I would love to hear your thoughts/advice on the apparent “stage” my son is going through. (I hesitate to call it that, since I am somewhat tired of being told it’s a stage, he’ll grow out of it, etc. But for lack of a better term, “stage” it is.) B has just turned three. I may be biased, but he is a bright, articulate, funny child who has, over the past few months, gone from a talk to anyone two-year-old to a shy, withdrawn three-year-old. We are weeks away from welcoming our second baby and it seems to me, that he is getting more and more withdrawn as the pregnancy progresses.
This is not really the child I am used to. We’ve had our moments, of course, but he has always been very independent and able to play well at daycare or friends’ houses. Unfortunately, we are in a time of huge transitions. We’ve just had to say goodbye to the daycare director he has been with for almost two years. He is now adapting to a temporary replacement, who will only be there for a few weeks. After that, we will be going through this transition again for the permanent replacement. Yesterday was the first day I took him to “her” house without her there. He was in tears before we even got out of our car and was adamant that he go home with me. It was hard for me to walk away from that situation and leave him when he was upset. I knew he would be fine and trusted the caregivers he was with, so I forced myself to walk away. (And, yes, over the course of the day, he was fine!)
We just went through a similar situation this morning at his preschool. He used to run in the door and not worry about me. Now, he hangs his head when the teacher says hello and clings to my leg so that I don’t leave. I had to physically remove his little hand from my pants this morning and turn him toward to the teacher so I could walk away. This is heartbreaking for any mama, much less a pregnant one!
It isn’t just preschool, either. He often wants to sit with Mom or Dad when we’re at friends’ houses, birthday parties or anywhere where there are large groups of people. For the most part, all of these people are familiar to him, yet he will say very little to them and would prefer to be on his own. We give him the space and time he needs to warm up and try to let him lead the way when he is comfortable.
I was a shy child. And if this is simply a shy child, okay, but it just seems so different from the way he was several months ago. I desperately want to help him though all of these transitions and try and ease whatever fears he has but I just don’t know how. I’ve given him the chance to talk about the new baby and he admitted he isn’t excited about that. I told him that was okay and that he should tell me what worries him. I’m just not sure how to relate the two issues (baby and shyness) when I talk to him.
Forgive me for being long-winded but until I have no anxiety about theses situations, they aren’t going to get easier for either of us!
Thank you for listening!
I know how hard it is to see clearly when you’re in the thick of it, but from my point-of-view your son’s “stage” makes perfect sense. He’s simply reacting to the stage you’re in – pregnancy — and all the feelings you’re having around it.
First, I wouldn’t be concerned about him becoming ”shy” or mention anything to him about shyness, unless you speak about it as a transient feeling, i.e., “Are you feeling shy? Come, sit next to me.” I was dubbed “shy”, too, but the “shy” label (like all labels) can be perceived as a pronouncement or judgment.
It sounds to me like he’s understandably worried, unsure and unsettled about the impending, somewhat mysterious change in his life, and that’s causing him to regress a little — withdraw, feel clingy and needy. The best way to handle this, in my opinion, is to realize that his behavioral changes are normal, natural and temporary, and welcome them.
Yes, he must continue to go to school and may cry when you leave him, and the changes in his daycare have made matters worse, but he’ll cope. As uncomfortable as it is to for his sensitive pregnant mommy to see his tears, keep in mind that it’s really good for him to release some of his tension, shed some of the confusing mix of feelings he’s carrying around. Don’t talk him out of any feelings. Acknowledge them and keep encouraging him to talk about them to try to sort them out, reminding him how normal they are.
“He often wants to sit with Mom or Dad when we’re at friends’ houses, birthday parties or anywhere where there are large groups of people…We give him the space and time he needs to warm up and try to let him lead the way when he is comfortable.”
Keep handling social situations this way, allowing him to be the one to pull away from you and decide when (or if) he wants to interact with others. Embrace his clinginess (literally) and enjoy having him on your lap. Soak up these last days of it being just the two of you (or three, with daddy). Even if he spends the entire party on your lap (if you still have a lap) or right next to you, so what? Don’t worry about it or project even the tiniest bit of disappointment in him. This is an instance when “letting go” is best.
Trust your son’s need to withdraw, and allow him to, no matter how uncharacteristic or unreasonable the behavior might seem, but don’t let go of rules and limits if he acts out. The anticipation of the birth of a new sibling and the adjustment in the first months afterwards cause some children to act out their discomfort by testing our limits. If we feel sorry or guilty, we might follow an impulse to give in and allow misbehavior rather than setting the usual limits. Children in difficult transitions actually need the opposite — to feel even more “nested”, reined-in by our firm, consistent boundaries. When our kids are feeling wobbly, which usually (and inconveniently) coincides with our own wobbliness, they need us to stay on the ball, kindly setting them straight. I know this isn’t your issue right now (be grateful!), but it might happen later.
Most importantly, please relax, breathe deeply and try not to add any of your anxiety, worries, guilt or fear to the equation. This will pass, I swear, and soon your boy will revert back to being his friendly, articulate, outgoing and funny self. Some children calm down considerably as soon as the baby’s born. Others take a few more months to transition to a change they perceive as both positive and negative. Accept it all with open arms. Try to enjoy all the ups and downs of this exciting chapter in your life, and please let me know how it goes…
Take good care…I’m excited for you!
I share more advice for handling difficult toddler emotions in
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame