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May 23, 2013 1:53 PM   Subscribe

My precocious but angry 2.75-year-old and I just got fired from our home daycare situation. I feel like I need Super Nanny. What now? How do I get him to stop being so rude?

My son will be three in October. He speaks in full sentences and is craftier than I ever believed a two-year-old could be. He recently figured out how to circumvent the doorknob cover in his room, which is there because he refuses to stay in his bed in the morning or for when he completely melts down and needs a nap, but refuses to stay in his bed.

We moved to Boston about 6 weeks ago. He seems to like it here, but misses his daddy. I think some of his troublesome behavior is due to the transition, and some of it is just because he's two. But my babysitter just told me she couldn't care for him anymore because he's out of control and taking all her attention away from the 3 other children in the house. So now, I have ten days to find another babysitter. (I really can't afford commercial daycare.)

Mostly, he refuses to listen. He ignores requests if they don't suit him and screams at the top of his lungs and kicks when he's made to comply. (Example: Sit in your car seat. It's time for a bath. Stay in your bed. Stop destroying that.) Sometimes he'll yell no directly into my (or the sitter's!) face. He throws food and toys and destroys anything around him that is destructible. When he's not being super sweet, which happens occasionally, he is just a tiny asshole.

I'm coping with this by working full-time and having a sitter! But also by remaining as extremely calm as I can, trying to redirect when possible, and meeting rule infractions (hitting, screaming inside, running inside, throwing things, and failure to listen) with instant time-outs. (We used to do 1-2-3, but I found that he simply waited until I said 2.) I have to sit with him in time-out, because he refuses to stay in place and will easily spend an hour running away before I can ever even set his two-minute timer. We have short, kid-language discussions about what rule was broken and in exactly what way, and he is required to apologize at the end of time out. I also try to point out what he is doing well.

We spend easily a third of our time together sitting in time-out. I'm kind of at my wit's end--clearly, time outs are not working. My parents controlled me with spanking, but I'd really prefer not to parent via threat of violence. And I don't want to send him to a different sitter and have the same problem all over again. Any and all ideas are welcome. I've seen this previously and this previously.
posted by woodvine to Human Relations (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My kid was somewhat like this, though not as extreme. Check out The Explosive Child and Lost At School, both by Dr. Ross Greene, which changed my life.
posted by KathrynT at 1:59 PM on May 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

What was he like before you moved?
posted by Andrhia at 2:00 PM on May 23, 2013

Response by poster: I came to Boston in January, and he spent 3 months with his dad before coming up here. In December he was two years old, so he was rambunctious and difficult, but he didn't have the language skills yet to, for example, yell about what he didn't want to do. He also used to sit in time-out, though he would sneak away if I didn't stand there and watch him.
posted by woodvine at 2:10 PM on May 23, 2013

Best answer: My daughter will be three in September, and she is just like this whenever she is tired, or cranky, or constipated or going through any major schedule disrupt or transition. She's completely resistent to any sort of discipline, so I've moved towards mainly focusing on trying to control as many environmental contributors as possible and spending as much one-on-one time with her as possible.

Which brings me to: You say he misses his dad, you moved six weeks ago, you're working full time and he was in a new daycare, and a third of the time you do have with him is in time-outs. Yeah, that's not going to work. No kidding. Frankly I think he's freaking out at the life changes, and needs lots and lots of one on one time with you, in a positive and secure and reassuring context.

Address the cause, not just the symptoms.
posted by celtalitha at 2:11 PM on May 23, 2013 [16 favorites]

Time out isn't working if you have to sit with him—then it becomes a reward with instant Mommy time and full Mommy attention.

One big thing that worked for me instead of time-outs was the taking away of a favorite toy. Instantly. "You kicked mommy, now teddy gets taken away for [x] mintues/hours" Keeping in mind the timeframe should fit the crime and kids that age can't process really long spans of time (like more than a day). If he's not immediately repentant and keeps acting out (because he should now be focused on the toy HE CAN'T HAVE), then he loses another toy. Fully explaining each time, this is what you did, this is how long you lose the toy, this is what you need to do so you don't lose your toy.

