Most parents will agree that 3-year-olds come with particular challenges.
They have big emotions, limited communication skills, and 0 impulse control. We'd been through it before with Sophia, but when James hit that third birthday, we started to notice some behavior that went above and beyond anything we'd experienced with her.
And it didn't go away when he turned 4.
Tantrums, kicking or hitting us when he was particularly angry (though thankfully never his friends or sisters!), slamming doors, writing on walls, stealing my husband's tools or candy from the (locked!!) cupboards...
Antics I thought we'd kissed good-bye at two were still hanging around, and the worst of it was, the antics were getting worse.
No, that wasn't the worst of it. The worst part was that no method or amount of discipline seemed to be helping. We tried everything. Name a disciplinary method; we probably tried it. But nothing worked. Desperate, we finally went to a child psychologist who gave us very little guidance except to say that James seemed quite normal.
But, despite her reassurances (and reassurance is always nice as a mom, don't get me wrong), I wasn't willing to give up. I knew James had a strong will. It wasn't something I wanted to "break," per se. After all, he's a human being, not a horse. But, I knew it was my husband's and my duty to help him learn to submit that strong will to ours and, ultimately, to God's. A perspective our psychologist didn't seem to share.
So, I read every book I could on strong-willed children. I tried some of the new methods out. They weren't that different from what we'd done before, but they did have some subtle tweaking that seemed to make a difference.
It took some detective work and any number of meltdowns (mine not his, in case you were wondering) before I finally came up with a solution, and it may not be what you think.
I started having 25 minutes of 1-on-1 time with James every day.
Within two days, his behavior had improved remarkably. Within a week, the tantrums had stopped as had the door slamming. He didn't ask to be held at night before going to bed very often, either, and he stopped sneaking down to our room in the middle of the night for snuggles. That 25 minutes had "filled his cup" so to speak. Filled it with me! And, the change in his ability to cope was remarkable.
One of the most telling observations I made was in the beginning of my latest pregnancy when I couldn't manage to get that 1-on-1 time every day. Within a couple of weeks, guess what happened?
Tantrums, slamming doors, screaming, writing on walls...
Coincidence? Maybe, but somehow, I think not.
We got back on track as quickly as we could. Not just because of the behavioral challenges. Over the months, I'd come to love this special time with my boy simply for the sake of it. It was time when the baby wouldn't interrupt us. When he could choose whatever he wanted to play--and I got to learn which games or toys he was interested in and why. I could help guide his play in a purposeful way, the way I had with Sophia when she was very young and I didn't have a passel of children to chase after. Sometimes, it could be tiring. Mostly, it was a blast! And 25 minutes really isn't that long, even if your son wants to play a combination of tag-and-jumping-jacks the entire time.
In fact, we liked it so much, that I started scheduling 1-on-1s for the girls, too. Yes, even the baby. Especially the baby! She thrives on that time, even though she gets lots of hands-on time with me--and lots more with her siblings. But it's her time. Our time to connect. Heart-to-heart. 1-on-1.
I know it seems like a lot. 25 minutes per kid. You might be calculating that now in your head and thinking, "I don't have that time!" But, I would encourage you to make it. Especially for your under-5s. Prioritize. Schedule it in. Your children are important. This stage of their lives is important. This time with them is important.
With older children, you might be able to do every other day, or even a special hour once a week. One of my friends rotates and takes one of her older children out every Saturday morning for a special mom-and-me breakfast. They only get it once a month, but they look forward to each and every one!
At this stage in parenting, outings are usually beyond me. But, every day--three times a day--I carve out time to squirrel myself away with one very special child. I set a timer. They get to pick the activity. And we play, and in doing so, we build something beautiful. Our relationship.
What about you? Do you have special 1-on-1 time with your children? What does it look like in your home?