Thursday, January 11, 2007

A note about preschoolers and grumpiness

We trudge onward this week with tweens and teen grounded around here. I’ve actually really enjoyed having them around more (and having their full attention, since “grounding” for us means no phone, no computer, no friends, no NOTHING!).

Seeing that I was dealing with attitudes, Michele in NZ commented the other day about her three-year-old, who was waking up grumpy. She wondered if I had any experience with this?

Boy, have I been there!

But first, a disclaimer:

I am no expert on child development. My only experience is with my own children. That said, in my humble opinion, those of you with a couple of preschoolers underfoot are in the hardest stage of parenting, hands-down. I love the preschool years now, but my oldest was extremely strong willed and I didn't have the perspective I have now ("This, too, shall pass" and "There is life after the preschool years"), and I lived for bedtime! She had a way of sucking me into battle emotionally (she STILL can sometimes and she's 13!), and it was exhausting.

So as a reminder, I'll just say it for you: "This, too, shall pass." And: "There is life after the preschool years."

It gets better. But don't wait to enjoy the insanity of it all - you really will miss it some day!

Anyway...as far as grumpiness goes, I would first check to make sure the child has had adequate rest. Have we been up late, had days filled with errands, or been in constant activity? Toddlers need routine, and the best way I’ve found to do this is to plan to be home – a lot. I try to make my outings few during the day so the little ones get long stretches of time at home, and so that rest times are predictable.

Once that’s in order, my only piece of advice (for what it's worth): Don't get into a battle if you don't need to.

If it's bedtime, it's bedtime. Don't negotiate. (Want to drive any kid crazy? Answer “Maybe.” Or “We’ll see.”)

I used to have to trick myself and pretend I was a day care worker. Does a daycare worker get all worked up when the child doesn't want to go potty? No. It's time to go potty, period. Same for bedtime, meals, getting dressed, etc. You are in charge (by God’s design), but if you let them think for a minute that you are a pushover, they will certainly push you over! You have to figure out a way to remove the emotional element.

This does mean that you have to stay a step ahead of them, which is always hard. They get into trouble when there appears to be no plan, or if the plan appears to be negotiable. They become little despots, masterminding their evil plot to ruin everyone's day.

So assuming your child is resting well and that, in general, the child knows you are in charge, the best way I've found to keep waking up grumpy from becoming a battle is to use…humor. (Do I always have the wherewithal to do this? No, but I do try!).

Do I hear whining coming from the bedroom? "Hey, is there a little monkey (bear/doggie, etc) hiding in that bed? I don't see her anywhere? Where could she be?"

Then you start the day with a game of peek-a-boo (or some other sweet game) rather than a battle of wills. This fills that little cup of need for attention early on in the day, too. Once you've had an enjoyable time together you can say, "I love waking up to a cheerful girl! Wasn't that better?" and then reinforce it throughout the day. As James Dobson says (my paraphrase), “Give them every reason to want to obey you.”

Humor, in general, is the balm that soothes the bumps and bruises that happen when two people clash continually. My husband is great at this. Where I tend to stand there and draw a line in the sand (inviting conflict) he can defuse it just by making a funny face.

I do believe in Daring to Discipline for direct defiance (a la James Dobson) but for many fits (especially for frustration and generalized grumpiness), a minute or two in the "thinking chair" (a dining room chair, for us) is usually enough to put some time and space between you to give a fresh start to the interaction. (I also tend to remove even a grumpy older child to a quiet place alone - Proverbs 22:10). Not an angry, “Go to the chair!” but an empathetic, “I’m sorry you’ve chosen to be grumpy. I’m going to set the timer, and when it goes off, if you are cheerful, you can come give Mommy a hug.” You might hate to start the day this way (I'd try humor first) but it may be another weapon in your arsenal.

The main thing is not to reflect their frustration - they are looking to you because they are really out of control with their impulses. You remain calm, and they will eventually see that they can remain calm (and find humor), too.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you thank you for this post! As the mother of three, 2 daughters and a son, all 3 and under, I find it so hard to deal with my three year old's grumpy attitude when she wakes up. Humor usually works with her, so I'll have to try that! Love your blog, by the way, don't know why I haven't discovered it before.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I've had a difficult week with my kids. I've lost focus on the fact that they're YOUNG. But you just reminded me that I need to play more silly games and sweet things so that they will WANT to obey me. I don't think I've given them much reason to obey me lately. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Great, loving, advice, Katherine. I need to be reminded of this--to use humor more. I'm sure it can be helpful with a preschooler *and* a teen(probably a teen more!!)