For throwing things, I read a tip about taking the misbehavior element out of it: get a basket and when something gets thrown, pick it up and say "if you want to throw this, you have to throw it in the basket". After doing this a few times, my son totally lost interest in throwing things because it was no longer something that was challenging authority.
posted by Eicats at 2:19 PM on May 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, I'm with celtalitha. This is very likely entirely the result of the disruption in his life. Literally nothing is the same for him as it was a few weeks ago, he probably didn't get any input into the situation, and he's angry about it.

Some good steps would be making sure that he's getting enough sleep and snacks so as not to exacerbate the situation. Consider lying down with him until he falls asleep at night if he won't stay in bed. The sacrifice of time could be pretty big, but it's better to have an hour of nice snuggles in the evening than an hour of screaming, yes?

Also if you're not trying to Skype his daddy pretty often, do that, and if you are, step up the frequency. It might help to incorporate that into a bedtime routine, if it's at all possible.

The rest of the time, drown him with love. You need to constantly be proving and affirming that his whole life is not ruined forever. My older one wouldn't go for it, but when my younger one gets like that -- irrationally angry and acting out -- I'll ask her if she wants a hug instead of punishing her, and that defuses the situation with surprising frequency.

And of course everyone will suggest it after, but: family therapy. You don't say here whether there's a recent divorce, but it sounds like you've gone through an amount of upheaval equivalent to that, and there's no shame in hiring a professional to help you navigate those waters with good grace.
posted by Andrhia at 2:20 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I can really mostly address the day care issue, but if you say you can't afford commercial day care, then I have to assume you are (were) using an in-home daycare that was likely not very expensive? And if that's the case, then I would suggest that the day care may not be helping the situation at all. There are certainly day cares that are inexpensive and can do a great job, but your son sounds like he needs a lot of attention from a well-trained and very experienced child care worker. In fact, as former nanny myself (10+ years, some with very difficult children), I would guess he needs one-on-one with someone with a background in child psychology or child development.

If money is the deciding factor and you just want someplace to stash him for the day, then the behavior may not change (even with you working flat out at home). I would suggest calling the universities in Boston and asking if they have childcare labs where he could get a spot and have that kind of attention. A full time nanny with experience would also be a possibility, but it sounds like you might not be able to afford that, so I'd check with the schools and see if that's a possibility.

Another thought: Mass. has free early intervention. It may be useful to have him checked out be sure there's nothing going on under the surface, development-wise. He sounds very smart, but if he's having trouble communicating or expressing his feelings, there might be something there (especially if he is going through a divorce as well). It's free and can't hurt.

Good luck!
posted by mrfuga0 at 2:46 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

My daughter was about that age when her father and I divorced. There were similar problems, specially during and after a period where I had to leave the country without her for two months.
Things I did:
- I wrote in another thread that I made very rigid rules for everyday life. Something to depend on - rituals for morning and evening. When putting her to bed in the evening, I'd stay with her for 30-45 minutes, first talking and cuddling, and then gradually tuning down.
- after play-school every day, we'd do something really fun and physical together. Like jumping around and shouting to punk music or dramatic opera music. Or playing with balls or other toys in the park. THe idea was to get some of all the anger out in a fun way.
- because of problems similar to yours, I worked from home for several years and became dirt poor. It was rough, but at the end of the day, I think it was worth it, and I've been able to get back on track again now.
- because I was poor, and still needed healthy food, we spent a lot of time in the kitchen, making something out of nothing. It was good for us that we spent time together doing something very important.
- at some point, our neighbors began inviting her in for 30 minutes every evening. She'd have a piece of vegetable or fruit, or candy on Fridays, and they would watch some TV-show together. In the same time, I'd have some time to myself, usually spent reading the paper or a glossy magazine.
- Mostly, I'd sleep from 9-12 PM, wake up and do stuff till 3 AM, and then sleep again till 7 AM, while she slept all night. THis gave me valuable time for me. I was overjoyed to read somewhere here on the blue that this was a normal sleep-pattern before industrialization.

Play-school is crazy expensive. My daughter was in a school where I could "work off" some of the price, by working there once a week. It was a great experience for me in many ways. Maybe there is a similar place in your proximity.

And don't worry. If you can get a hold of this now, it will end when he goes to school, and you will have a much easier time than many others. It's only a couple of years.
posted by mumimor at 3:12 PM on May 23, 2013 [3 favorites] is stuffed with all sorts of great advice, advice which I think would offer some particularly valuable perspectives for you.

Clearly nothing you are doing is working well for you guys right now, so I would recommend scrapping everything, and reading about things like positive discipline, parenting without punishments, and abandoning the time-out idea entirely. Start from scratch. Don't expect miracles overnight, and be committed and consistent about doing things differently than you did before.

Good posts about time-out here, here, here

This all sounds so unhappy and I hope you can leverage the day care expulsion into time to re-connect with him, which is, I promise, less stressful than fighting. Doorknob covers should only be used for safety reasons, not to imprison, and when he's having a meltdown there's nothing wrong with offering reassurance, and if he's getting up earlier than you in the morning why not just let him crawl into bed with you?

He's not a tiny asshole -- he's scared...

Single parent, recent move, fussy kid; it sounds really rough. Your kid will be better off if you cut yourself and him lots of slack right now. When things start going south, it's okay to detach from the idea that you need to be in control of the situation and should be parenting perfectly according to [whatever], and to just throw up your hands and park both of yourselves in front of a teevee with a bag of chips. Good behaviour will come naturally from a place of love and security, and you can get that under a blanket with chips and television, but it is much more difficult to wring good behaviour out of intimidation.
posted by kmennie at 4:40 PM on May 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

I like Kmennie's answer, but just to add food for thought: what CAN he do when he's angry? No shouting no hitting no running... maybe a punching bag? Maybe an immediate jaunt outside so he can run and shout? I'd try to be his partner to figure out ways to release the tension. Maybe he can hug you super-tight. Maybe he can throw small bean bags at a target on the wall.

I'd also try to come up with ways he can feel like a good kid more of the time. Spend more time in places where he doesn't wrack up infractions. Ease bathing requirements. Let him eat picnic style on the floor or with a video... in this way, he'll have more moments of happiness and calm at home, and hopefully he'll come to prefer them.
posted by xo at 6:02 PM on May 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of your input. I currently feel like I've already been cutting him plenty of slack -- he watches TV with dinner (so that I can regroup from making dinner with him), and while I shower in the morning.

It's worth noting that living in Boston ain't cheap, and while I'm doing my best to cut down on expenses, there's really no way around me having a full-time job.

With that said, I think a lot of your suggestions about the reasons why he's acting out are spot on. He told me today that "all my friends are gone -- daddy, grandma, grandpa, [his sisters], [their mom]..." We had a really good talk about how missing people is okay and that they weren't gone forever and he would see them soon. Nonetheless, I feel pretty gross about the fact that I just assumed he would bounce right back. I'm planning to give more thought to both family therapy and just extra love.
posted by woodvine at 6:39 PM on May 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

He's missing a lot of people. I have to think trying a lot of Skype is a worthwhile experiment.

Try setting up something he'll sit down and play with (coloring? Lego?) and the distant relatives can talk to him while he plays...and you might by yourself five minutes of down time, which you probably need as well.

