I took Bella for her three year appointment the other day. The PA tested her hearing, gave her an eye exam, checked her blood pressure, weighed and measured her. All good! The child is healthy! She was a trooper through the whole procedure, barely flinching when she got the flu vaccine up the nose!
After all that technical stuff, the doctor and I had a chat. That’s the format – we talk about any issues that come up in our lives and he gives me advice on how to deal. So nice.
So, we talked about Bella acting out. Terrible twos??? Not my kid. She was an amazing two year old…Three? That’s been off to a shaky start. Basically, in the last few weeks, she has had these outbursts that Zack and I don’t like. Sometimes she starts to cry because we’re leaving a place she really likes. Sometimes she turns into a brat because she doesn’t get exactly what she wants.
When we’re in the apartment, it’s not a problem for us to discipline her. We send her to her room, shut the door and let her calm down and come out when she’s through. She usually comes out and apologizes (which is nice).
I gave him two examples.
The other night, Zack made Bella dinner. When he placed it in front of her, she said, “I don’t want pasta!” Keep in mind, she had asked for pasta! We are not a restaurant, so we told her that she had to eat what we gave her. She starte to cry. So, Zack sent her to her room. Calmly. He closed the door and she cried and screamed for 5 or 10 minutes. Then, she calmed down. She came out, walked over, said, “I’m sorry” and proceeded to eat her meal.
It was a school day and I needed to get both girls and myself ready to leave the house by 8:30. Not the easiest task when Bella wakes up between 7:30 and 8am…Anyhoo…I managed to get dressed and Anya ready, but Bella was refusing to put on undies and pants. I calmly held her down while I put on the clothing. I just didn’t feel like having a fight! So, I didn’t talk to her, I just got her dressed, put on her shoes and strapped her into her stroller. We managed to get out and on our way on time.
However, it’s much more difficult to punish or discipline a kid when you’re out of the house. So, I asked Dr. Cohen what I should be doing.
First, he affirmed that our behavior in the house is totally appropriate. We don’t raise our voices, we remain calm, we put her in for a time out and then move on. He said that you need to mete out punishment and not revisit the topic. Having a long drawn out discussion with a three year old is a waste of your breath. They need to cool off. He said to keep it simple, short and strict. Don’t distract, don’t give attention. Just give a time out and continue with your business. If she repeats the behavior, you start the process again…
Second, he gave me advice on what to do outside. He said to use the stroller in the same way that we use her room. As soon as she does something that is unacceptable, we are to buckle her into the stroller and let her calm down in there. It’s funny because I did this once out of sheer necessity (I needed to get both girls out of the house and Bella was NOT cooperating), but didn’t think that it is the way to go. Phew! Good to know!
Third, he said I need to be consistent. The reason she is acting out is that there is a lot of change and chaos in her life. There’s a new baby, she started school, we moved to a new apartment…yadda yadda yadda…So, she’s trying to test the limits to see if they’ve changed. What she really needs is more structure. He explained that most parents think that a time of flux is the time to baby or coddle their kids. He said that is NOT the way to go. She is not upset because there is a new baby. On th other hand, she LOVES Anya. However, her entire routine has been upended…We should be more strict and set more guidelines. Then, she will thrive.
Dr. Cohen also suggested that I put both girls in the same room in order for their bonding as siblings to start. He explained that when they are together, they will laugh together, cry together, giggle in the morning (even at this early age)…Bella will become more protective and Anya will look up to her big sister. I said that I was fearful that Bella might harm Anya (inadvertently) if the two are left up to their own devises. Dr. Cohen explained that Anya needs to be rough housed a little bit. Although it may not be clear whether Bella is petting or hitting Anya, it’s ok. We shouldn’t make a big deal of these episodes, just separate the girls for a little bit. And that Bella will shield her sister from harm if they are bonding in this special way.
I’m not sure that I’m sold on the room sharing bit quite yet. I get the bonding…that makes sense. I guess I’m worried that they’ll sleep less or something…W’ve just started getting full nights of sleep! I don’t want to affect that!!!
Anyway, I am sharing this with you, in case you’re having smilar issues. If you are and have more input, please share!
Just a little note…I know a lot of folks think that this methodology is flawed. I know, in particular, that the time out in the crib/room/stroller is a hot button issue. I asked Dr. Cohen about that and his response made a lot of sense. Whereas most people think that a time out in these places would create a negative association with the crib/bed/room/stroller/whatever, Dr. Cohen insists that you’re not punishing the kid, you’re putting him in a safe and cozy place where he can calm down. Even if there is rage, crying, screaming, etc., it’s ok. This is helping the child release the tension built up in her body/mind. You’ve placed your kid in a safe environment, allowed him to calm down and then you can all resume your activities. The key is not to initiate a power struggle. No anger on your part. No explanations. No discussions. No need to revoke privileges. But most of all, don’t reward bad behavior. Whatever you do, be consistent and calm. Let the child know what to expect each time she acts up and soon she will change her tune.