you are doing a great job, and I KNOW you love your own child and want the best for him. That's one heck of a start! And as a working mom (attorney), I understand the issues/worry/wonder about whether we spend enough time with our little ones.

The only thing that stood out for me in your post is that you mentioned that TH and you almost never yell and you also talked about "accommodat[ing] him within the bounds of ...politeness."

Sometimes, *some* children need you to step outside of that boundary of politeness. Some children need a voice to be raised by their parents.

I have two children, both girls, 22 months apart, with very different personalities. My 5 year old has never even been to timeout. Never. My 3 year old ... well, let's say things are better now, and she only goes to timeout maybe once a week. For awhile it was every other day. And yes, I DO raise my voice with her. I try not to disrespect her - but she has a personality that only respects me if I show her that I am serious and mean business. She requires that kind of discipline; my 5 year old does not. My actions with respect for both of my children are driven by nothing more than love.

I want my 3 year old to understand that she cannot act without concern for consequences; if I do not teach her that lesson, the world will. It is because I love her that I send her to timeout for being disobedient or taking tantrums to "the next level". I'm no hardcore person, I breastfed, co-slept and rejected CIO as much as the next Mommy, but I believe that it's my job to teach them good behavior, just as I "taught" them to sleep through the night.

I would suggest that you "try" a firmer approach to see if that works, since being polite has not been as successful as you might like. Just a humble opinion from someone who can relate!

Amie said...

My 3rd boy just turned 4. Three was the toughest age with all of them. I think it's because we expect more from them. I think because they can talk and communicate, we expect them to be more mature then maybe they are.

It's gets easier, it really does.

Anonymous said...

No advice needed. You definately don't need therapy. All of this sounds absolutely appropriate for a smart child. These phases seem to ebb and flow with my spirited boy and likely will for yours too.

Your mother in law was insensitive and harsh. Try and let it go if you can. Sounds like she's the one with the problem, not you.

Anonymous said...

I think the only thing you might be doing wrong is expecting him to 1) not be himself, and 2) act older than his years. He sounds extroverted and willful - I suspect this is part of who he is and is not a consequence of what you are or are not doing. After all, TH turned out great, right?

Anonymous said...

I remember one summer, not too long after a move (maybe no coincidence here!), that my pre-school age daughter wanted to be really close to me all summer. She pretty much spent the whole summer within four or five feet of me. So--okay. She played right beside me while I was in the kitchen, stayed within chatting range while I did anything at all, went EVERYWHERE with me (yes, outside to get the mail, yes, to the garage to do the laundry, yes, in and out to bring in the groceries, etc.,etc.), and it was just a phase. I think that sometimes a kid needs to get enough of something they really, really need, and then when they have gotten enough, they are done with the intensity of the need. And they are the only one who knows how much they need; you, the adult, probably aren't. (I wouldn't ever have offered all that constant togetherness--it would never have occurred to me.)
That one summer of making like Siamese twins seemed to be enough, and then she went on seamlessly to other interests. So if he is clingy now, capitalize on it, and enjoy it, by showing him and teaching anything at all that you think he could benefit from knowing/enjoy learning, and chatting with him all he wants.
I am totally convinced it won't last.
Plus,if he does need togetherness now, he will keep on working to get it till he does have enough. So best to provide it. Like weaning--I wouldn't keep offering, but would allow the clinginess if the kid seems to still need it.

You didn't specifically ask about this next idea, but I think that maybe you are dealing with two really different issues and inadvertently smooshing them in your own mind.
(1) You are grieving (and rightly so) the loss of the relationship with your MIL that you believed you had. You thought that you had a good thing going, you believed that it was working better for you and your MIL than it had for other people and your MIL, and you find you misread/misunderstood the relationship (or that she was willing to change it). Whatever, it is a personal loss to you.
(2) You are thinking through what is best for your child.

It may be helpful to you just to tell yourself (you already know it intellectually, but maybe not emotionally) that these are entirely different things, and to compartmentalize them in your own mind.

Anonymous said...

Your son sounds a lot like my 2.5 y/o daughter. And I have also been worried and wondered if something is psychologically wrong with her.

She has always been extremely willfull -- never took a bottle and would push one away even as a very young infant. Her tantrums are mostly 1-2 x per day and they are intense. Other people, even people who know her, tend to think something is physically wrong when they hear her. It gets to the point where I dont want to take her to the playground because of the tantrum that will happen when its time to leave. I deal with this with distraction -- she can often be distracted even if sometimes this means turning on the TV. Also giving her as much choice as possible and letting her know the reason ("no you can't have more pasta since there is no more left" and show the empty container)

The other behavior that makes this worse is the clinginess. Anytime she is out of her comfort zone, she wants to be held or otherwise attached to me. This has been consistant since she was a young baby (I sometimes thing it has to do with all the breastfeeding). I have spent many a playgroup with her on my lap while all the other 2 yos play happily in another room. And I can never leave her in the childcare at the gym for example because she'll scream.

I blame this partly on my working (3x a week she goes to daycare) and partly on my husband traveling frequently for work. However like you said it doesnt seem to matter how much I am with her, she always wants more. And freaks out when she doesn't get it.

So I dont have much advice except to say that I know where you are coming from and its definitely reassuring to me to read about HB. And also that my daughter does get easier every month. I can never relate to people who say "babies are easy" because mine was a total nightmare.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry about the mother-in-law nonsense, it's horrible to have to deal with.

I don't think you're doing anything wrong, either. You could try a different approach, like Monica C. suggested. Sometimes different approaches do lead to an "a-ha!" moment. And then if the different approach doesn't work, or makes things worse, go back to your former style.

You could try getting a lot tougher, some kids do react well to firm discipline, some don't (my older kid doesn't). You could try completely ignoring bad behavior (both my kids react very strongly if I turn or walk away from them-- if the two-year-old hits or bites me, she laughs until I turn my back on her and then she melts). It doesn't solve the car problem though. I know from car tantrums, oy.

Kids are often worse with their parents, sad but true. And they are often worse for one parent.