No promises--the above is great for my three year old, but her life hasn't been disrupted and she's generally pretty easy going. But it seems worth a shot.
posted by stevis23 at 7:12 PM on May 23, 2013

Best answer: I was a sensitive, highly verbal, easily frustrated, authority resistant tiny asshole once ... and I've spent a lot of time in therapy undoing the effects of yelling & timeouts & taking my things away. Seriously: once my mother took everything because I had a meltdown and I had to earn it back bit-by-bit. And yes, I freaked out and screamed and was "uncompliant". But from my end? I felt bad and had no idea how to fix it and all the adults did was yell at me and sit me in a corner so I could think about how they were assholes.

So from this end of it I'd say: Teach him how to deal with feeling bad. Mitigating is fine but I wish someone had told me how to cope at 2 instead of at 32.
posted by dame at 8:24 PM on May 23, 2013 [10 favorites]

My heart breaks for him and you..that's a lot to deal with, and raising a two-year-old alone is hard enough all by itself!

When he refuses to stay in bed, is it just to play, or does he run to be with you? If so, maybe it's not about defiance, but fear and loneliness.

You don't explain why this giant (especially from his perspective) disruption is taking place in his and your life, and if it's permanent. If it is permanent, and if your family is not able to be around and help, you need to seek out a community for the two of you, someplace that is stable and welcoming. Church is the easiest, and if you're not religious, UU churches (abundant in Boston!) work. They give you someplace to go together, for him to play and you to talk, and emotional support for you both.

Joining a playgroup that meets at regular times, therapy, and obviously finding a good, new babysitter are all also going to help. If you can find one who only cares for him, maybe in your home, that might make it easier. Make sure she understands that he's having a rough go, and why.

If he were a baby it might be easier, since they don't have needs as complex as a toddler's, but he's not anymore. Toddlers really care about routine and security and predictability, because their world is mostly inexplicable and they are so powerless in it, and they know it. You'd act out, too.

All the best to you both. If you were down here, I'd offer to have you over for playdates.
posted by emjaybee at 8:28 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

What he said to you is pretty poignant and articulate. Be glad he can express himself so well. Listen, respond, and talk about it. You can Skype, let him dictate a letter (and he might get one back!), make recordings to send to loved ones, plan visits, etc. But it is truly hard to be taken from a social environment in which you felt loved and secure to a new, strange, and lonely one (for you as well as him, I bet). Honor those emotions and spend some time talking about it - don't brush them aside.
posted by Miko at 8:29 PM on May 23, 2013

Reading the time out article linked above just reminds me of how awful a solution they are to behavior sparked by real distress. You're already upset — and children are really so powerless — and then you're denied affection and interaction? It can be really hurtful and not very great. Also, if your son isn't a big fan of authority, have you tried explaining the why of rules & requests to him? My mother did realize early on that once things made sense to me, I was on board. Maybe that would help?
posted by dame at 8:34 PM on May 23, 2013

janw: Yeah violence works. But it works by intimidation and fear and most of us would rather our children respect us, not fear us.

My personal rule has always been: if I have to use any kind of force to compel my children to comply then it means I've failed somewhere along the line. We're talking about a 3-year old here after all. If you can't out-think a 3 year old then you really are in trouble :)

To the OP, some random thoughts; this quote:
He told me today that "all my friends are gone -- daddy, grandma, grandpa, [his sisters], [their mom]..." We had a really good talk about how missing people is okay and that they weren't gone forever and he would see them soon. Nonetheless, I feel pretty gross about the fact that I just assumed he would bounce right back. I'm planning to give more thought to both family therapy and just extra love.
makes me feel sad for you both. It sounds like the move must have been really hard for your son to understand & was probably stressful for you too.

That said, there's also something about this age and boundary pushing; it's probably not just about the move! One of our children was as sweet as you like when they were 2, but changed to a boundary vaulting, oppositional, shouty three year old. We tried timeouts, but they simply didn't work for us: all that happened was that we got a sullen, sad but still oppositional 3 year old instead.

