I think I have found my biggest struggle in life.
My biggest struggle is 3 years old.
Graham is now 3 and a half. We still have SIX LONG MONTHS before he gets to 4. And I don’t feel like there’s been a lot of progress in these six months.
I don’t mean developmentally or educationally. Graham is doing great with his letters, I see him improving on all kinds of fronts. (Bless the people at school for expecting more of my kid than I do, sometimes. He is now fully able to go to the bathroom without accompaniment or assistance pulling up his pants. I hadn’t realized we were at that point yet.)
What I mean is that our routines at home, our dynamics, our interactions: they are all stalled.
They are stuck in what I like to think of as Talking To A Wall. I can be right in front of him saying “Do not– do not– do not–” and it does not register. When he’s scolded we almost always have the same conversation.
“Graham, that is not good listening.”
“I want to listen!”
“Then listen to Mom.”
“I want to listen!”
And so on.
I am starting to feel some of that same loneliness that I had as a parent of an autistic child before I found autism blogs and support groups. But I don’t see people out there honestly blogging about how annoying 3-year-olds are. It is like we have to keep quiet and say our children are perfect and lovable all the time. We post pictures of them looking adorable and act like this is how they are 24/7.
Sure, we can talk about their illnesses, their hijinks, their mischief. But we don’t seem to get into the inanity of it. The part where you want to take your head and hit it against the wall because you are having the exact same argument you had 20 minutes ago and you’ll have it several more times today.
We recently instituted a sticker chart in hopes it would help Graham. The basic idea was that he’d have a more visible reward for good behavior and that it would be a not-as-upsetting punishment for bad behavior. His response to scolding is either a meltdown or to ignore it entirely and we needed something that he could get but not freak out about.
It has been a week. He has had 2 good days. The rest have not been good.
He also hasn’t responded appropriately to the “sad stickers.” He gets just as upset about them as he does about a time-out. And he seems to forget about happy stickers most of the time.
I have no idea whether all of this is just how it goes with a 3-year-old. All I know is at the end of a bad day with him I am mentally and physically and emotionally spent. I just cannot function fully after a bad day, and as you can see we’re at about 70-ish% bad days.
Is this just something you live through? Is it like battle where you just have to put your head down and hope you’re still alive once the bombs stop falling?
The thing I feel the worst about is that I tend to feel rather claustrophobic with him around a lot of the time. It’s nearly impossible for me to do any kind of housework with him around. He always wants to sit on my lap. If I’m up doing housework he has to constantly be asking questions and getting underfoot. As he’s gotten older and more independent I moved most of his favorite toys up to his bedroom so he can have them safe from the baby’s grasp and give him somewhere to go on his own. It hasn’t worked. He barely ever goes upstairs to play. He must hover and ask for snacks (THE SNACK ASKING I JUST—- I CANNOT EXPLAIN HOW CRAZY THE ALL-DAY NEVERENDING SNACK ASKING MAKES ME).
We have few “rules” in the house. Just some like No Throwing and Do not touch the toilet paper. They don’t do any good, he violates them whenever he feels like it and still acts horrified and aggrieved and outraged when called out.
It doesn’t seem to matter how we talk to him. I’ve tried being more kind, more conversational, looking him in the eye, trying to help him express his anger, I’ve tried everything that crosses my mind.
Verbally, he’s not in a place where we can have any kind of conversation, either. He can rarely answer “why” questions. He answers most questions with “Yeah,” whether that’s an appropriate answer or not. We cannot really make a narrative or a story out of it that sticks.
I have dealt with a lot of people. I had clients who had mental health problems, low IQ’s, little education and few morals. And yet… I could get them to understand some form of reason and find a way to walk them through what they needed to know. But I cannot do that with this 3-year-old for the life of me.
I cannot find a system that sticks in his head.
If we offer incentives, he melts down if he doesn’t get it. And he is working solely for the incentive, it’s the worst kind of bribery. And the only incentives that really work are candy. I hate that. The “happy stickers” on his sticker chart don’t seem to help much, even though he knows that if he has 10 good days he gets a Mickey Clock, the thing he’s currently fixated on.
Punishments do nothing except cause screaming tantrums. As soon as the conflict is over he’ll go right back to the same behavior.
I just don’t know how to respond.
I don’t know if there’s some way I should be responding that I’m not.
And I don’t know if I’m all on my own in this or what.
All I know is that Christmas break was nearly the end of me. I spent all last week dreading the 3-day weekend. And as I’ve started to recognize that in a few months there will be a summer break I cannot even fathom how on earth I’ll survive it. How will I ever work if I have this kid in my house every day all day? AND a toddler?
I know that I’m stumped and frazzled enough to write this post knowing full well that it could bring an onslaught of parenting advice or worse, people insisting I’m doing everything wrong.
I just don’t like how I parent at the end of a bad day. I don’t like how I feel and I definitely don’t like how I look and sound. I have got to find a way to get through the next six months of this 3-year-old. I have got to make it out alive.