Focus on the good stuff? Try to do stuff that both of you enjoy (even small stuff) so that you can focus on the good stuff? Or even ask him to help you with a lot of small chores like carrying something to the trash can, or helping put laundry in the washing machine.

I don't know, this parenting stuff is all such a mystery.....

Anonymous said...

I winced when I read about your MIL. I'm not sure I could have handled it as well as you did. I would have been tempted to start rifling through the knife drawer.

Have you heard of temperament-based parenting? I don't know if this is a new thing or an old thing, but I remember reading about it, and it sounded like something that you might want to look into more.

Every child has a different temperament. Some kids have strong-willed, some are easygoing, some are shy, or distractable, or very sensitive.

Once a child's temperament has been identified -- usually the parent will fill out a rather extensive questionnaire about their child's behavior which gives clues about their child's temperament type -- the parents learn how to tailor their parenting to best mesh with their child's temperament and get the most positive results. For example, some kids have a very difficult time making transitions. Recognizing this type of trait and working to make transitions easier for their child helps parents avoid tantrums at the playground when it's time to go.

This is a page I found that explains it better than I can.

As for HB being very clingy, I can offer what I've heard many times myself: kids sometimes will exaggerate a particular behavior or even regress a little in their current developmental stage before they feel ready to progress to the next one. It's kinda like making sure that you have good footing on the dock before you hop into that boat. Once he feels secure that you're THERE, he'll be ready to progress towards greater independence. This clingy-ness is probably a transient thing.

Anonymous said...

I am a SAHM. I have 2 kids. My first is a boy, age 4, and so much like you describe HB that it's scary. Other than sleep; my son is a lark. Goes to bed at 7 but up at 6 no matter what, and no naps since he turned 2. My daughter is the total opposite. Easy, mellow, plays by herself for 1-2 HOURS easily at age 18 months, not clingy, happy all the time, sleeps 13 hours straight at night etc. I always thought I was doing something wrong with ds...but I did the same things with dd. My son just has a certain termperment. The book "The Difficult Child" was very very very helpful for me to understand his temperment.

The only thing I can think of that might help you in the long run is for you to be a little more firm that you and daddy are people with boundries. In other words, don't indulge every single request to play. My son makes them all day long, and I comply with about half of them. Other times I explain that something else needs to be done (like cooking dinner), so that we can all eat. I then ignore resulting tantrums. I think with these kinds of "bottomless attention" pits of kids, nothing is enough. I am a SAHM...we are together all the time...and still he wants me to basically give him undivided attention the entire day. He's bottomless. That's just who he is. Extroverted to the extreme, loves people, hates being alone.

The other thing you might consider is not bowing down to tantrum or manipulative behavior. If he wants you to toss him around on the swing a certain perfect way and tantrums and yells at you when you don't (my son does this stuff too), then simply say "I can see you aren't in the mood to play; you are in the mood to argue with me. I don't want to argue with you. You will go into your room now until you are in the mood to play." Then you stick him in there and don't let him out till he stops howling. It'll be loud, long and ugly for the first few weeks till he gets the idea, but this really helped my son. He'd go into the room, howl for a few minutes, pull himself together, and come out ready to play.

Anonymous said...

God, I don't know, but reading this story makes me soooo glad I'm not a mom. I would have had a hard time even with an easy, mellow baby. I have no kids, and used to feel some longing when I'd see adorable doe-eyed placid babies playing sweetly, but I know that unlike you, I would be a truly terrible, rejecting, irritable, screamy mom to someone like HB. I would hate myself, I would know that I was harming my kid, and I would not be able to change. I think you are coping magnificently. And thank you for posting about this. When I read this story I feel like a dodged a bullet.

Anonymous said...

Hi, i'm a long-time reader and i just wanted to say you're doing just fine. i have a now 5-year old boy who was alot like your description of HB. At three, he had tantrums so bad that my husband and i still talk about "The COSTCO episode" with a vague, ptsd-like physiological response. And they were literally multiple episode a day affairs. We've had mornings when he spent practically the whole mornign being sent to his room.

At 5, he's still willful, he's still majorly focused on mommy in some ways, and he still wants alot of attention, but it's so much better. Aside from not descending into either total doormat status or becoming abusive, i don't know that you can really mess this up - i think it's just something to live through. We certainly set limits, we also spent as much time as possible with him, but in the end, he just had to get older.

Anonymous said...

No real advice, but empathy.

You have a "serious" child. He carries wonderful traits that are going to get him far in life. It's just a handful at this age, isn't it?

My advice...hang in there momma! It will get easier. BANG! One day it will hit you in the face and you'll realize it's suddenly Easy with a capital E!!

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm....very interesting. Perhaps some simple changes might help. I'm guessing that your son is on a pretty tight schedule at his day care, usually they all are. I mean, a room full of three year olds is like herding cats at times. Perhaps the transition between home/daycare is a little too foggy. Most kids thrive on regularity, both for bowels and brains. Maybe because work leaves you harried at the end of the day it leaves you more vulnerable to his whims and frustrations. Perhaps telling the kid, "you go here for thirty minutes and then here, and then we eat" would be a good start.

Think about what you can do in the morning also that would give you your son a better regime. My point in a more regulated idea is not to frustrate you with the clock, but perhaps it could give you a better idea of your son's needs. Somebody else mentioned tempermental parenting, and while I don't know anything about it, many little kids are a daily emotional schedule that tells you a lot about their personality/needs. It might be the same way with your son.
A lot being a parent is deft management of our children; you don't just want to work hard to make a useful citizen, you want to work smart. It's not a simple task, but working out some of your son's foibles now will be of great benefit to you when he's just a few years older. And, he sounds normal....I have three sons at various ages.

BTW, one thing bothers me---your son might seem to you like a HB, but there is such a difference between his alias and TH (one is so positive and the other blatantly negative). Not that children can't be hellions, but I'd hate for your fingers to be oozing resentment every time you struck the keyboard to type his name.

Anyhow, that's my $.02, not taking inflation into account.