What did finally work was giving him lots of positive attention (practically love bombing him!) combined with 1-2-3 counting for unacceptable behaviour. The 1-2-3 stuff had to be completely objective though; consequences had to come as if they they were the natural outcome of the child's behaviour, rather than something that we imposed because the child was "bad" if that makes any sense.

There used to be a sign on the wall of our children's nursery which said something like:
You get the behaviour you pay attention to.
We cetainly found that if we gave lots of attention to bad behaviour then that was really not helping. Timeouts are supposed to do this of course, but I think whether that works depends very much on the child & they can end up being full of drama which of course counts as attention! They certainly didn't work for us.

It's also really easy when you're busy with work and all the stuff of getting on with life to accidentally end up treating your children as obstacles to be overcome rather than thinking, feeling people who crave your attention. Can you carve out some specific time to promise to spend with your child doing something that they want to do with you?

(NB: I wonder what exactly you mean by
"We used to do 1-2-3, but I found that he simply waited until I said 2"
Do you mean that he waited until you said "2" before doing what was asked, or that he waited until you said "2" before blowing up? Because the former is absolutely fine: it doesn't matter whether he waits or not so long as he complies! The great thing about 1-2-3 is that it gives the child a little space to come to terms with backing down without making the whole thing into an ever escalating oppositional fight. If it's the latter then you might have to try something else!)
posted by pharm at 3:15 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Comment deleted; OP has said she is looking for non-violoent solutions.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:02 AM on May 24, 2013

For a point of reference: a child at my son's (who's a month younger than your son) daycare left for the summer a few weeks ago, and three of the kids (including my son) turned into tiny assholes for about a week. Even relatively small changes can be a big deal at this age.

You mention cutting some slack by increasing TV time--do you have any time to treat him by getting outside to run him ragged? Was the daycare doing this? My kid is not your kid, and I would TOTALLY be heavily relying on TV when solo parenting, but I know that my kid gets more irritable the more TV he sees, and less irritable the more hard running he does. It seems like a lot of the things your son's going to time-out for are "high energy" types of things. Playing hard with him might be a great combination of activity and attention, and getting out of the house to a playground might get outside of the cycle you're in inside the house.

I also agree with pharm about 1-2-3. We usually get compliance just before 3, and we praise for the compliance. Him having that control seems to make a huge difference.

Mostly, it just sounds like a super hard situation. I wish I was in Boston to playdate.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:56 AM on May 24, 2013

I don't have a ton of advice, but coming from someone with a precociously-verbal child -- don't fall into the trap that my husband and I sometimes fall into, whereby we think our daughter can handle certain things because she is so verbal. We have to remind each other all the time that she is only X age and just because she might sound like an older kid, she actually isn't.

I would keep talking to him, help him verbalize his feelings. He may not even know WHAT he is feeling, just that he feels bad or discombobulated. You can say things like, "Missing people is hard. Missing people makes me feel sad." Or "It can be really scary when you go to a new daycare and you don't know any other kids." Sometimes my daughter and I talk about having "big feelings," by which I kind of mean the feelings you get where you can't even name them, but you're feeling overwhelmed and scared and etc etc.

Poor kid and poor you. I would focus on making sure he is getting plenty of sleep, lots of activity and outdoor time and plenty of love and care from you.
posted by sutel at 7:00 AM on May 24, 2013

celtalitha speaks truth.

My sister was like this when she was little. Things my mom did that worked:

Count backwards to time-out, 3...2...1.. (that way he can't start counting 4...5..6...).

Hold him. As much as possible. Literally carry him, hold him, hug him. Don't just place him somewhere out of the way. He needs the security that can only come from physical reassurance. Doing this as much as possible will save you so much energy in avoided conflicts.

When he throws a tantrum, either say he can stop and give you a hug, or he can continue to tantrum but you won't pay any attention to him while he's behaving that way. Then leave the room. You have to follow-through on this. My sister actually remembers kicking and screaming on the floor and then realizing it wasn't working.

