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The Super Power That Ended Our Battles with our “Three-nager”

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

3 year old parenting

If you’re reading this, chances are you have been newly introduced to the wonderful world of age 3. That used to be sarcasm, but today I mean it. It’s a wondrous time full of opportunity to learn and grow with our budding little human. If you’re armed with super powers – well really just 1 super power – x-ray vision!

Let’s back up a moment to a typical day before I discovered my super power.

6:00am – door slams – I groan knowing the slam was from the 3 year old who has now woken the 16 month old too. “Don’t slam the door, please.”

Proceed to the breakfast battle. 3 year old wants 7 pieces of toast. I want him to eat something healthy. Fight fight fight. (I lose.)

Boys play for a while until my 3 year old hits my 16 month old – I holler, feeling so frustrated and ashamed that this kid I’ve NEVER hit thinks it’s ok to hit after ALLLLL the “gentle hands” talks for the past 2+ years. “YOU CAN NOT HIT YOUR BROTHER!” I don’t like punishments but seriously what am I supposed to do here??? Some sort of half baked time out attempt, or gentler time in usually. “Sit with me until you can be nice to your brother.” Well now I’m stuck too…great…just put myself in timeout. hashtag winning. oye.

Some form of defiant behavior ensues. (throwing things, breaking things, ripping things…) Followed my more agitation on my end. “Stop it. Enough. Knock it off. You can’t do that.”

Lunch fight. Still can’t have 7 pieces of toast. Eat some meat? Some fruit? Some veggies. No. Ugh. Can’t let him starve – I lose again.

Nap for 16 month old. I try to occupy the 3 year old – Jake and the Neverland Pirates? Art? Something for some peace?

He picks TV. I limit to 1 episode. MEGA Meltdown. “OMG! It’s just TV! If you are going to flip out when I turn the tv off maybe you shouldn’t be watching tv anymore. This is insane.” Now it’s worse. Feeling bad, “I’m sorry you’re sad but you can’t watch tv all day.”

Moving on to some quiet time with Art. Good peaceful time. Hugs. Love you kiddo.

Toddler is awake – round 2 of trying to feed and referee and wanting to throw away all the toys they fight over.

Trying to make dinner – “I want juice. I want milk. I want a cookie. I want a pouch. I want chocolate.” – “Out of the kitchen. I’m cooking dinner. You can’t eat that.” MEGA MELTDOWN! *eyeroll* “I’m sorry you are so angry. (but not really sorry) I have to cook dinner.”

Daddy’s off work – YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dinner fight – huge fight – 3-year-old eats nothing – Mom freaking out internally – bribing, begging, negotiating – nope NOT eating that. Dad caves – peanut butter bread for dinner – again.

Teeth brushing (fight), going upstairs (fight), reading to both kids (fight over which books), lights off (fight) – eventually sleep – finally – mama needs wine.

I LOVE my children and they are amazing little people but these days were getting hard. (What is not highlighted are the 7,000 times I am whined at and clawed at until I nurse my 16-month-old AGAIN. And the other 5,000 times he is whining over nothing at all.

When a great mama friend posted about a parenting talk by Karen Purves at Las Vegas’ RISE Resource Center I jumped at it. Then my mom brain forgot and I was 20 minutes late – but I went. And I’m SO glad I did!

You know what she taught me? That I have the super power of x-ray vision – and so can you. Let’s look at that day with x-ray vision:

Kids are both awake, toddler is crying. X-ray past my annoyance and past my unrealistic expectation of the incredible level of dexterity that it would require for a 3-year-old to softly shut a door, and realize that we ALWAYS tell him to close this door so the cat can’t get in – so he’s actually just listening to us. Furthermore – see that the door closing scares the toddler and his cries are expressing his need for comfort. “Hey buddy. That scared you. Mom’s here now. You are safe.” “Good morning 3-year-old. I love you.” (Much better way for both of them to start the morning – me too to be honest.)

Moving on – breakfast – oh boy – the fight – Time for X-Ray vision – With it I see a scared 3-year-old. Scared a food will be yucky. Scared he will be forced into something he doesn’t want. Scared he has no control even though he KNOWS he’s smart enough and advanced enough to know what’s good. Hmm…this I can use. “You feel so angry! You do not WANT eggs.” Crying stops, he looks up, “No. No want eggs mommy.” (unspoken: you heard me. you’re listening.) “Ok, would you like yogurt or oatmeal?” “Papa yogurt!” with a smile. (Unspoken: I got to pick! I’m in charge. I get something I like. I am happy.)

