We’ve been facing some challenges of late with our 3 1/2 year old son. He’s getting older, he’s got a mind of his own and the determination to go with it. With parents like us, this comes as no surprise. Like most mothers I’m finding this stage so very difficult. I recognize that there is so much going on with him, he wants control, he’s learning, growing and testing his limits, he’s a boy. I know that all of this is normal. But I am at a loss for how to manage the change. I really had no idea that discipline would be this hard.
As a preface, I should say that my son is not a great eater. He refuses to try things he doesn’t know and on many occasions won’t even eat the things he does. We have dinner as a family virtually every night. It’s a rule, and I plan to stick to it as much as possible. My husband and I started sitting down to dinner together the day we moved in together. No tv, just time together to chat. We continue this tradition with our children. Here’s how a typical dinner drama goes at our house these days.
I give my son a 10 and 5 minute warning. I understand that young kids often have difficulty with transitions so I do this to help. It doesn’t work. The minute I warn him he has 5 minutes until dinner, he simply hollers that he wants 5 more. If I let him, he’d argue with me for the whole 5 minutes that he wants 5 more. I try not to engage, I state it for fact and move on.
When everyone comes to dinner they must wash their hands. This is hurdle number two and sometimes involves one young, spirited boy hurtling himself to the floor to truly display his discust with this idea. I simply sigh, pick him up and set him at the sink and turn on the water.
Once at the table, things can go one of two ways. On very rare occasions we simply eat, chat and enjoy one another’s company. My guess? This happens about once a week. I savour these nights, enjoy them, revel in them. They are few and far between.
Most nights he announces that he doesn’t want whatever I’ve served. To which, either I or his father respond: “Fine, you don’t have to eat it. But you know the rules.”
The rules? No dinner means no before bed snacks and or tv (he’s allowed one show before bed). We hold firm on this. It sticks. Usually he responds with, “No, I want my tv.” To which we calmly respond, “Well, eat your dinner.” I know that children shouldn’t be encouraged to eat for the sake of a rewward, but seriously, we have got to do something to get him to eat. Otherwise, I swear he won’t. Sometimes, this alone will get him to eat.
However, on nights like last night it means an all out temper tantrum. It starts with crying at the table, then crying in time-out when he doesn’t stop, and if he really gets going, crying in his room. I don’t believe in consoling crying when it’s not justified. I recognize that he is clearly frustrated so if need be I remove him from the situation so he can regain control. I sometimes sit with him, encourage him to take deep breaths. Hope he calms enough to rejoin us at the table. I’m trying to provide him with coping skills. Sometimes this works. Sometimes not. Last night it didn’t. It, shall we say, escalated. He cried that he was hungry, so I told him to eat. “But I can’t eat mommy, my fingers are broken.” Do you see where this is going? He wanted me to feed him. I refuse, he’s 3 1/2, that isn’t acceptable. The problem is, my parents do it just to get him to eat. It drives me mad!
Our battles weren’t over. We had this sort of back and forth for a few minutes. I was becoming upset that I had been engaged in this battle with a 3 year old. So finally, I put my foot down and said, “Bedtime.” He was beside himself. He couldn’t calm himself. It was clear to me that this was one over-tired little boy. I knew the only answer to regain control of the situation was sleep. I struggled a bit to get him ready, but finally, I closed his door, wished him good night, and that was it. He was up to eat a little later, but for all intents and purposes he went to bed at 5:15 p.m. This has become somewhat of a pattern and has happened a handful of times.
I’ll be honest. I don’t know what to do. This post was originally meant to be a discussion about my thoughts and struggles with positive discipline. Instead I vented. I worry that what I am doing is causing some kind of emotional/developmental damage. I need him to know that I am the parent. I need to have some respect for dinner time rules. I want him to learn some self control. Perhaps that’s too much to ask of a 3 1/2 year old boy. What do you suggest? I’m at a loss.