My son is 3 years old and is a very happy child! He is at a RIE accredited Montessori school since he was little. I’m a working mom.
I will never forget that after his first days at the infant room, his teacher told me that it was amazing how much he observed. His eyes did not stop moving one side to the other. She used the term busy but at that point and being a first time mom, it did not mean a lot to me…
During these 3 years I have learned that he has a feisty temperament. His level of energy is amazing! His joy is intense and his mood can also change fast. His level of energy scares me sometimes. It also makes me really tired and frustrated sometimes. He is very sweet but sometimes he hits me and my husband and our dog. He can really exhaust one. Sometimes my husband and I do not know how to handle his power. I do believe in the Montessori method and think it’s the best for him. Although many of our friends and family think he needs something more “conservative”. We disagree.
Please, if you can, can you give me any advice in how to handle & understand a feisty child and keep the harmony in the family?
Any books recommended?
Thanks so much in advance and congratulations on your work!
Thanks so much for your kind words.
I would love to try to help. When I’m figuring out a response to notes like yours and have just a little snapshot of your life to go on, I look for clues… Here’s what I was struck by in your note:
“His level of energy scares me sometimes.”
I understand this, but if you are 3 years old and your mom is scared by your energy, that’s worrisome. No matter how scary he’s being, he needs you not to be frightened or even a little bit nervous. He needs to know that you and your husband are his calm, confident leaders, no matter what he throws at you (literally and figuratively). Be amazed and impressed by his energy, but not scared.
If your boy senses that you are scared or even frustrated, which he undoubtedly does, the anxiety that produces in him may even be cranking him up a notch or two. However, if you can be calm and unfettered in the face of his feistiness and mood changes, you’ll have a better chance of having a calming effect on him. I know that’s challenging, but he needs it. Think about projecting confidence and acceptance. Tap into your inner strength. Be his anchor.
“Sometimes he hits me and my husband and our dog.”
It’s totally in your power to prevent your son from doing those things. When you see him getting angry or frustrated, prepare to gently, but firmly stop him from hitting you. Hold his wrists if you must and let him know, “I won’t let you hit me. That hurts”. Try to stay calm and composed, don’t get angry. If he hits the dog because you couldn’t stop him in time, say, “I don’t want you to hit the dog. That hurts him.” Leave it at that. Don’t lecture. Be definitive, on top of it, almost nonchalant.
Imagine how scary it is for your little guy to not only have these powerful impulses, but to also be able to hurt his parents, hurt his dog, and make everyone frustrated and exhausted? That is a very uncomfortable amount of power for him to have. So, don’t give it to him.
“Sometimes my husband and I do not know how to handle his power.”
The key is gaining perspective. Remember that your son is a tiny guy and you are adults. (It’s funny the way our children can seem so HUGE to us…I remember!) He won’t overpower you, so don’t be afraid of his feelings. Feelings are just feelings, they come and go.
Focus on keeping yourself, your dog and your son safe and offer healthy outlets for your son’s volatility. Acknowledge his moods, give him boundaries and options. “You seem angry. I won’t let you hit me, but you can stomp your feet…or would you like some pillows to punch?”
Provide sufficient rest and healthy food.
Accept his feelings, but don’t let them affect you. They’re his, not yours, so don’t absorb them and you won’t end up exhausted. Imagine yourself a strong, but flexible backboard and let your son bounce his feelings off of you without you being bothered by them. Stay present, but be totally unthreatened.
By doing these things, you will provide your boy the safe boundaries and sense of security he needs to flourish. Then he will be able to channel his intense energy into positive accomplishments and leadership. For all the drawbacks to this kind of temperament (especially during the already volatile toddler years), there are loads of positives, too. As you say, he is intensely happy. People like him inspire us.
One book I recommend is 1, 2, 3, The Toddler Years (by Irene Van der Zand and the Santa Cruz Toddler Care Center Staff). It is a simple (yet spot-on) and very user friendly guide to understanding and interacting positively with toddlers. For something more in-depth, I recommend The Emotional Life Of The Toddler by Alicia Leiberman, Ph.D., and the wonderful Raising Your Spirited Child.
Please keep me posted…
Since this exchange with Ninah, I have released my own guide to respectful discipline:
(Photo by Maurice Sykes on Flickr)