While Bill and I were at Bonnaroo, our boys were in Louisville with my sister. When we picked them up and I asked how they had been, she told me Finn was so much better this time. I guess I was expecting a generic stock answer or something because I was kind of taken aback. He's been bad for you before? He's getting better? I really didn't know which surprised me more.
I know my kids really well but I only know them the way they are around me. I assume they're the same all the time, but who knows? Hearing that Finn was stubborn, quick to cry (to get out of things) and a bit of a challenge was actually strangely reassuring. Because that's how he is for me! If he was totally compliant and agreeable for someone else it might really piss me off.
Since my sister is a behavioral psychologist, I took the opportunity to pick her brain a bit. Because we definitely have our fair share of challenges with Finn. We're still working on sleep, listening, cleaning up, ABCs, 123s, the occasional tantrum that is so intense it knocks our whole world on its side, and other typical three year old stuff.
Her advice was pretty simple: tell, show, do. Tell him what I want him to do (or not do), show him what I expect (here's how I put toys away...), then if he's still not complying, make him do whatever it is I've asked. (She said this last part isn't fun for anyone and that's kind of the point.) She also stressed consistency and follow through.
Easier said than done.
We've been kind of terrible about all this stuff. I think we just realized a long time ago that none of us can out-stubborn Finn so we pretty much stopped trying. If he's going to hold his ground about something, we basically let him have it. Which, I know. We've earned where we are fair and square! But it's never too late to try something new.
Time for some tough love!
She said it might be good to "practice" at home sometime when we had nowhere to be and the patience for a fight. So one day when he refused to come to the table for lunch (completely out of the blue), I went for it. Telling, showing, doing, following through, the whole nine yards. Ten minutes later when he punctuated his screaming tantrum by throwing his full plate of lunch on the floor (and I nearly lost my mind as a result), I had to shut myself in the office and call my sister, completely out of breath, for help.
She told me I probably had to take it down a notch. Instead of expecting him to comply (which is just not in his nature, bless his heart), I should just tell, show, do and leave it at that. So, for instance, once I brought him to his chair and made him sit down for lunch, I should ignore him getting up and screaming at me and refusing to eat instead of engaging (i.e. putting him BACK in his chair a thousand times and screaming at him). If I feel myself escalating (which I always do...Finn knows ALL my buttons), I should just lock myself in the bathroom.
Way easier than trying to put him in a time out.
She also reiterated the importance of follow through. "Make your expectations known and put some consequences into place. If he doesn't do what you've asked, you have to follow through with the consequences. It might not seem like it's helping but over time it will shape the way he makes decisions." (I'm paraphrasing, of course.)
The problem we've faced with this is that a consequence for Finn means a consequence for ALL of us. He doesn't take anything lying down (he will be such a strong adult!) so we all suffer when he's upset. This is why I kept getting him juice in the middle of the night and laying down with him until we both fell back asleep for so long (like, until a few months ago). It was just so much easier than letting him wake up the whole family.
But enough is enough, right? So the other night when he refused to put his toys away before bed, I had the brilliant idea of taking away bedtime stories as a consequence. Every time he didn't listen, I gave him one more chance and told him I would take away a story if he didn't do what I asked. Then I counted - 1, 2, 3. He just laid there, looking at me. I'm sure he thought I was bluffing.
"No way would she take away bedtime stories! It's everyone's favorite part of the night. Plus, I'm still a not-so-great sleeper who needs my stories to settle down. Like she's gonna mess with that? Ha! Liam will never go for this. He'll talk her into reading anyway. She's obviously backed herself into a corner..."
I'm not gonna lie, that's exactly how I felt too. "Why bedtime stories?! