I feel for our three year old at the moment. It must be hard being three.
It must be hard when you get upset but you’re so wrapped up in being upset that you can’t articulate why you’re upset and what would make you less upset.
‘The duvet! The duvet! Aaargh!’ (He doesn’t like the corner of the duvet to be on the bed)
It must be hard when you change your mind, but expect your parents to telepathically know that you’ve changed your mind, and then get really cross because they bring you the thing you actually asked for not the thing that you really want.
‘I don’t want hooooops. I want bran flaaaaakes.’ (He asked for hoops)
It must be hard when you feel out of control all day; you have to eat breakfast at this time, get dressed at this time and get out of the house by this time.
It must be hard when you get cross or upset and can’t handle those emotions and you hurt someone or break something and then feel really bad about your behaviour and like everyone is mad with you.
‘I pulled her haaaaaair.’
It must be hard when you don’t understand why you have to wait to ask Father Christmas for that toy that you desperately want right this moment before the toy shop runs out of them all.
It must be hard when you don’t understand why you can’t eat biscuits all day.
It must be hard when society expects you to behave a certain way and you don’t feel like it.
Let’s face it, even adults feel all those emotions sometimes. I know I feel guilty when I lose my temper. I know I feel like it’s not fair when I don’t really fancy doing the usual day-to-day and want to do something else with my time.
What can we do to help our three year old through this difficult time?
Well, sometimes we try to articulate it for him and use empathy to help him identify his emotions, which is the rational, top-marks-for-parenting option. ‘I know it’s really hard having to wait for something you really want.’ Or ‘You’re so upset. Sssh, calm down and tell me what’s wrong with the duvet.’ This works eight times out of ten, but requires patience and empathy and occasionally time for it to work.
Sometimes I forget to stay patient and calm, especially if we’re short on time, and I fire questions at him. ‘Do you like your blanket like this? Are you too hot? Are you too cold? Do you need a wee?’ Which doesn’t really help, I know. It just confuses him and makes him cry more. Or I close off and become abrupt and short-tempered. ‘No, you can’t have that toy… Because I said before we came in that we weren’t buying any toys today. Come on, stop that, we still have the rest of the shopping to do. We can’t stay in the toy aisle all day… Right! That’s enough!…’ You get the picture and it’s not a very nice one. It’s not one I’m very proud of, but I keep trying.
Sometimes, if he’s beyond reasoning and very upset, I let him cry for a bit and when he’s a had a minute of getting his emotions out, I find he’s a bit more approachable and ready to sort things out. I prefer to stay nearby whilst he cries, but sometimes if he’s really worked up, he simply doesn’t want me. I tell him I’ll be ready for a cuddle when he wants one and wait for a few minutes before approaching him again. Usually he’s ready for a cuddle and a talk and to try to find a solution that makes us all happy.
It’s taken me three children to become more like the mother I hope to be. It’s not easy being a mum, but it’s also not easy being three.