I am not sure what’s going on. Perhaps it’s because we haven’t been outside as much lately? Or maybe it’s a growth spurt? It very well could possibly be the hubbub of the holidays and the immense amount of processed sugar being consumed? The likely verdict: all three. Potential triggers aside, we have a very spirited three year old who has been having a hard time lately, and a mom who is feeling it too. Chances are high that if you also have a three year old, you’re nodding your head wherever you are reading this. Solidarity. Three is hard! For them, for us, for all. Way harder than two in my opinion, but our story is just one in the tapestry of motherhood, so take it with a grain of salt.
What I think make three so hard, especially for spirited little loves, is that they aren’t quite equipped with what they need to communicate, but can communicate well. They also aren’t quite equipped with what they need to be independent, but are super independent. They are in-betweeners, some more in-between than others, and it can be rather frustrating. Sometimes this frustration can build up and come out in a myriad of stressful ways, depending on a host of eternal factors blended with personality types, causing things at home to begin to lean to one side, naturally so.
Whenever I feel things leaning too far, I know it’s time to take a look at our daily habits and how we are doing things at home with regard to rhythm. It’s easy for life to feel as though it’s tipping heavily in one direction or the other, that’s life that the beauty of growth that makes us human beings. That being said, I strongly believe it’s our intuition that senses this shift first, signaling as a red flag to help get us back on track and somewhere near the middle. As mothers it is one of our superpowers, being able to feel that shift internally and using that compass to steer us and the family back on course. As a mom right now my flag has been raised, my compass is out, and it’s time to reset a few things.
This past weekend I collapsed in the big chair in our living room feeling completely overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted, shout-telling Andrew something has to change! I felt deep within that we had been doing discipline-wise for our kids, particularly for Alfie, was no longer working. Back to the drawing board. For those of you who know Alfie, you know how determined, self-sufficient, loyal, and strong-willed he is. He is also physically strong which is comical for a tiny human, for and needs to lift heavy things all the time. I don’t get it, but it’s one of his favorite things. Give the kid a gallon of milk to carry inside on grocery day—he’s on it. Need to hammer something in—call Alfie. He is also a quick learner, hands-on, and s.m.a.r.t.
Andrew and I used to joke way back when he was just beginning to walk, that one day he was going to build himself a little log cabin in the woods, a homestead of sorts, where he would make and do everything by hand. He loves knowing how everything works, always has, and loves even more to make things work himself. This is no longer a running joke, but just something we just know is a part of who he is. His beautiful mind works in wonderfully complex ways, and it’s incredible watching him build and create. And while these are all admirable qualities, especially in adults trying to find their place in the world, mothering those qualities in a tiny human who cannot do everything himself requires an extra dose of patience and a lot more energy than I have most days.
He’s three, completely conscious of this very concrete fact, and it’s hard for him to live with. Some three year olds I know love being three. For Alfie, he’s always been the kind of kid who sees the mountain to climb well beyond the path before it, so he gears up for adventure ahead, forgetting that it’s the path that will get him there. I also believe he will climb and actual mountain one day. And I love this about him—his passion and grit—we love this about him, but it makes three hard. Sometimes actually scary. Did I mention he likes knives? Alas, play-dates have been really challenging lately. I think he was a gladiator in a past life. No really, I do. Bedtime is a constant struggle, so is getting ready for the day, supper, and anytime we need to run errands. He wants to do it all, all by himself. And also, he has been hitting and pushing a lot lately. While I know it’s a phase, some longer and more pronounced depending on the kid, it doesn’t take away the very big emotions for everyone involved, namely he and I because we spend the most time together.