Boys playing – Using my x-ray vision – toddler keeps knocking over 3-yr-old’s toy, over and over. 3-yr-old strikes. Seeing past my own judgment. Seeing past the act of hitting. Seeing past the crying 16-month-old for a moment. I see an overwhelmed 3-year-old. Not a bad one. Not a mean one. One who doesn’t know what to do to protect something precious to him. WOW! Thank goodness for x-ray vision. “Oh NO! Revan you are so sad. Xavier hit you. You got hurt. Do you need a hug or a kiss?” Then to the 3-year-old, “Uh-oh. You are so angry! You got so mad you hit Revan. Why?” “I SO ANGRY!” “Thank you for telling me with your words. Did you get so mad because Revan kept knocking down your toys?” “Yes. Mom, he knock it down. I tell him no no no. But he knock it down again!” “That is so frustrating. Next time Revan is doing something that makes you so angry you can tell mommy you need help. Say ‘Help mama!’.” “ok”. (Unspoken: Disarmed now. My anger is heard, and acknowledged and accepted and validated. I feel better. I am calm.) “You hit Revan. That hurt him. Are you supposed to hit Revan?” “No.” “Even when he makes you really mad? What can you say?” “Say Help mama”. “That’s right!” “Can you see if Revan is ok? Maybe give him a hug?” “Sorry baby I hit you. *hug*” – X-ray vision helped everyone here. Xavier got to stop defending himself, drop his tough-guy routine, and reconnect with me and his brother. I didn’t have to scream or yell or timeout or timein or any of it. Just connect and relate and see past the surface to the root of the matter.

TV – MEGA MELTDOWN – x-ray vision – see past my own upbringing’s familiar response – see past my annoyance – see past my looking back thinking of how much tv I’ve allowed this week – look past a non-existent future assumption of brattiness – I see a little person with very few coping skills yet who just lost something valuable to him for a reason he does not understand. “Oh my you are sad. You want to keep watching TV.” “Want watch TV!!!” “You feel sad when we turn the TV off. That is really hard to stop watching. You love watching Jake.” “I love him mommy.” “We can watch Jake tomorrow! Do you want to play with your own pirate hat and sword now?” “No mommy. Me want play legos.” “Oh that sounds like a great idea.” (Unspoken: That sucks but mom listened. She gets me. I can go do something else for now. I can accept it even if I don’t like it because I feel heard and had help and understanding processing my big emotions.)

Defiant behavior? X-ray vision says big emotions are really the culprit.

Bedtime routine trouble – x-ray vision says we need more choices and more connection and more understanding. Less bossing and less demands. More cooperation. A great time to phase out that pesky “can’t” word (as in, you can’t go to bed with dirty teeth) – and in the process eliminate that almost instinctual “oh yes I can” response!  Instead simply sharing what I will and will not allow followed by some choices they CAN make – Do you want Elmo or Cookie Monster to brush your teeth? Do you want to brush in the bathroom or the kitchen? You first or me? – maybe not seamless, but easier for sure. And MOST importantly – SAY WHAT YOU SEE – “You do NOT want to brush your teeth. You want to keep playing. It’s sad when you have to say goodnight to your toys.” Just showing empathy and understanding I can stay calm and present for the duration. (But I still might want some wine after bedtime is done!)

Wash – rinse – repeat. Every battle – use x-ray vision – address the needs, process the feelings, give options, connect.

As you can see, my x-ray vision allows me to see through and past a lot of surface stuff. I can see past my fears and assumptions. I can see past my upbringing and internal programming. I can see past punishments toward helping. I can see past the immediate *threat* of screaming and crying to the heart of my children, particularly my 3-year-old. When I use my x-ray vision I see things differently…better. And he responds – FAST. It takes some effort to engage this super power – but it’s getting easier and more natural. And the rewards are SO worth the effort.

For anyone who has a hard time imagining x-ray vision – my super power has another name too – Empathy. Feeling how my child must feel – not as an adult with 30-40 years of life experience and practice to lean on – but as a 3-year-old with very very very little to fall back on and even less practice – allows me to react in a compassionate way. To guide and be a help to my child and focus on TEACHING him to do better instead of punishing him for doing *bad*. In fact, I have not felt my child has done anything *bad* since we started using this tool. He is still learning and I still have a lot to teach him and the best way for me to reach him is to empathize. To make sure he sees, knows, and FEELS that he is not alone and that I can hear him and understand him and help him. I am not a threat. He is not an antagonist. We are on the same side. We are a team!

Some tips from Karen E. Purves, M.A., who created the Secure Parenting series:

  1. Say what you see – it makes them feel heard.

  2. Avoid “no”, “can’t” and “don’t” when you can. Tell him what he CAN do and rely on “may not” or “I will not allow you to”.

  3. “If” you mess up (let’s face it we all will – everyone in this scenario is human) – REPAIR. Apologize to the little ones. Explain what happened – they understand more than we give them credit for. And tell them what you should have done or what you will do next time. “I’m sorry I got so angry and threw your toy. I lost my temper. It was mean to throw the toy. Next time I will place your toy gently on the counter so we can talk calmly. I will stay present and not get so angry.” (Trust me I’m telling ME just as much as him!) But I’m also showing him how to make amends when HE messes up – and he will – being human and all.

  4. Know that you only have to get this “right” 1/3 of the time to have a long term positive outcome for your child. You’ve got this mama!

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