Dear Mama of a Newly-Three Year Old (A letter to myself)
My son, Simon, has been three for two whole days, and I feel like he has literally changed overnight into a person I don’t recognize. As an Early Childhood Educator and a career nanny, I know what the experts say about three year olds. I felt like I was prepared for this transition. “Bring on the threenager!”, I yelled in defiance.
It’s been two days, and I already want my sweet and loving boy back! Last night, after a particularly difficult night of refusing to do EVERYTHING and throwing himself on the floor in tears because he “wasn’t tired”, I sat down (in tears myself) and wrote this letter to myself. Maybe it will help you, too…
“It’s not personal- it’s developmental” is a phrase we use often in our house, right? It takes a lot of self-discipline to not lose your sh** when your kid is losing his. However, losing your sh** is a sure way to not only create distance between you and your son, but to push him into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode (which is why children laugh in our faces, flat-out ignore us, or scream back when we yell at/scream at/spank them). The MOST important thing you can do for his well-being and development is to figure out how to stay calm yourself in the midst of his ridiculousness. The first step to staying calm is to not take his behavior personally (because it’s not!).
At their worst, young children are emotional, irrational, volatile, and egotistical. On their worst days, in their worst moments, they can be terrifying. You know this. You try to pretend you’re not scared of your own child, but sometimes, you just are. Not “of” him, per se, but of the person he may become if you allow this behavior to continue. You’re also scared that you’re not doing enough, or BEING enough for him. Knock it off, dude. Your job as “Mama” is to not give in to the fear!
You are a GREAT mom, and you’re doing the best you can every. Single. Day.
Your son will not grow up to be a bully.
He will not be egotistical/irrational/volatile at the age of eight.
You will not be having arguments with your twenty two year old son about whether he wants the green cup or the red cup.
This is a phase, and it will pass- I promise!
If it helps, try to remember that you’ve been on this planet for thirty plus years practicing how to behave yourself (for the most part- nobody’s perfect, of course!), and he’s only been on it for three years. It may not seem fair, but for the next few years, he gets a free pass to behave like an angry, argumentative, irrational human on a regular basis. His brain is still developing, and that’s just how development works. He’s going to ignore you, test you, scream at you, and make you feel like you couldn’t possibly be a worse parent…
LET IT GO.
His feelings are not your feelings. You don’t have to take it personally, because it’s NOT personal- it’s developmental. He needs to be able to look to you as his model for how to handle “big feelings”. He needs to know that you “have his back”, and that you can handle him in his worst moments. As Janet (Lansbury) would say “Be his strong, confident leader”.
When children are out of control, they are afraid. When you are on an airplane and you are afraid, you look to the steward/stewardesses to see if they are freaking out. If they’re calm, you know you can relax. If they’re freaked out- it’s time to freak out! When your child is struggling with strong emotions, after a while, he will look to you to see how he should proceed. If you start yelling over him, you are letting him know that there is a reason he should continue to freak out. If you stay calm, present, and hold space for him, he will be able to calm himself a lot quicker, and you won’t have to resort to things like distraction, bribes, etc.
Your sweet, kind, and loving baby boy wants nothing more than to please you and for you to love him, even (especially) at his worst moments. Remember: when children feel better, they act better. I know that it’s almost impossible to not yell AT ALL, but you know that it’s 100% worth it to practice yelling less. This weekend may be a good time to set up that video monitor and record yourself for a day. Watch your interactions with your son. How many times did you connect with him? How many hugs did he get today? How many times could you tell, for certain, that he felt loved? The more you connect, the less you’ll have to correct. You know this. You taught kindergarten. You’re a professional nanny. You’ve helped raise twenty plus children over the span of your career so far. People pay you to give them this exact advice.
Take your own advice, Self. Children behave better when they feel secure, safe and loved.
Be a safe space for your son.