3 year olds behaviour is driving me up the wall - what am I doing wrong??

(24 Posts)
onceipopicantstop Tue 18-Jun-13 11:18:37

Really struggling with his behaviour at the moment. We went through a difficult stage a few months ago when he was pushing and hitting a lot. I eventually started a reward chart and made a real effort to remain calm etc etc (had been getting very cross which in hindsight wasn't helping the situation). He had been MUCH better!! Only last week dh and I commented how infrequently we were now needing to use time out.
But things have escalated again. He shouts and screams at me and has huge tantrums over minor issues. Has also starting spitting - no idea where he's picked it up from. Yesterday he starting spitting, hitting and screaming because I couldn't make his lunch at exactly that minute - was in the middle of cutting up some veg for tea. I asked him to just wait 5 mins, but ended in a massive meltdown. He's very difficult to manage once we get to this point as he just hits out everytime I go near. I eventually got him on the time out seat where he continued to spit at me, and then got off the chair to come and give me a slap!! Its very hard not to react but I did remain calm, restarted the timer and ignored him, and after about 10 mins he completed his time!
On the weekend he pushed several children in softplay and had timeout. And then hit a child making her cry - at which point we left. He seemed to think it was funny sad. He hit one of his friends a while back and his mum now seems to be avoiding us sad.
Today my dad has come to pick him up to take him out for a treat whilst I do some housework. He adores my dad. But he was a bit early and I'd lost track of time so we weren't ready. But instead of just getting dressed he had another strop, said he didn't want to go and had another massive tantrum. My poor dad sat downstairs waiting patiently whilst he screamed at me upstairs. Took me half an hour to get him dressed and he eventually did go out, but I was very close to just cancelling the whole outing! (although by that time I was glad to see the back of him for a bit!!) My dad commented he wouldn't put up with it and would just insist he gets dressed but that's not easy with a big 3 year old - he will just hit and kick me.

Sorry its a long post. Am feeling really fed up with the whole thing. Feels like everyone is watching us and judging my parenting and I really don't know how to improve things. Between episodes he's a lovely cuddly little boy, and there are no issued with his behaviour in nursery. He's worst with me by far. Having problems getting hold of my HV - 3 messages left in last few weeks - so if anyone has any advice or can reassure me this won't last forever I'd be very grateful. I worry that he is going to be the school bully that everyone avoids sad

onceipopicantstop Tue 18-Jun-13 11:20:50

Should have said - dh works abroad a lot, maybe once a month for 5 days or so and ds is definitely worse when he's away. I don't know whether its because he's missing him, or because I'm perhaps more tired and stressed when he's away. But either way the nature of his job means that this will continue to be a regular thing.

LadyBigtoes Tue 18-Jun-13 11:35:43

I now have a 3yo DD and her behaviour is reminding me of what her big brother was like at the same age. I totally know what you are going through. I remember picking DS up under my arm during a massive tantrum at the playground, in front of all his and my friends, and walking out with tears rolling down my face because no-one else's child was being like that and he was just impossible and I didn't know what to do. I would dread non-nursery days at home with him and sometimes ended up screaming into a pillow just to get the stress out.

If you have a child who happens to be a stropper, three can be the absolute worst. They are bigger and can keep it up for longer and they also have a bigger arsenal of cunning delaying tactics and arguments. When I asked about it on here someone told me the word "threenager" which just about sums it up smile

It will not last - at least not if you stay firm and consistent now, and I know how hard that is, but it's your job to keep laying down the law over and over about what is acceptable, and carrying out consequences, as calmly and routinely as possible. Try to be matter-of-fact and say "OK, you have two minutes to calm down and stop that noise, otherwise we will have to leave" then if necessary calmly leave. When my DD hits me in anger I say "You do NOT hit" and put her in time out, and she knows she will not be getting anything she wants until she calms down, says sorry and behaves properly. But then as soon as the good behaviour is back, lots of attention, hugs and fun.

Also as they say "pick your battles" - with the getting dressed you can say "well we need to go in 2 mins, your choices are get dressed now, or you can go in your pjs/naked and we'll take the clothes with you for when you change your mind". Then do it - not in a cruel/punishing way, just "right off we go, the clothes are in my bag."

And with your dad, use the fact that DS likes him - say "I can't persuade him to get dressed, feel free to have a go, he might do it for you" and sit down and have a cup of tea.

I'm giving you the benefit of my experience but that is NOT to say I cope that well all the time - I was almost in tears again this morning with DD's latest tantrum. It's hard, really hard. Look after yourself and make time for getting a break when you can.

My DS is now 8 and lovely, really lovely, I promise!

onceipopicantstop Tue 18-Jun-13 11:58:59

I can't tell you how nice it is to hear someone else has experienced the same! It really does feel as though its just me, and everyone else's child is completely angelic all the time! I was almost in tears leaving soft play as it felt as though everyone was watching us (although I don't suppose they were), and I felt so annoyed and embarrassed that he could behave that way. Am feeling very sensitive at the moment about what everyone is thinking about us. Could have cheerfully slapped my brother on the weekend as he went on and on about how well behaved his children were, whilst giving me unhelpful advice about how to improve my ds's behaviour! (Possibly not on a good example for ds though!!)

What consequences do you use? I'm using time out, and have a reward chart with a number of goals for him to achieve. Once he gets to the top of his chart he has a treat. I've seen some people mention removing points from the chart if they don't achieve the goal, but I wasn't sure about this. Am wondering about removing favourite toys or something if he continues to misbehave, and them having him earn them back with good behaviour. As you say its about being consistent and trying (ha!) to remain calm. It's just exhausting!

LadyBigtoes Tue 18-Jun-13 12:12:32

We have a pasta jar, which I learned about on here - just a jam jar, put a piece of dry pasta in for good behaviour, take one out for bad (extremely bad, your aim is to gradually fill the jar up) and when it's full they can choose a small toy or treat. Talk a lot about what it is they would like and how they are working towards it, and when you threaten to take out a pasta piece, say it means it will take a bit longer to reach their goal. The advantage is you can reward good behaviour - things like playing nicely with friends, a trip to the supermarket without a strop, and make a big deal of how good they were and ask the child to put the pasta piece in themselves.

The best consequences though are the natural ones - if you refuse to leave the house you will miss swimming, if you throw the pens everywhere you will not be watching telly/doing anything fun until you've tidied up, etc. i.e. they learn that what they do actually has an effect which they have to deal with.

Yes, it's knackering!

onceipopicantstop Tue 18-Jun-13 14:51:38

Thanks, the pasta jar is a good idea. He came back from his outing with my dad full of beans, then 30 secs after he'd gone had another tantrum because it was lunchtime and I wouldn't let him have a biscuit until he'd had some lunch!

Will persevere and keep calm!!

HappySmileyFace Tue 18-Jun-13 15:02:25

Hello! Just letting you know you are definitely not alone... My 3 year old is also pushing me to my limits....some days are so tough.

No magic solution from me but just wanted to give you a big ((((hug)))).

onceipopicantstop Tue 18-Jun-13 19:52:16

Thanks HappySmileyFace! The HV has called back at last and is coming to see us in 2 weeks - we're on holiday next week. She's suggested trying to ignore his tantrums as much as possible, and described him as a "diva" which I though was quite appropriate!!

Jonesy821 Tue 18-Jun-13 19:52:48

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

onceipopicantstop Wed 19-Jun-13 20:45:16

Another stressful day! Redid the goals for his reward chart last night and had a chat with him about acceptable behaviour, DH and I decided we would implement a much stricter policy about hitting in that he would be brought home if this happened. I was very clear about this with ds this morning, then an hour into playgroup he hit another child on the head with a toy and made him cry, so we came home. He was upset at leaving but quickly recovered and played quite happily at home - so that I felt he hadn't really understood he was in trouble! Then this afternoon we were having a lovely time in the park until, yet again, he hit a child -in temper because it wasn't his turn on the swing. I just picked him up, told him hitting was not acceptable, and brought him home. He was very upset this time as was playing with a friend but I stuck it out. Then came home and cried in despair in the kitchen whilst he played in his playroom. sad Plus we have had a couple of episodes of time out for hitting me! I am yet again tired and fed up. But I know I have to stick with it or it won't get better.

LadyBigtoes Wed 19-Jun-13 21:05:00

Well done! Have some wine

cory Wed 19-Jun-13 21:25:57

My mantra during this time muttered through gritted teeth was "Child rearing is work in progress". Basically don't expect anything you do to work straightaway. Keep plodding on. You are doing the right thing, eventually it will sink in.

Basketofchocolate Wed 19-Jun-13 21:42:10

I found some advice on a similar thread here once before as I have a bloody minded son who is beyond obstinate. Have a look at the book 'When Kids Push Your Buttons' (or similar) which helped a lot. The main point I took from it is that you have to get your head around that they are not the problem but they have a problem. The fact that they are hitting, kicking, scratching you instead of telling you what the problem is, makes it extremely hard to deal with.

My son has flashpoints so I know to try and keep myself in a buoyed mood at these times (full of chocolate!): rushing to get out somewhere, for e.g. when I know he may be 'challenging'. I try to head off his strops at the pass, but it only works half the time.

My son doesn't sleep too well, so sometimes he is tired, but obv too young to recognise this. When he's 'acting out' I try and distract into an engaging activity that it calming and sedate.

Also, I found that it did seem we'd have a week or two of hell then fine for a month, etc. I reckon it's growth spurts. I am horrid when I'm hungry and my son takes after me. I found feeding him more regularly (or changing what I was feeding him, to fill him up more) including putting food in front of him before he asked for it seems to help. It seems he sometimes needs more food, but doesn't know it himself. Now, my son is a teeny squirt who is a bag of bones with a restricted diet that means his calorie intake is usually low. However, please ignore this if your child is well-fed! It's just our take on why it may be/feel cyclical.

The other thing my Mum tells me is that my son is really like my older sister. She has so much energy and is highly intelligent. Now I try to make sure I exercise him much more than I used to and make him wear his brain out more = happier child.

onceipopicantstop Wed 19-Jun-13 22:16:05

Thanks for all your replies. Its reassuring that you think I'm doing the right things - after a while I just start to doubt myself. DS is definitely a child who needs occupying, he is constantly asking what we are doing next!
Basketofchocolate - ds definitely has periods of good and bad behaviour. As I said at the beginning he's been brilliant for the past few weeks but then it all deteriorated again. Maybe it is a growth spurt or something as you say. Just hope it doesn't last until he stops growing at 18!! grin

After all the tears, shouting and screaming today he had obviously worn himself out as he fell asleep on my lap at 6pm! Transferred him into bed and he hasn't stirred! So the evening has been quiet and calm at least!

Kiwiinkits Wed 19-Jun-13 23:20:12

I think you've received some great advice here. One thing that struck me in your post is that he seems to have meltdowns around meal times. This could be because his blood sugar levels have dropped and he's really hungry. It could be that you need to up his snacks or give him lunch a little earlier?

josiejumper Thu 20-Jun-13 06:26:26

So glad I have read this thread: my son has just turned 3 and we are awaiting imminent arrival of baby brother. The terrible 2s gave evolved into the ' years (I love that !!).
I was struggling with discipline a few months back and my HV have me some invaluable advice as I was struggling with the apparently perfect child everywhere else like nursery and grandparents, but the child of chucky when back home. As the main disciplinarian at home (my DH gives in so easily to tantrums) I wanted some kind of guide to what to do: sticking to my guns has been absolutely exhausting but effective, and I have had to creat some awkward family situations ( grandparents! ) but after all we are the ones left with the consequences in the long run. My HV told me no matter what, no matter where in my presence my child will know I am the top of the tree as far as discipline is concerned so must impart it if others are present.... Difficult to do as you feel like the tyrant, but remembering always my darling son pushed me ti the absolute limit ( and always it seems in front of the eyeball rolling in laws!): he may get away with taking crisps outta the cupboard on their house and leaving food trailed around their house hit its a different set of rules when I'm present. The age of three has again changed him overnight and I feel like I need a new trick: I'm going to try the pasta jar and hope that baby can Be in on the act. I have to say I think alot of this is more about what we think other people perceive of us and our child's behaviour, and I know I will never fully lose that insecurity. Keep the faith peoples; and u know my greatest alliance will be consistency with DH (when he finally gets it!!)

josiejumper Thu 20-Jun-13 06:27:21

Sorry meant evolved into 'threenage' years

3boys3dogshelp Fri 21-Jun-13 20:44:39

I am so glad I read this, ds1 is 4 and fairly well behaved (or at least is upset when he has been silly), ds2 is 3 and the most stubborn, strong willed child I have ever met. He had been quite well behaved for the last few months, but I am pregnant and can barely lift him which is making removing him from situations and generally just following through on bad behaviour much more difficult. He is a bright, funny, high energy little boy who can be great fun to be around or can be a nightmare.
Oh is working late tonight, after his bath I asked him to get out (I just hold his arms but can't lift him - he is 18.5kgs and I have spd) he said no and lay in the bath laughing :-( and ideas??

lizardqueenie Sat 22-Jun-13 19:47:51

Really grateful to have found this thread! And know I am not alone. My DD is 2.8 and the tantrums seem to have really gone up a notch. Our main problem seems to be with hitting/ scratching during tantrums, particularly aimed at my DH. If he tried to talk to her or gets to close she goes for him! So we do time out- although I think we should do this more consistently for it to have proper effect, there have also been a few episodes where she has pushed her cousin (a year older than her) but i have ensured we do time out/ step on those occasions.

I definitely think that her worse times are when it is getting close to meal time/ nap time. Even as a baby she could go from fairly happy but a bit worn out to overtried and cranky quite quickly. So on the snacks front can anyone advise what are good snacks to give toddlers that aren't going to ruin their meal/ their teeth and release energy slowly? that will be the pombears gone then

onceipopicantstop Sat 22-Jun-13 21:05:07

Hi 3boys and lizardqueenie - we are not alone!!

I'm not convinced it's always hunger related with ds as he's often only recently had a snack before the meltdown begins. Continuing to have problems though. Yesterday he hit his younger cousin in temper as he had a toy he wanted. As I went to reprimand him he spat at me sad. I followed through though and took him home. He was furious at me as my mum was cooking him lunch, and it was a bit of a battle to get him back in the car - but he had been warned of the consequences if he did not behave. I felt very embarrassed again - even though I know there was no need as my parents were very supportive. He has mebtioned it a couple of times since so I'm hoping the message may finally be getting through!

Re the bath 3dogs - could you let the water out of the bath so he's safe and then leave him to it until he cooperates. He'll soon get cold and complain!

Lizardqueenie - how about something like a few cubes of cheese with breadsticks/crackers, or vegetable sticks and hummus?

lizardqueenie Sat 22-Jun-13 23:14:16

Once sorry that happened today but its great that you followed through & even better that he mentioned it later. I think that definitely shoes some progress & really pleased your parents supported you too. I guess he has to try to see if he can get his way in different circumstances so the fact that you followed through after even at your parents is consistent with everything else you have been trying.

One thing we do now & it might help you dogs is a sticker at bedtime for good behaviour & not mucking about. We potty trained dd back over Easter, she did really well but in the last month she kept rushing out at bedtime for one last wee or one last poo! Obviously wanted to let her go if she wanted to go but rather than getting cross with her for mucking about (which was happening a lot & it became clear it was a bit of a bedtime delay tactic) we have started giving her a sticker before bedtime now although we have also told her if she messed about or misbehaves after lights out then the sticker will be taken away. So far so good, so it might be an idea for encourage your DS out of the bath & nicely into his pjs so he can be rewarded with a sticker at the end? Sounds insane but if it works at the moment I'm going with it.

Yes we are quite good with breadsticks- she loves humous but seems to like to use her hands to scoop it out the pot with, I'm not massively fussed but not that easy on the move! grin

TheBakeryQueen Sun 23-Jun-13 15:38:10

Onceipopicantstop, I just have to say, I think your consistency sounds impressive.

Doesn't sound like you're doing anything wrong. He'll get it soon I bet. Then it'll be something else grin

It's all just phases isn't it? I too find my 3 year old to be very stroppy & likes to test boundaries.

onceipopicantstop Sun 23-Jun-13 19:47:35

Thanks both for your replies. Its really reassuring to know that other mums don't think I'm managing this badly!

onceipopicantstop Mon 01-Jul-13 15:59:47

Well we've just come back from a week's holiday and behaviour wasn't too bad. A few tantrums and sulks and one episode of spitting managed with time out. Then this afternoon went to the park, having a lovely time until he pushed a smaller child over making her cry. I heard crying, and spotted ds grinning and trying to hide from me sad . He confessed straightaway! So we left (as he had been warned would happen) making a scene as usual with him sobbing. Typically had just bumped into several mums I know including one who has seen ds do this several times and is now I think trying to avoid us! I don't want to lose friends over this! I am doing my best and hope I would be more supportiveif things were the other way round. Sorry moan over - just getting fed up with the constant episodes.

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