Those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably noticed a theme to my updates recently, and that theme is Wesley’s behavior and my inability to understand what’s going on in his head. Just today I had to drag him, screaming, out of the coffeeshop Daniel works at, and once we were at the car he clawed Thora’s head hard enough to leave marks and then at some point in the car on the way home, he dug his fingernails into her fat little arm hard enough to make her bleed.
I tried to get him to eat his lunch – he threw his shoes on the kitchen table instead – and when he refused to eat, I carried him (kicking and screaming) to his room for naptime. Once we were in his room, he grabbed a ukulele and swung it from behind his back, over his head, to throw it across the room.
I sobbed on Wesley’s floor for a good fifteen minutes after that.
There are many points during any given day where I feel like I’m raising a tiny sociopath. I love him to bits, but I see now why my mother-in-law calls this age the “fucking fours.”
He loves Thora, but he always wants to be RIGHTINHERFACE and he frequently scares her by running up behind her, jumping, and landing next to her while making a loud noise. He hoots and shouts in her face. I cannot count the number of times I say “back up, please!” or “please don’t shout at her face” in a given day. Far too many. And he ignores me every single time.
I’m afraid to take him anywhere in public. Anything I say could set him off and he’ll be throwing himself on the ground, kicking, and scream-crying at the top of his lungs. It can be anything from “Please don’t poke me with that stick” to “We’ll need to leave in five minutes.” He’s completely unpredictable and I walk on eggshells around him, even in our own home. I hid in the kitchen yesterday to put away a puzzle so that he wouldn’t see me, because I was afraid he would come unhinged if he noticed me.
I finally broke down and bought a parenting book for the first time in years – Peaceful Parent Happy Kids. I saw it recommended twice within three days and it seemed like it would address a lot of the issues we’ve been having.
Reading through it, it seems so obvious – the tantrum that’s happening is actually about something else: their “emotional backpack” is full to overflowing, and you need to empathize with them to help them get all their feelings out before they can start acting rational again. It’s all about empathy. This is the easiest thing to do – “Oh buddy, I’m sorry we’re not able to get kettle corn today. I see you’re very disappointed. Now you’re crying. You’re very sad we can’t get kettle corn today.” but it feels SO WRONG and SO HARD and SO STUPID when you’re in the moment. SO UNBELIEVABLY SCHMOOPY AND STUPID. It’s very simple and yet so hard to actually put into practice because FFS, you just threw your shoe at me, I AM NOT GIVING YOU KETTLE CORN.
When trying out the techniques in the book, I find that they sometimes work short-term, but the jury is still out on whether they work long-term. Like, it seems to help him stop crying or throwing a fit in the moment – certainly much better than other methods – but it totally has not reduced the frequency of the tantrums. Yet, I guess – I will persist.
Clearly, Wesley is hurting. A lot. And I feel terrible about that. My plan of action right now is as follows:
1. Keep up the empathizing as outlined in the book.
This does seem to help.
2. Give in to his “regressive” requests more often.
Lately, he’s been wanting me to put his shirt on for him or scoop his breakfast yogurt or be his “bathroom buddy” – all things he’s been doing by himself for YEARS at this point. I give in sometimes, but sometimes I really need him to just put the damn shirt on already. I will try to make a point of giving in more often to show that it’s still okay to ask Mommy for help even if you don’t truly need it.
3. Get some one-on-one time with him.
This will be hard for me. He doesn’t listen to anything I say and routinely hurts me (kicking, pinching, etc.) and as a result, I’m finding myself not really wanting to hang out with him. Plus it’s hard to do with a baby sister who needs her mama every two hours to eat. But! I will do my best. This is also a technique in the book.
4. Continue praising good behavior.
I’ve always made a point to “catch” him being good and praise him for it. “You were using a very gentle voice with Thora! Thanks!” or “Thanks for using your manners so well at the store. You stayed right by me and were walking instead of running, and you asked before putting things in the cart.” I will definitely continue this, as I think it helps reinforce – for BOTH of us – that yes, he is a good kid at heart.
Just wanted to say that I feel your pain. I’ll have to look into that book as well. I’ve not read ONE parenting book throughout my short years of motherhood, but I’m pretty much in the same boat as you and don’t know what else to do. For us, things go downhill at 18 months, then it’s the terrible twos, then the threes then the fours. I always think it’s going to get better, because it is, right? But it just seems to get worse. I have one in each of those awful ages, they feed off of each other and it’s just complete disaster. I wish I had time for each one individually, but that’s something I can’t change. What makes me feel 100% worse is that the kids are never this bad for their dad. I just wanted to let you know that you aren’t alone and I definitely understand how hard it is to empathize. I feel so stupid, as if I’m giving in to the tantrum. I’m sorry, but when you threw your water all over the kitchen floor and are now DEMANDING more RIGHT NOW and I refuse to give in, I have a hard time trying to empathize. Ugh. When DOES it get better?
Five. Or so I am told.
And thank you for sympathizing. I actually had three glorious days in a row where the tantrums were at an absolute minimum and I so, SO needed it. I kind of feel the same way about ages, like they start going downhill at 18mos and we kind of have yet to recover. :\
I’ve also read that kids “hold it together” for other people (school, etc.) and once they’re with somebody with whom they feel safe/comfortable/etc., they totally lose it because they trust that you’ll still love them afterward. For what that’s worth.
Those all sound like great tips to follow. I will say, this post makes me nervous for what’s to come!! Especially as we consider a second. Bea and Wesley seem to have similar energy.
Ack, sorry it made you nervous! I would be nervous if I were just hearing about his behavior too, though, so I get it. It’s all hideously embarrassing.
Oh wow, this sounds like a lot of work. I cannot give you any advice but I hope the book you bought is giving you some help. It does sound hard though.
Thanks Tracy! We actually had a great day today so things are looking up. The book stuff really does work, but again, it’s pretty hard to remember to do because your instinct is to do basically the opposite.
My cousins son was acting a lot like your wesley when he was little. They finally figured out that he had adhd. Apparently adhd doesn’t just make them hyper and have trouble listening/focusing but it can cause random outbursts and aggressive behavior.
I like your new approach and I’m so happy that it’s working, even if the results are short term for the moment it’s definitely a great approach to take.
I wish you guys oodles of luck and I hope wesley feels better soon
I’ve considered the possibility that he has A Diagnosis, but I think a lot of it is honestly sibling rivalry and just a case of being four. Not ruling it out though. We did finally get three great days in a row – today was a little less great but it still wasn’t awful by any stretch of the imagination – so there’s hope!