For things like bathtime and dinnertime: do not make these requests. It IS bathtime now. It IS dinnertime now. Avoid making non-negotiables into questions.

If you don't already have them: bath toys.

Schedule a weekly call with his father, if you can. Everything in the house stops and he gets to talk to dad.

As for a sitter: when you find a new one, explain the rules and the situation. Give your sitter permission to hold and comfort him.

I know you're exhausted. My goodness. He will adjust with time as well, but in the meantime, I hope some of these pointers can help.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 7:33 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can in to chime in on lots of love, hugs and spending 20 minutes a day just getting on the floor and playing what he wants to play, doing what he wants to do. It can help calm some kids and lets them know that they will get mom's FULL attention at some point during the day. You can even call it something (and have a timer on so he know when it ends, in case he's the kind of kid that would be upset by something ending suddenly.) Also, I second the idea of getting him checked out if he's very smart and precocious and has some trouble regulating himself. Can't hurt and if anything is going on, early intervention is the best. One more idea: I loved the book, The Whole Brain Child for figuring out what to do with those really big emotions. Very practical advice from a respected neuropsychiatrist.
posted by biscuits at 10:41 AM on May 24, 2013

Response by poster: Yeah... I'm exhausted. But I'm also okay. Yes, the move is permanent -- we moved because I got a pretty good job here after graduating from college, and thankfully one of the things that's really good about it is that my boss is being extremely understanding about the level of work I am able to accomplish right now.

The kid will be traveling back and forth -- he'll spend a couple of months at his dad's a couple of times a year. Seeing how hard this transition has been on him makes me wonder how wise this parenting plan is... but that's probably going to be another Metafilter question.

I took the doorknob cover off his door last night and let him snuggle in bed with me this morning. I'm also trying the pausing in between requests, which seems to be helping. (I could use some better patience skills, so thanks for the reminder.) Mostly, I think I'm planning to back off some from the little dictatorship I had set up in hopes it would improve his behavior, and start viewing our interactions as more about teaching than about discipline.

All of your links have been really helpful. Thank you all again for your latest round of responses.
posted by woodvine at 11:05 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW, when I was a kid, my parents had a split custody agreement from about the same age as your son, maybe a bit younger -- I visited my dad and brother one summer, my brother would come visit me and my mom the next, rinse and repeat through about tenth grade. It worked out for us pretty well. Don't feel like your custody plan is *necessarily* unworkable!
posted by Andrhia at 3:11 PM on May 24, 2013

Best answer: I saw this question two days ago and it really haunted me - I'm in another country with limited internet access but I've had to come back to look at the answers. Seems to me you have a lovely, dexterous, highly intelligent and articulate precious little boy. None of these qualities are things you want to suppress. It's cuddles, explanations, reassurance and modelling for you to do now. Do children grow on trees? Some people would do anything to get what you have.

It's not reasonable to expect young children to sit quietly and conform if their own needs are not being met. Sounds like the childcare was unsuitable for a child like him. Isn't he your priority? Otherwise why not let his Dad or other relatives look after him? Good luck, because it is tough, but when a child is happy, s/he is very pleased to co-operate with and imitate adults at such a young age. "mummy hug!" my grandchild says, and "mummy happy?" when she wants to do her own little version of conflict resolution. Yes, children are defiant sometimes. It's part of their development.

Snuggles, cuddles, talking ( and wow! what an articulate child!) and respect for each other's feelings...even if he can't be where he wants and misses people, these (snuggles etc) should help. His feelings are valid. I wish you and him the very very best. Discipline is overrated in child rearing, while empathy and consideration and respect, even for very young children, really help all of us get over the gnarly bits. But he sounds like an amazing little boy.

(I had a kid like this. Pain in the arse, bright as a button and so worth it. Very hard work.)
posted by glasseyes at 4:17 PM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

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