Dear Christina, I read daily your posts on FB and I appreciate them a lot…They correspond to my parenting philosophy. Unfortunately lately I have some problems at home, so I think asking your advice on what I’m living… I have 2 little boys. One 2 ½ years old and the other is just 3 month old. To describe them, one (the older) is a full energy little man and the other one is quiet and calm. They are both open to world, curious and smiley. Our parenting philosophy is much based on love, attention, listening and non punishment. But…In the last months, maybe because of the pregnancy, maybe because of the arrival of the brother, maybe because of the age (the terrible two) or maybe because of our “liberal” education style (the nanny says we don’t have much authority on him…), the older one is definitely more agitated and keeping calm is pretty difficult for us. He provokes us nonstop, moves constantly and never, never listens to us. It gets really difficult for us to enjoy time with him. Unfortunately we are also changing our way of acting. We have started shouting, punishing and I have to admit, even if I’m not proud of it, to spank him…As a result he shouts back and he gets even more difficult… 4 days the week for 5/6h hours the day, he goes to the nanny, where he spends time with other children his age and has lots of activity. Apparently with the nanny he is the same sweet and nice boy. I feel lost because I don’t want to build this kind of conflict relationship with my boy. (I have this kind of relationship with my mother and I know how much pain there is behind) But I don’t know what to do. I have been meeting a psychology and she says I should gain more authority. She agrees that spanking is not a solution, and suggests me to adopt bad looks and stern voice when he is naughty and close him in his room…So I’m applying her suggestions, but I’m not sure that this is the right solution… I feel his loneliness and his sadness when we argue. I perceive his feelings of not being understood…but in the same time it is difficult to handle him in this way. I’m tired and exhausted. I’m afraid of doing mistakes, to hurt him, to be a bad mother…And I love him so much…. What to do to recreate harmony? I’m so glad you wrote to me. Let’s see if I can help.
First, your little boy sounds wonderful. He sounds energetic, alive, full of emotion and able to feel them to the fullest. I noticed you say he can’t sit still, I have one like that, in many ways I see it as feeling their emotional state so much that it literally physicalizes, which for me is fascinating. Children who feel strongly and so fully are great teachers, and can develop a deep understanding of spiritual things. I also find they can shift direction quickly and go from feeling off to on in a blink of an eye. It just takes getting it to click. It sounds like that what both you and your son are looking for. That connection point where it clicks, where you see your boy in front of you again and he feels safe and secure in himself again.
It’s interesting how everyone is advising you to form a position of more authority. It is the easy, quick fix solution, but I sense in you that if feels off. No matter what, you have to stay true to your instincts, your inner gut feeling and does what feels most yourself. Parenting can be a rough road, but when our children grow up its best to be able to stand high and say we stayed true to ourselves.
Now first, I’m going to go a different route than I normally do. Although it sounds like your son is having a spiritual time of it, I would like to suggest a physical one for you to try on. I suggest it because my daughter, who is full of energy and life much like your son is really effected by it, and it unbalances her. I would look into his diet and make sure he’s not having any food colorings or high sugar, as I notice in our children this challenges their connection. They can be connected while on artificial foods, but its a huge effort and if they are already disconnected it can push them over the edge. Like your son, they won’t be able to sit still, they won’t hear us (not even won’t listen they literally don’t hear us) and they get agitated easily. Provided we feed them plenty of leafy green vegetables, (when they were younger we’d blend them into their food or sprinkle dry ones into sauces) and they drink water not sugary drinks, they can have their on and off moments be true and not effected by outside influences.
Alright, with that said, onto the spiritual side,which is always so much deeper and rings more true.
You are right in the idea that probably your little boy is jealous of your new baby. There he was the centre of your parenting focus and suddenly someone else is there. He cries and he gets attention and seen to, and your little boy is of the age where its ok to wait a few minutes. It upsets me that your psychologist has told you to be stern to him. It makes sense that seeing you with a baby is going to stir up negative emotions in you, in fact he may be mad at you and feel you are unfair (even though you probably aren’t). He is experiencing disconnection because of what he sees and as you said, he feels alone, left out, and not understood.
You should be proud of yourself for feeling his emotions as you do. That is an indicator of being connected to our children, when we can feel how our children feel, and see the world through their eyes.
On top of his jealousy, leaving the home to go to a nanny is probably upsetting him to a point, as he doesn’t know if its just about you spending more time with the baby that has taken his place. I don’t know if he went before the baby was born, but even still, he leaves you alone with the baby when he goes and it probably cements the thought process going off in his lovely head.
My first suggestion is take some one on one time with him. If he doesn’t want to connect with you start a game on your own. Put on some fun music and dance, it will change the feeling of the home, you can be wearing the baby in a sling or carrier, or have him asleep, and then invite your boy to dance with you. Act silly, pull faces, try to make him laugh. Do head shoulders, knees and toes or some other action game. Get active with him. If he can’t sit still and won’t listen, its a form of play that might engage him. If you want calm, set up a time every night where its just you and him (and your partner) all sitting on the couch watching one of your son’s favorite shows, or a new one. Try to make it a calm, nice energy. Type up the old Paddington bears on Youtube, the ones from the 1970s, or Postman Pat, try Mr. Rogers. The great thing about shows like them is that they have elements the parents can enjoy as well, so it doesn’t feel like we’re just watching for our kids, its a group activity for everyone to enjoy. If he’s not listening, don’t bother talking. Create a fun element, at least once a day. Get him helping with baking, sweeping, or just make sure you play with him when he’s in the bath.
A 2.5 year old, in general terms, have a mission. They have explored the world around them to a point, and they understand it to a point. They are looking for the new exploration and they don’t know where to find it. When we keep them in the same routine with the same games etc, they get frustrated, as they crave more, but don’t know where to turn. Your son may be “behaving” at his nanny’s because a nanny’s job is to create a fun environment. They go on outings, they do crafts, they play music. They play and they keep it fresh. Try finding a new exploration when you play with your son. Get some new toys, go to a new park, take him to a zoo. Get crafty and show him how to glue, or make cars go down ramps. Get outside, show him nature, draw his attention to things to notice. Help him push through the blockage. He might resist it for a bit, but soon, if he senses you have fun in his presence, and you are engaging with him, he’ll start to shift to a state of connection.
Lastly, its important to not see him in his new light. As you know, this isn’t him, this is his reaction to the chaos his life has made him feel right now. Do your loving work when he’s not feeling off. Even if it means going into his bedroom at night, sitting beside him and just loving him, just looking at him and letting your heart lift, he’ll sense it and feel better for it. Take moments in the day to praise him, to hug him randomly, to smile at him. Send him love when he’s at his nanny’s, keeping him in your thoughts. Love, love, love him, with all of your might. Stern looks, and putting him in his room, is like shutting the love off, where really he doesn’t need to feel like he has to earn your love back.
If he acts out, then stop, breathe, look at him and ask him why he feels sad. Ask him if he needs a hug. Tell him if he screams, or is mad it makes the house feel bad, so how can you together make it happy. Then distract, distract, distract. Find a new exploration, mention a bird outside, pull a funny face. Find a way to connect to who you know he is, rather than who is presenting to you.
Its hard sometimes, and yes you are allowed to feel off, overwhelmed and like banging your head against a wall. This is a crazy time of transition for you as well, so let it be that. But trust me, when you start the wheel of love going, of laughter, of fun, it builds, each day gets better, its universal law.
Trust in your connection with your boy. He chose you, and when he did I’m sure he knew his brother would come at some point, he chose you so you could both go through this together and figure it out, together.