Lately I felt like a floundering fish when it comes to handling Iris. It feels like it's getting harder and harder to get through to her and she is getting more strong-willed every day. She also has been having some strong outbursts of anger that totally knock me off-kilter. On Wednesday I had a particularly hard day with her. It was just one thing after another the whole afternoon. By the time Matt got home from work that night I was so upset with her that I just wanted him to take her away from me and never return. I sent an email to the founder of Iris's school asking if she could talk to me or if she knew of someone I could speak with that could offer me some suggestions on discipline measures. I was totally desperate and totally at a loss. Tonight I got a chance to talk to the founder and I am so glad I did. She had several really great ideas for us to try with Iris and I wanted to write them all down here on my blog for a couple of reasons. One is so I have it to refer to when I need it and two is for anyone else who might be reading this who can benefit from any of them. I have taken her advice and twisted it in to my own language and in to a way that makes sense to me. None of this is her exact words, but rather my interpretation.
So, let's see, I'll just go in bullet points to make it easy to follow:
- Always keep in mind that Iris is who she is-- which is that she is a strong-willed child who is in the first half of her threes. This is a tough age for most kids. It is important to be aware of what stage a child is at and what you can reasonably expect from them at that stage in life. This might seem totally obvious, but honestly, I don't know what three year olds are supposed to be able to do. I know I've been expecting things from her which she just isn't capable of realistically doing. I need to honor where MY child is and what her exact needs are. Along these lines, we need to be more proactive in keeping the girls apart when we aren't watching them. If we have to go out of the room, we need to take a child with us. At this point, it just isn't a good idea to leave them alone together. Yes, this will be alot of work, but less crying (on Eloise's part), less disciplining (on my part) and less sassiness (on Iris's part) will be worth it.
- Figure out what is causing Iris's behavior problems so we can try to prevent them. So, for instance, why does she hit/kick/push her sister? Is she mad because Eloise is in her space? Well, then help Iris get her own space. Also, it's important to reinforce positive behavior. If Iris does not hit her sister, she gets to do something that's really special to her. I struggle with the reward system because I have heard that the goal is for children to be able to do these things of their own volition. Well, that's all good, but at this young age children don't know empathy. They are completely egocentric. As positive reinforcement continues to work and changes the behavior for good (or good enough) then it can be phased out if it needs to be.
- Break the cycle! When she mentioned this to me I thought of a common phrase: "if you do what you've always done, you get what you've always gotten". For instance, I always give the girls a bath together. Sometimes they do okay, but most of the time bath time ends by me yelling and Iris being forced to get out for hitting/kicking/splashing her sister. The same thing ever night. It's exhausting. Why do I expect it to be different? How about trying something different and seeing if I get a different result?
- Make more one-on-one time. This is something we very rarely do with Iris. Every day Eloise takes a long nap and I very, very rarely spend that time giving Iris my undivided attention. I spend it catching up on chores or taking a needed break for myself, often hiding behind the computer while Iris stares at the television. This was a huge wake-up call for me to hear this. I really don't spend enough time with Iris. I mean, not really with her. As much as I can recall, the days she is on her best behavior are ones where she has the most attention from me. I can't be completely involved 100% of the time, but in all honesty, I have much more time to give to her than I do. It also made me realize if I expect a change in her behavior, I need to make a change in my own. Less tv time, less computer time, more play time. More together time. More creative time. We are also going to take time to have special out of the house one-on-one time. Something we make a BIG deal out of so Iris knows that it is her special time and is well aware of the attention we're focusing on her. Iris feeds off of attention, so I think this is going to be huge for her. And us.
- Make a progress chart. Some kids this works for, we are going to try it with Iris. We can sit down and make an agreement with Iris (her school is big on agreements between adults and the children) about what type of behavior is expected of her. For instance, we expect her not to hurt her sister. If she can go a whole day, or afternoon, or an hour even, she gets a sticker on a chart. When she gets to an agreed upon goal, she gets an agreed upon prize.
Okay, so this is all I am thinking of for now. I'd love to hear any and all suggestions.