Which brings me to creative discipline. Aren’t those two words just lovely together? I don’t believe I’ve seen them sandwiched in this way before I read them this past weekend. Creative Discipline…Yes! This is what we need—some out of the box ideas to shift the habits we’ve been practicing that are no longer working the way we need them to. We are reading Beyond the Rainbow Bridge in our parent-toddler class, and this chapter was our assignment this week. Talk about serendipity. Sometimes I don’t read the chapter assigned. Other times, I thumb through it. But this time I got out a damn pen and went to town, folks. I got so much out of this reading it made me cry. Good tears. Optimistic tears. Hopeful holy water, as I see it. If you are in a discipline rut and need a fresh perspective or a few new tricks to add to your toolbox, perhaps some of these ideas will work for you. But before I share my takeaways, three things worth mentioning:
- By discipline I do not mean to punish, but rather, to disciple, to teach, to show the way. This way of thinking came from The Soul of Discipline by Kim John Payne, another great read I often recommend to parents struggling in this area.
- Just as every mother is different, so is every child. What works for others and their personal relationship may not work for you and yours. Be soft on yourself when figuring this out.
- Or in other words, give yourself grace and patience. Buckets of it. This is the hardest work you’ll probably ever do, but also the most important.
Your Brief from ‘Creative Discipline’ in Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Here is what I learned from this chapter, and have broken down to share with you.
- Imitation is Everything | “A child at the imitative stage of development absorbs every aspect of his environment, which then becomes part of the innermost stirrings of his will, deep below the level of consciousness.” Because imitation is so important with little ones, the most effective disciplining we can do show through our actions the kind of behavior we are trying to nurture. Be the behavior you want to see. You don’t want your child to yell, don’t model it. This is really hard to do, which is why #2 is particularly important…
- Self-Discipline Matters | Because children this young learn through imitation, it’s important that those giving care and discipline do so with care and consideration. Self-discipline and self-care on behalf of the caregiver will help the child immensely. I am not talking about selfish behavior whatsoever, but taking the time to check-in and calm down before blowing up at three year old who just hit you in the face. Oh, hi. I’ve been there.
- Reform the Space | “When children in a Walforf kindergarten misbehave, it usually means they have “fallen out of form” of the moment. How can we re-create the form around them? This is a great question to ask oneself when in a sticky situation and needing to restore harmony without interfering too much. Reforming the space means putting things back in order without talking too much. It means using actions to straighten up the situation to infuse calm into the chaos. I do this all the time at home by tidying when I am stressed. Bringing order to my outer environment soothes my inner landscape. This works for little ones, too.
- Offer Limited Choices | How many choices and options have you given your kids today? Think about it. Sometimes I have offered Alfie around the ballpark of twenty options well before noon, and no wonder he is out of sorts. Very few choices means less energy expended in making decisions, which is draining and often times overwhelming. I am someone who prefers limited choices myself, and can see how it would add stress to a little one’s day. Instead of giving options, try gently telling your child this is what they may play with, eat, watch, or do. I think many parents who offer options believe they are fostering autonomy and growth via independence, but three year olds need caregivers who know what’s best. This gives them assurance and makes them feel safe.
- Use“May” Instead of “No” | I don’t even want to think about the number of times the word “no” is said on a daily basis. It’s a lot. Using the word “may” is an alternative to let your little one know what they “may” do instead of what they shouldn’t do. When we overuse “no” it becomes abstract and meaningless. Try phrases like, “You may walk” instead of, “No running!” to teach the lesson.
- Have a Rhythm | Time to examine the way you are spending time and energy in the flow of your day. Are you going outside? Kids need fresh air and freedom to run and build and play. When I notice things being a little tense at home, we will head outdoors and it always sets us straight. And if it’s really bad and we are all off, we’ll spend the whole day somewhere in nature (with plenty of snacks on hand) to hike and reconnect with the natural world—our healer.
- Give Purposeful Work | This last takeaway is one that I am going to be implanting even more for Alfie at home. Some kids consider meaningful work as a part of their play and how they process and learn. He is one of these kids. When you notice behavior going down hill, try offering ways they can do purposeful work that is both safe and nearby. Little ones, just as adults, thrive when doing something that matters to them. And some little ones are exceptionally talented at working hard and completing life-related tasks! I am going to put together a little worker box for Alfie to use when he needs an outlet.