I enjoy your blog, it inspires me to keep exercising, although now at 7 weeks postpartum being on the very top heavy side with lactation it has been difficult.


Orange said...

I have no advice at all, but these comments are terrific.

I've heard plenty of secondhand stories of my aunt criticizing her daughter-in-law's parenting skills, that "she just doesn't know how to control Sarah." Sarah's big sister behaved beautifully, and of course there was never any credit given to Mama for the good parenting skills evident with *that* kid. Now there's a third kid in the family, wilder than the second. And still, what I hear is that "She doesn't say no to her." It's been pissing me off for years, because I know what it's like to have a kid who's a handful, and I know that firm parenting isn't always enough.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, I'm not a professional or even a mom. But nothing you're describing sounds abnormal to me. Mostly, it just sounds like HB is a lot like you: driven and focused, albeit on different things. You're doing your best to guide his spirit instead of break it and while this sounds like quite a chore at times, it also sounds like you're doing a terrific job.

Nana doesn't live close enough to know what your son does or doesn't need. Her wanting to jump out of the car after ten minutes of his screaming illustrates that perfectly. Let her say what she wants; from what I can determine after spending many hours with you on the internet, you're a fine mom who's raising a strong son.

(and if she tells you to go to a therapist again, just tell her you did and they told you everything was fine. Let her chew on that.

Wendy Power said...

When she was three, my niece would collapse into uncontrollable sobs when we didn't sing the additional verses of a song she made up in her head. She would wail if someone was walking behind her (chasing! her!) She would lose it all the freakin' time, for any reason and sometimes none at all that we could determine, and she was EXHAUSTING to be around. She's now almost five, all that has disappeared into the mist, and she likes to kiss the top of my nose and giggle. My other sister in law thought our niece was insane, until her son hit three and started in himself. I dunno, is three just like this? All drama and losing it? You are not completely responsible for how he acts; he's three. It's hard. He'll pull it together. Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

HB reminds me of The Cutie Pie at that age. And you are right, as he gets older, it does get easier and they turn into these wonderful, curious little human beings. But the specificity of their needs and desires in the toddler years can be tough to deal with.

L.McQueen said...

My only advice:

Ask Moxie

You probably already know this website but in the off chance that you don't, it's at

Hands down the best parenting website I've ever read. Down to earth advice, lots of smart commenters, lots of commisuration, and a hearty antidote to all the parenting "experts" out there, be they Ferber, Sears, or crotchety old MIL's. Any time I am getting shit for my parenting, or finding myself internalizing some of that criticism (which, by the way, is what I think this current post of yours might be a reflection of), I mosey on over to Moxie for a dose of realism, support, and even a good laugh now and then.

I've been reading your blog for a long time, but I don't think I've commented before; maybe a diatribe on vaccines or something. But I relate to you on so many ways, as a fellow co-sleeping doctor mama just trying to do some good in the world. Keep at it; your son is thriving.

Mitch McDad said...

Hi. First timer. My just turned 4 year old is particulaly demonic lately. I'm realizing that there are no easy fixes and all our crazy kids are equally as different as they are the same.

Here a toast to them growing out of whatever the hell they are going through....though let's face it...there will always be "something."

Anonymous said...

I've got a few thoughts, but not enough time to order them, except to say that you sound to be doing a fabulous job.

Also, I can't remember whether you mentioned Nana's job if she has/had it possible that she's jealous of your successful career?


Anonymous said...

Some thoughts. First, I have a daughter like your son. She's older, so she doesn't ask to be carried, but when she sits next to me at dinner she's always creeping closer until I can't handle my fork anymore. And, like you report, it doesn't seem like spending more time with her sates her; she just wants more. I also worry that this need is a reaction to the relatively lower access she has to me. But, as she grows up, I've realized that might not be the case -- that she would be needy of a mother who stayed with her all the time, too. She's older now, and I believe some of what she wants if female companionship (cousins & friends seem to act as a substitute).

Second, I think the advice question depends on what you want. Are you happy with your relationship with HB? or, do you wish it would be different? Would you enjoy him more if some behaviors were altered? Or, is it only your MIL who cares? If it would make a difference to your own life, I think it makes sense to seek advice on how to modify HB's behavior. If some behavior modification efforts would result in more hours spent looking at toilets :-) and less in screaming matches about stopping at green lights, that might be a worthwhile effort? But, that's a question you have to answer for yourself.

Third, I don't really know what that advice would be. The only thought I had (we've been doing this with our daughter), is to impose time outs for shouting. Shouting "hurts" me, and at some point we decided it was unacceptable, and have been working to extinguish the behavior. She's 5+, so your choices are different than ours. Fundamental to applying these techniques is that you have to believe that the behavior is under the child's control. I'm sure of that most of the time for my daughter (sometimes it isn't, and she's coming to recognize it -- she calls it having the "hibbity jibbities"). In your case, you might believe that he'll just grow out of it. But, my willful child definitely needs bounds to extinguish some unacceptable behaviors (shouting is the biggest).

Anonymous said...

I am a clinical psychologist (so perhaps I am biased toward therapy) but I would consider a diagnostic assessment of your son in the next year if he continues to be so controlling, rigid, and angry. (being controlling, rigid, and angry are normal characteristics for 2 year olds and usually lessen some for 3 years olds but, like many other readers mentioned, age 3 really is challenging. Your son sounds like he has many positive attributes and strengths (and it sounds like you and your husband are loving and committed parents) but he needs some help right now learning empathy (how his actions affect others) and limits. You have many good limits set for him but in some ways (at least in the description you gave in the blog I read about the angle of pushing him on the swing)he needs more limits that help him realize rules about how we treat others and what is and is not okay to do and ask. So in terms of whether your MIL was "right" about suggesting therapy - I think she may be right in pointing out that right now there is a dysfunctional relationship at times between you and your son (he is given too much power by you and you are allowing him to be emotionally abusive). You and your spouse can decide to fix that yourselves or you could get some help. I know it is difficult, especially with your first child to figure out how to nurture your child's self-esteem and independence while also have appropriate boundaries/limits. I would worry that your son is becoming a bit of a bully with his anger and that he uses his anger to gain more control of you (and probably his dad also). If this is right, it is not a good lesson for your son to learn.