Qtpies7 said...

I wonder if humor would work on my grumpy 14yo??? LOL It would traumatize everyone if I peeked under his covers though, lol. He had to have sleep training for bed wetting and they taught him to sleep nekkid, and he held onto it. So we won't go looking for that grumpy bear too hard.
Great ideas though! My little two are 3 and newborn, my next oldest is 10, we had a 7 year gap and I am having to relearn parenting preschoolers, every idea helps!

marian said...

Oh,I can comment! I've tried before and been shut out for some reason. So let me officially de-lurk and tell you that I enjoy your blog very much. Love, grace and and realistic joy come through in your words and I am refreshed by it. Anyway, how timely! I think I hear a very grumpy 3 y.o. bear now... =)

org junkie said...

I love you. I love the approach you take in your posts...and just great advice too...great, great, great. Did I mention I love you? Please please tell me you'll do a post on how to deal with the lying....pleeeeaaaaasssseeeee....

Anonymous said...

Great post. It is so true about their little cup of need for attention, and how humor diffuses a lot of situations with the very young and old alike. I have really noticed that my kids are grumpiest when I'm the most busy, they are not resting well, or the routine is the most out of whack - amazing what a little calm (in the routine AND in mom's voice) will do!

And one of the greatest things I've heard about parenting was an older family friend with grown children who said, "My parenting and whole outlook turned completely around the day I realized they really weren't making messes/getting out of bed all night/bickering/whining (you name the frustrating behavior) just to annoy ME or get under my skin or ruin MY day. When I learned it was less about me and more about them growing up, I could handle everything with so much more wisdom and grace."

Anonymous said...

You nailed it as you always do...I keep coming back here because you give me hope with your 5 that I can make it with my 2.....I will be in the middle of a soccer game for Madison and Miller is running down the aisles and I'm trying to focus on her...and him at the same time and I think AGHHHHH I cant do this...and then I think of you with 5 kids and think yes I can....Thank God for you dear Katherine.....

Anonymous said...

Great advise! I really do need to work on using humor instead of anger. Any advise on how to keep my toddler from pushing his little brother around?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I have two preschoolers who have been wearing on me today. Using humor will not only help them, it will help me as well! Thanks!

Julie said...

Does it work with 33 year olds? Seriously, I am NOT a morning person. And if my husband tried to play peek-a-book with me in the morning I'd probably deck him! Fortunately our daugther IS a morning person. Our son takes after me - we make for a lovely pair in the morning :-)

Anonymous said...

What a great post. So encouraging (this too shall pass) and so helpful. I'm filing away some of tips already!
Hubby is a happy morning person. I'm not. All of our kids take after him, praise God.
I echo Julie - no peekaboo and DON'T call me a monkey. Just give me a minute. :)

Anonymous said...

Katherine, what a fantastic post! I like "Pretend You're A Daycare Worker" advice - so smart!

Anonymous said...

This post is chock full of wisdom and such helpful, practical advice - I love it! Your next assignment is to start writing a parenting book. I'll be the first in line for an autographed copy!

Anonymous said...

LOL love that picture!

I just posted today about how preschoolers make me unsophisticated. . . .

Rachel Anne said...

Great post, Katherine. 2 of my 3 were very grumpy morning people and had to be handled with kid gloves before they "came to" and behaved like humans. One required about 20 minutes of holding before she could face the day. Humor and good spirits are truly the best way to handle it (even mirroring their ridiculously exaggerated pouting can sometimes bring a smile.) I think the important thing is to not be manipulated by grumpiness and keep responding positively to the good behavior when you see it.

Just to encourage you, my grumpiest one has turned out to be my sunniest. Yes, it DID pass, and she is sweet and positive in nature. She still doesn't like to talk much in the morning, but WHO DOES??

Rachel Anne said...

Great post, Katherine. 2 of my 3 were very grumpy morning people and had to be handled with kid gloves before they "came to" and behaved like humans. One required about 20 minutes of holding before she could face the day. Humor and good spirits are truly the best way to handle it (even mirroring their ridiculously exaggerated pouting can sometimes bring a smile.) I think the important thing is to not be manipulated by grumpiness and keep responding positively to the good behavior when you see it.

Just to encourage you, my grumpiest one has turned out to be my sunniest. Yes, it DID pass, and she is sweet and positive in nature. She still doesn't like to talk much in the morning, but WHO DOES??