Hello i am a first time mother. I have a 3 1/2 yr.old son who is going through let's see how much we can test mommy & daddy stage. He constantly says no to everything you ask him to do. Time out's, taking away of the toys, etc. does not work at all with him. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. 3 years old and the year that follows are momentous for our children, and often challenging for us as parents! It is this time that our children go from being babies to full blown people, with their own thoughts, opinions and decided upon wants, that have been decided upon over the past few years of observing what’s around them. They have explored, pondered and questioned and quite frankly we’ve answered most of the questions about what’s around them. By three they are eager to explore new territory, and if we don’t spark new interest, new challenges, they just turn off and disconnect from their true nature. Also, as they look for new challenges, suddenly we feel like we’re on a battle ground of their will vs. ours and we start to refuse them a lot more rather than encouraging their explorations as we did when they were younger.
It’s a time when we as parents start to introduce how we work as a family. Often it comes in the form of control, (“we’re the parents, you’re the kid, you have to do as we say or suffer the consequences”) It can work for a time, but it wears thin as they become more determined to have their say and we have to try to maintain control. However, it’s the hierarchy that we have in our minds, because it’s the way it’s always been. What I like to encourage in a family is a team effort, a little bit of give, a little bit of take and everyone trying to be considerate to each other. It takes some time to establish, and even to form in our own mindset so don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Life, especially parenting, is a journey with the outcome sometimes unclear.
Saying that, your son may be saying no all the time because he feels that’s what’s done. In order to reset the household a little, try a day of YES. As much as possible set some time aside where he can do as he wants, or at least safe versions of it. If he wants to play cars, get on the floor and play with him, ask him what he wants for lunch, what he wants to wear. Give him what you want to be given. Then if you need something, rather than telling him to do it, tell him about it, why you need it, why it works, and what the benefit is to it getting done. Point out the things that everyone does in the family, such as brushing teeth, bathing etc, when you need him to do things that everyone else does. I find that with our 3 year old he loves to do the things his dad does as he feels bigger that way, so building on that note, see if Dad can ask him for help sometimes, or explain things to him. (My husband is often asked by me these days “Can you talk to him about this and this and why it’s dangerous... etc” and off they go for a guy to guy talk.)
3 years old is also a great time to talk about emotions, and how your boy is feeling. I’m just in the middle of writing my next book, and in it I suggest doing art projects with a 3-4 year old talking about how they feel. For 3-4 year olds frustration is the key negative emotion, as they are ready to try new things but get upset when they don’t nail it right away. So talking with them about what makes them feel good, what makes them feel bad, and that tight hurt inside that’s frustration helps them express what they are feeling. I like to get them to draw emotion, just with colors on paper, imagining how they feel and then drawing how they feel. It helps with the talking.
I also find that night time is a good check in point. Before bed it helps to ask them questions about anything they are thinking about, are worried about, things that upset them, things that feel good. Night time can get so rushed, but if a child is listened to at night, and considered then in the morning they feel like they can connect at that level too.
Communication is so important on this next stage of the journey. I try never to say no unless I can find a true reason. When I started on this path with our two girls, I would say no and then look for the reason why they couldn’t do something. It was silly. It feels better to say yes, unless you can say, “no... because”. A child is always wondering why and when we explain everything and take the time to tell them how things work, they respect our no’s more. Sometimes it means being really blunt, “honey, I’m sorry you can’t use the knife until you have bigger hands, I love your fingers so much and this knife could cut them off.” Following up with something they can do “here, can you stir this with this spoon instead.” Usually gives room to grow and learn.
One last thing. In this dawning of your son’s new interest in being involved, involve him more. If you’re washing dishes, let him wash some in a different pot, if you vacuum let him have a try, he might be good at it, and then he’ll get fed up. He can help carry, he can help move things, he can help. I am forever amazed at the capacity of understanding and ability our 3.5 year old has and at the sparkle in his eyes when we take his ideas and suggestions seriously.
Listen, communicate, have fun and create a team effort. By being what you want to see in him, you offer him the template for how to be and he’ll see it works well as a family affair.