Glenda said...

===So … any advice?===

(1) Be specific with your MIL about what areas of parenting are areas where you want unsolicited advice. If you don't want *any* unsolicited advice, then be clear about that.

Obviously she thought it was appropriate for her to say the things she said; she needs for you to tell her that, to you, they weren't, and she needs to know when, if at all, you want parenting advice in the future.

It sounds as if she has a true concern about your son (sorry, I simply cannot call a child "HellBoy"), and it might help to keep that in mind, if you don't already. Although you took it as an attack on your parenting skills, perhaps it was actually true concern on her part.

If you don't want to talk with her, write her an email or letter. You're pretty darn good with the written word (and I mean that as a compliment; I love your blog).

(2) It sounds as if your son feels and experiences things more intensely than the average joe (tho I question if there is such a thing as "average"). Kids, in general, don't have tons of control over what happens in their lives. It sounds as if you guys give control when you feel you can, but maybe it's still not enough for your son to feel like he has much control over his day-to-day life.

We adults have the choice to eat a piece of candy before dinner, to not brush our teeth every night before bed, to eat without washing our hands first, and so forth. If you stop and think about how many things you do in the course of your awake hours without having to ask someone else for permission, and then compare that to how much control your son *really* has over his life . . . well, maybe there are more instances when you can give him more say-so, that will not cause harm to himself or someone else.

As for him being clingy at the end of vacation, odds are he was afraid that special time would go away . . . and it did go away, didn't it. That can't be changed since money has to be earned so bills can be paid. But it's just another situation where he has no control over what happens. Mom and Dad say when that special time together is over, so he clings onto it while he has it.

One of my favorite parenting mottos is, "Say 'yes' or some form of 'yes' instead of 'no', and when tempted to say 'no', first ask yourself 'why not yes?'." Once I began doing that, it amazed me how often "no" was on the tip of my tongue mere seconds after my son's request was made. Yikes!! It's a great way to let kids have more control over their own lives.

I hope that you make it thru the next couple years, and I hope that it will mostly be a blast during that time and afterwards =).

Anonymous said...

hi DoctorMama: Great blog, and I'm sorry life is so frustrating right now. Have you tried this book: _SETTING LIMITS_? I read it when my kids were three, and it really helped me out.

BTW, you've heard of the Terrible Twos? In my neighborhood, we all referred to "three-ness" as the F******g Threes. Three year olds are just taller than two year olds, with a wider vocabulary but definitely not much more reason than two year olds.

Hang in there; my three year olds are now in the double-digits and really nice to be with. They do grow up. :)


Anonymous said...

Hi there,

It sounds to me like you are a great mom to an intense kid. My daughter's only 18 months old, but I come from a very large family, so I've been around ~25 kids as they grew up (in addition to friends kids etc.). In my observation, kids with your son's temperament don't do any better or worse with stay at home moms than moms who work a lot. It's just their personality. And the four kids I've known like that all grew up into great older kids and adults. All of them still had intense interests, and they usually had an intense interest that they shared with their moms, which led to a lot of fun doing things together (and mom/daughter ended up really into running :) As other commenters have mentioned, and you of course know all too well, being a little kid is hard because you want things that are unreasonable and unattainable but don't have the experience and perception yet to understand why those things are unreasonable or unattainable. Eventually you learn, and things are a lot less rocky. So I think you're right; the next few years will continue to be hard, and then things will get a lot easier. In the meantime, there's no such thing as a perfect parent -- you are doing a great job raising your kid.

P.S. I think your mother-in-law can go screw.

momo said...

Just chiming in to say that your kid sounds great in so many ways, and some of the things that are hard right now will change and some of the traits that are trying to be around now will manifest themselves in positive ways as he gets older. I've known intense, "active alert" kids (including my daughter) who demanded total attention, or whose energy manifested itself in similar ways at that age, but as they grew older, they became the bright, focused, mature, intense, wonderful friends my daughter enjoys now. One kid as an infant essentially had to cry as hard as he could for ten minutes before he could fall asleep, any transition was a battle of wills. But I watched his parents stay both firm and loving in setting limits and understanding that this was how he was as a toddler ("I see you are choosing to let me help you into your car seat") and then as he grew older he learned, physically, emotionally and socially, how to channel all that energy in less disruptive ways.
MIL may mean well (or not) but that doesn't make her right.

Anonymous said...

Your son and mine sound so much alike! I always marvel at the similarities.

I recently read a book called Living with the Active Alert Child and found it to be pretty instructive on why my son is the way he is.

Here is a La Leche League review of it.

It's a good book for those of us with kids that aren't ADHD or ADD, but still have many of those characteristics.

You can email me at r a n d o m o u t l a w @ g m a i l . c o m for more info if you like.

Anonymous said...

I'm a long-time reader but first time commenter. I have three kids and my first born was very intense and what your describing truly takes me back to days I thought I would never get through. It sounds like you are doing great - I would echo what others have said regarding consistency and just reassure you that it does get better. My oldest is now 14 and despite what people have told me about how rough adolesence is, it has been a piece of cake compared to toddlerhood and preschool days!

Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

He sounds very much like my second child. My kid was/is just SO INTENSE about some things. He sets his mind on something and there is no persuading him otherwise. Woe be to me if I get into a power struggle with him. I have said that if it came down to it, a power struggle would wind up with one of us unconscious -- and there's a good chance it'd be me. Did I mention he is strong-willed??

He also was never interested in TV/DVDs much as I wished he would watch something and let me have a break for a few minutes!

When I told one childless friend about the challenges of parenting him at age three, she kindly sent me a book on Borderline Personality Disorder. It took me several minutes to figure out why she sent that title, and I laughed. Um, he didn't have a disorder . . . he was just three. (Seriously, he truly doesn't have a disorder, I'm not a delusional parent. His teachers and all the neighbors love him, he has a bunch of good friends, he's scary-smart. He's just a handful!) He is nearly six now and still a handful in different ways. I don't have any advice except to just do it -- just love him and parent him and get through the challenges the best you can. It is never going to be easy with this kind of child (hasn't been yet with mine anyway).

I try to remember where I hope to end up with him: as a strong-minded, interesting, and accomplished young man who is devoted to his mother. :-) That helps me get through some of the days. And I take solace in the fact that he is perfectly charming to many people though he isn't usually at home. I figure we are doing *something* right!

I am sure you are doing most things right with your son as well.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to suggest something that works well with my two kids, ages 3 and 5. I got this from a book about "Love and Logic" - don't remember the author/actual title but want to give credit. Give your kid choices, all day long. All the choices you can. Red shirt or blue shirt? Apple or banana? Right shoe first or left shoe first? Which TV show? Which radio station? Which plate? Any time you possibly can, give your kid options and let him choose - just make sure both choices are something you can live with. Kids get so angry and frustrated about never having any control over their lives and if you can give them some control, some decision-making power, even if it's blatantly manufactured, they don't get so angry about the choices that are made for them.
Also... little kids wig out when they are on vacation. They get out of their routine and comfort zone and they just freak out. You add the extra stimulation of rules out the window and adoring grandparents and you have a recipe for total meltdown.
I'm going to add one thing, and feel free to tell me where to stick it, but since you asked... it does sound like you've allowed your son to get his way via tantrums. It's the hardest thing in the world to do but so necessary to never give in to a tantrum. Even if it's not really important and would normally be negptiable, once a kid starts in on a tantrum you just can't allow it to be a means to get his own way. The best thing is to withdraw all attention and wait it out. It's excruciating, especially in the middle of the toy department at Target, but you have to stick to your guns.
There's my contribution. Love your blog.

Sara said...

I think you could pretty much be describing me as a kid, and also my mother had a very laid-back parenting style...we slept in her bed until we wanted not to anymore (which was quite old compared to American standards and definitely to the Ezzo style), we could pretty much do whatever we wanted as long as it wasn't downright dangerous, etc. In the end, we grew up just fine, separated from being very clingy at maybe a little older age than usual (maybe 10 or so), and both of us went to college and stuff without much fuss about leaving home.

We're decent adults...and in a way, I highly recommend that freedom because it makes kids learn consequences of their own action and gives them a tremendous sense of responsibility (I'm a doc and my brother is a teacher and we both also write professionally) and maturity, even though we both probably seemed clingy then.

Also, some people just have naturally intense temperaments - and that's just how it is. I think the best thing is NOT being critical of that...understanding that for him things are very intense and not blaming him for the fact that he's sensitive. The worst moments I remember are the few when my mom made me feel bad for being like that, when really, especially at that age, I couldn't help it.

About your mother in law - well, it takes a LONG time to learn to not let those things get to you...but the thing is, there are people who are less sensitive who just let that stuff roll right off thing they manage to do is sort of respond with "defusing" type comments...ones that aren't insulting, and aren't offended, and also don't challenge the person. Something like when she made the therapist crack, with a sincere smile, "Oh, Nana, you're so dramatic," or just with a little friendly laugh, "Well, let's not overreact here."

Easier said than done, I know. And it's much easier with someone the more distant they are from you (like, not family). I've been able to do it a few times, and it is amazing how great it feels to not get drawn into the huge emotional mess (theirs and your own). I guess that's how "healthy" people react all the time.

Good luck. Glad you're posting again.

Erika said...

My only advice is to read "Raising Your Spirited Child." I read it when my daughter was 3, when I realized that some things are just more intense w/ her, and am about to read it again, 18 months later. It doesn't try to "cure" any behaviors--just gives you tools for managing/understanding your reactions to some behaviors, and to help your child manage his reactions. At this age, it's probably more about you recognizing *how* HB is different than supposedly "normal" kids, and understanding what makes him tick.

Unknown said...

If your child wants to be with you all the time it *could* indicate that he is very afraid that you will leave him. This might link to being allowed to sleep in your bed. Should he learn to be ok by himself? It might build his confidence and make his attachment to you more secure. A child leaving his bed for yours is usually afraid; if his attachment is secure he will manage on his own at night. The usual technique is to keep returning him to his own bed. Say 'i love you goodnight' the first time he gets up, then 'it's time for bed' the next time, then say nothing and give no eye contact. I saw one case where a child was returned over 100 times in a night. The next night she went straight to sleep. If he gets very distressed sit on the floor about four feet from his bed but ignore him and leave after 5 mins. Return at longer intervals and say nothing. Try offering a reward to be received in morning and talk it up a lot.

Natalie said...

Sorry I don't have time to read all the comments to see if I'm repeating what has already been said, but here are some things that I found useful for mothering my especially willful child. (He's tried bossing the traffic lights around too. He also is apparently a cartographer and knows directions better than we do.) In our case I think "age-appropriate," "willful" and "strong-minded" explain part of our situation, but not all. Because some days and some situations are better than others, I know we have room for improvement.

*Figure out his triggers and avoid them or find a way to compensate. Some of my son's triggers are strangers, loud noises - especially from lots of loud people, sugar, and transitions.

*Recognize the prodromal symptoms and make him happy before he gets out of control. In our case the really demanding opinions, inflexibility and anger are a sign that he is unhappy. The sensory stuff comes in handy here and I think the books have a lot of good advice for dealing with age-appropriate toddler behavior. We find enriching our guy's sensory diet really helps him cope and watching the kids at my son's preschool makes me think that this is a pretty general phenomenon, not something that is only useful to a kid with a pathology. When we sense him getting antsy we send him off to bounce on his bouncy horse. I also don't cut off his swinging time at the park. He loves to have the ABC's written with a fingernail on his back. He's started doing it back to me and it feels really good! That kind of stuff make us all feel better!

*Make sure his school situation is OK. Switching schools made a *huge* difference in our lives. If he is not behaving similarly at home and at school maybe it is because he is not comfortable at his school. That said, I think kids always save their biggest emotions for their moms. Also, keep school to 8 hours per day if at all possible (staggered schedules?). I actually think that toddlers can't even really handle that, but an alternative is not readily possible in our case.

Best of luck,
Natalie and Max

Anonymous said...

My cousin Betsy, who is a very wise person and a mother of six boys, says that "Three-year-olds are just two-year-olds that can talk. Don't expect so much from them." HB is a good boy - he's just three.

Orange said...

I wouldn't completely discount the idea that he might need more sleep. The Kurcinka book says 37- to 60-month-olds need an average of 12 hours of sleep (including naps) per 24-hour period. That he doesn't fight sleep at 9:30 and that he awakens on his own in the morning are definitely positive signs, but I'd always thought that my kid needed less sleep than average—and he was a hellion. A kid Ben's age supposedly needs 10 to 11 hours of sleep, and we've switched to targeting 11+ hours this summer—and his behavior's been better. He was up later the last few nights, and whaddaya know? He has been more combative than usual.

It's possible that he'd drop off to sleep if snuggled in bed earlier than 8:00—that maybe he's got a window of sleep readiness earlier on, but gets that second wind that keeps him going until 9:30? That second wind kills me. Ben gets too wound up to sleep the later he stays up.

And yes, age 6+ is grand.

One last piece of advice: Have you considered advising your MIL to go to a therapist so she can learn how to handle her mouth?

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say that 3yrs old is a hard time. I stay home with my daughter and she always wants to be with me (carried, playing and sleeping) so don't think that it is because you go to work. More likely it is simply because you bring him the most comfort. He sounds pretty normal to me. Is there anything you could do for your mother-in-law so that she could be less "herself"? Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

Just chiming in to say that you've pretty much described my almost 3 year old. She has always, always, always hated being in the car. I could never understand those people who used to drive their newborns around to get them to sleep. Ours shrieked like the carseat was on fire from the time she got in until she got out. And she's not much better now. We try to travel during nap time, but she will only sleep for 30 minutes or so in the car. It's gotten a little better since I broke down and bought a DVD player for the car (something I so self-righteously swore I'd never do) and found DVDs that she likes. (I am embarrassed to admit how much time I've spent trying to come up with a DVD that holds her attention.) My husband and I have chalked up her anti-car behavior to the fact that she doesn't drive much. We had a nanny when she was younger and almost never got into the car.

She's also the same kind of crazy rigid right now. She has to have a certain sticker on a certain part of her right hand or else she really might die. And tomorrow she might need a sticker, but it has to be a different color and go on the collar of her shirt. Or I'll carry her halfway up the stairs when she decides that she really wanted to climb by herself and MUST go to the bottom of the stairs so she can climb the whole stairs ALL BY HERSELF. Though the next time we go up the stairs she'll be climbing all by herself and have the same desperate tantrum about me carrying her, and we'll both have to to the bottom to start over in the way that she wants to do it.

I don't think it has much to do with whether you work or don't work, it's just the nature of the beast. That's our theory, anyway. We're just trying to ride it out by doing pretty much the same thing you are: Accommodating the easy demands and upholding rules about safety and things about which we are unbendable.

Also, one thing that has helped us with bedtime for naps and at night is that we started telling her that she could play with her toys in her room as long as she wants before she takes a nap or goes to sleep. I usually hear her playing for about 10 or 15 minutes after I leave the room, then she crawls in bed to sleep. (It's even shorter at night since she has to play by the light of whatever daylight is left and her nightlight.)

eviec said...

I think he sounds like my son a lot, who just turned three in July. I work and my husband is home with him the majority of the time, so I just assumed his desire to have me RIGHT THERE when I was home was part of that. If I don't come home until after he goes to sleep, he is fine.

I think you are doing the right thing and it pretty much what I am doing - working with their desires when you can and explaining why you cannot sometimes. What I remind myself is something I read that told me all the emotions the kids feel at this age are BIG - when they are sad, it is seriously sad or happy it is ecstatic and that usually helps me cope.

And I think my son could sleep more, too, and sometimes he makes it up with naps and sometimes he doesn't. After our routine and snuggle time at night, he has his reading time in his bed with a low light and usually goes to sleep at a decent time, but sometimes is up past 10 pm, not upset, but just talking and not sleeping. Both my husband and I are night owls, so I guess it does not seem that unusual. Maybe your time with him just seems more intense because you have less. But your time would him should not be all fun time, which is almost sounds like your MIL is saying. Just chant "remember the source" to yourself when she is talking and pretty much smile and nod and ignore what she is saying.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read all the comments, so forgive me if I repeat anyone's.

First, is he freakygenius smart? My daughter's same age to the day, nearly, friend boy is (they're 6) and life is difficult for him, but his mama's an angst maiden, too. It's hard to be freakygenius smart--overstimulation happens everywhere.

Second, he's THREE! He has no control over much of anything in his life. My 2 1/2 yr old boy is a bit of a hellboy himself (oy freaking VEY with the screaming already GODALMIGHTY). The older he gets and the better he can communicate, the happier he is. Anytime he gets to have a say in things helps, too, but he's still screamy as all hell.

It's hard to be a little kid. It's hard to be a mom of a screamy one, too. My best, most useless advice, and opinion, is that your son is a stubborn, tough, 3 yr old boy who will become less difficult as he gets a bit older.

Oh: anytime we make it through a normally screamy thing (going out to dinner, etc.) with normal behavior, we praise specifically and thank the Crabcake for behaving so well and for not screaming. He says "youah welcome for not screaming."

I want a tee shirt that says "Listen up, maggots." I might wear it to my new job.

Ozma said...

"it is mostly a matter of degree, but it's also that he almost never amuses himself."

She will watch TV (DVDs) by herself but if she sees you aren't around she wants you to watch them with her.

She will rarely play by herself--I mean I can count on the fingers of one hand.

But the issue is not that she can't but that she won't. Is it that he won't?

Lots of good ideas here but I do wonder if they just want more from us sometimes than we have. She wants constant unceasing interaction. You can't just SIT by her you have TELL A STORY or talk or play or something. Is it only child thing? Is it she knows I've got other stuff to do. I swear we have never neglected her! I don't know. Temperament?

Anonymous said...

My daugter was hellonwhells for the first 4 years of life. She was high-strung, strong-willed, and NEVER slept. After several doctor office visits, it was decided that she needed her tonsils removed. Lo and behold, she is a completely different child. She sleeps, she is much more willing to "bend," and I cannot express how grateful I am for the ENT (3rd choice) who did the surgery.
I can say she is still a very HARD HEADED little girl, but lack of sleep was making us all crazy.

DrSpouse said...

Recommendations for children who really need to be in control include allowing them only limited choices (you can have an apple or a banana) so that life is a bit more manageable for you but they feel they have some kind of control.

For children who have mild attachment issues ("clingy") then perhaps giving him something of yours - preferably with a smell of you on it - to take with him e.g. to nursery is supposed to help.

As for the car, it sounds like it may be almost phobic, a few bad associations having made the whole situation desperately anxiogenic for him. I have heard of children screaming even to see their car seat in the house. Behavioural therapy usually attempts to introduce the scary stimulus or situation gradually, for adults this might include imagining it while they were feeling relaxed but he might be a bit young for that, perhaps playing in/around the car/sitting in car seat in the house or at dinner, sitting in the car when you aren't going somewhere? Very gradually though.

Anonymous said...

DoctorMama, you have an extremely dificult, demanding, high-need kid who not infrequently drives you crazy.

Why *not* get some professional advice about how to cope with the little hellion?

My husband has a colleague who had a few run-ins with his incompetent secretary. He finally lost his temper and yelled at her. She complained to management and they required him to have anger management therapy.

This was *intended* as a reprimand to him. But he went and he thought it was great. "They teach you all sorts of tricks for how to cope with people who drive you crazy and basically how to achieve what you want," he crowed afterward, "and they work! They really work!"

Maybe I'm naive, but I'm sort of enchanted by the idea that there are some easily learned tricks that help reduce the frustration of having to live with people who drive you crazy.

So why not look for some child-management tricks? Not for HB's sake but for YOURS? Even if it's just getting old episodes of Super Nanny from NetFlix?

Don't flame me, or bar me from your site forever, but, awful as your MIL is (and she sounds really, really awful), I don't think she was so off base to suggest that maybe there's someone out there who could give you a few pointers to make your life with HB easier.

I wasn't there, but from your report, it didn't sound like she was saying "you're incompetent" or "you're harming HB or not giving him what he needs," but rather, "maybe someone can give you some pointers that would make him more manageable."

Emma in Canada said...

The description of your son sounds exactly my daughter. She's 12 now and is still willfull nad prone to crying fits. I hope it gets better for you, you certainly seem to be doing a better job than I did when she was 3.

Anonymous said...

Hi - Just wanted to echo this from Sara's Sad Alter Ego:

"Also, some people just have naturally intense temperaments - and that's just how it is. I think the best thing is NOT being critical of that...understanding that for him things are very intense and not blaming him for the fact that he's sensitive. The worst moments I remember are the few when my mom made me feel bad for being like that, when really, especially at that age, I couldn't help it."

I was criticized for being too intense as a child/young adult/hell, now, and it's always hurt me deeply. Especially when I was really excited and happy about sharing something with one of my parents and all I got was, "You're too intense!" Suck. My "seriousness" has really helped me in my career, etc. now that I'm grown up and I wouldn't have had it any other way, honestly.

Anyway... not a mom... just wanted to add that, for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

We had the same trouble with ours and he is now almost 6. It doesn't absolutely get better, or at least it didn't for us. We had to start making him play by himself for an hour or so every day just so we could cook dinner or whatever without him hanging off our arms. He still wants to spend every waking moment with us and doesn't entertain himself as well as I would like. The only thing that helped was finally setting limits. Mommy is reading right now, you need to go find something else to do. Daddy is trying to go to the bathroom and you need to leave him alone so he can. That sort of thing. When he tantrumed about it he lost the option of entertaining himself in the communal parts of the house and instead had to do it in his room. If he continued to shout, he had to do it with the door closed. This has helped and he now makes a bigger effort to play with the thousands of dollars in toys we bought him. Good luck to you!

Anonymous said...

It's possible that the carseat is uncomfortable--hurts his back, makes him stiff, say. A little pillow or small folded towel might change the fit. Maybe you could try it out in the house and ask what is the most comfy. (And the fit might change during the ride. Maybe adjust it after rest stops.) My daughter was fine with the carseat, but it was long trips were hard for her; kids in carseats can't stretch, move, reach, and change position as much as grownups in seatbelts can.

Wabi said...

My 3.5 year old daughter sounds similar to HB. Right now she's holding a really strong grudge against the wind, because you know, it BLEW on her. Nasty, rude wind. Seriously, how do respond to that when it causes a 15-minute screamfest? What could I say or do differently to make the wind not blow on us when we go outside?

She has been intense since birth. Actually scratch that, she was intense even before she was born, bucking and twisting like a hooked fish all through my pregnancy. This is just who she is: an exuberant, extroverted delight at times, a banshee others.

Actually, my kid reminds me of my MIL without a super ego. MIL is also fiesty and funny, but thankfully she also has manners and judgement that my little one hasn't learned yet. I love my MIL a lot, so on the hard days I just think of her grandma and tell myself that it will most likely be ok when she grows up, too.

If you are seeking books, I recently read (and blogged about) "1-2-3 Magic" because it helped our family a lot. We are never going to eliminate tantrums completely, I suspect. But that book wasn't smug or preachy and did help cut down on a lot of craziness. So if you are interested, it might be worth a read.

Good luck with the boy!

Stephanie said...

Wow! You have my child! And my mother-in-law! Freakish. Except in my case I have a two-year-old girl and the father-in-law from hell.

I just started a new "temper tantrum" plan and it is slowly having a bit of an impact. When she throws manipulative tantrums (i.e. screaming to watch a DVD for the fiftieth time, get another juice, etc.) I ignore her for 5 minutes. I just go about my business without making any eye contact whatsoever. Sometimes she claws at my clothing, etc. but I just remove her hands without talking or looking at her. Then, if she's still freaking out I take her upstairs to her room, look her in the eyes and tell her why she's there. Then, I leave her for 5 minutes or until she's calmed down. I swear, when I go back into get her she's a new kid. Full of hugs and smiles.

When she throws a frustration tantrum (i.e. angry because she can't fix the doll stroller on her own, get her sock on herself, etc.) then I calmly go over to her, hold her tightly and make her look me in the eyes so I can explain how to fix/do/get whatever. And then I help her do it. Sometimes she just gets totally out of control with frustrated anger and the only thing I can do is hold her to me until she finally collapses in a heap of exhaustion. It can take a lot of time but eventually if it's done consistently it works - at least it seems to be showing signs of working in our case.

As for the MIL. I recently had a MASSIVE blow-up with my father-in-law who said he was appalled that I didn't want the benefit of his "30 plus years of parenting advice". I won't even go into the zillions of issues I have with his parenting abilities... Needless to say, I finally snapped. Not a good way to go but effective to say the least. My husband, the diplomat of our relationship, calmly explained to him (after I ranted and raved) that although he has some wonderful experience and advice, we would appreciate the opportunity to ask for his opinion when necessary. He also explained that although he has experience raising HIS children, he doesn't have experience raising OUR child. Our child has a different needs and a different personality and as parents, we have different values and priorities than him and his mother did. Doesn't mean either are right or wrong, just different methods for a different time and different children. Eventually he also pulled the "We really want you to have a positive and involved relationship with C and we don't want that to be comprised by tension between us. It's important to us that C sees you supporting our parenting decisions and values as a family unit." Nice yet clear - Butt the F*ck out of our family or risk your relationship with your grandchild.

Eliza said...

Well crap, DM, I dunno. I've got two with ASD/SID issues and I agree with your (sliiiightly defensive, but highly informative) assessment of notthat. I don't think it's the work thing. I only spent about six months working fulltime outside the home like, ever, and my Animals were five-ish, two-ish, and one-ish, and actually behaved better, yes, BETTER when I was working. Don't suppose it'd be helpful if I got all bitter and pointed out that having your kid WANT to interact with you and others ALLTHETIME beats NEVER, so hey I'll skip that old song and dance.


A recent extensive bout of ill health on my part (various chronic genetic and primarily joint-related complaints plus depression plus MRSA plus drug allergies resulting in the apparent need for me to go off all SSRIs and anti-sucky-joint medications during MRSA treatment with my one and only hope which also causes joint problems, niiiiice), resulting in my MIL MOVING IN WITH US, yes, MOVING IN WITH US (and trust me, I hate/d her at least as much as you do yours, and the histrionic thing...yeah), WHILE WE ARE MOVING has provided me with the enforced down(and I do mean DOWN)time and the opportunity to witness my MIL and my husband and my children clashing bitterly and protractedly enough times to conclude that there is, (really sadly, in our case, like, REALLY) no fucking escaping genetics.

HB sounds like he may have a wee diluted touch of the MIL in him. Not your fault, not likely to benefit from therapy at this point IMHO, and not pretty, but...could be worse? I dunno.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like it's just a combination of things: his age and personality. My aunt gave me a great piece of advice I hold on to (I have a very willful 2 year old boy): Be glad you have an energetic, willful child, they do much better in school. Ok, I'm hanging on to that so I hope no one comes back with a story about their kid being rotten in school.

I work full-time, also, and I find myself giving in to my son more than my husband does.

Wow - he sounds so much like my boy, especially the nurturing part. How sweet!


Barb said...

I just have a book for you. It's certainly not a "magic bullet" or "fix-all" sort of thing, but it describes some operant conditioning techniques that may be helpful for you when dealing with HB. :) (And personally, I love that character. I find him charming. So I don't mind the nickname at all. ;-) ) Using some of the techniques helps me step back too and assess what I'm doing. It makes the behavior one step removed so I don't get too emotional about it. Granted, I use it for animal training, but it works just as well with people, and she describes some of the principles.

It's Karen Pryor's "Don't Shoot the Dog." Don't be scared of the title. :)

Anonymous said...

A few people have pointed this out:

"I'm going to add one thing, and feel free to tell me where to stick it, but since you asked... it does sound like you've allowed your son to get his way via tantrums."

The anonymous clinical psychologist also weighed in "I know it is difficult, especially with your first child to figure out how to nurture your child's self-esteem and independence while also have appropriate boundaries/limits. I would worry that your son is becoming a bit of a bully with his anger and that he uses his anger to gain more control of you (and probably his dad also)."

This is my greatest worry for you. My child was never like that, luckily he is mellow like his father, but I saw the difficulties my sister went through with my niece, who should have had the name Hellgirl, but we called her the Queen of Mean instead.

Once, on the way home from a museum, my sister refused the kid's demands for candy and she screamed in the back of the car for 30 minutes. That's what first opened my eyes....if I take something away from my son he may be upset and cry for a few minutes, but he quickly moves on.

I'll tell you what I told her: limits are necessary for his sanity and yours too. I had no doubts that my niece would be okay but the emotional battering that my sister (who has an MSW, ironically enough) was tough to watch.

I have no doubt you and TH are excellent, concerned parents, but it's perfectly okay to say, I'm the parent and I'm in charge. (And I also agree with the recommendation that you tell your MIL to back off and you only want advice when you specifically ask for it.)

I'm afraid you are tiptoeing around your son and caving in when you shouldn't be. And I second what the psychologist observed: "he needs more limits that help him realize rules about how we treat others and what is and is not okay to do and ask.."

My sister took my niece to a psychologist and it helped immensely. Find a no-nonsense one that will help you keep your sanity too.

Anonymous said...

He sounds like he will grow up to be maybe an INTJ or an ENTJ. Google it. These folks are formidable but accomplish great things. You can't change his innate personality and it's great that you give him freedom to accomplish things on his own. You sound like a great mom

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you have a child.


Come over to I think you will fit right in.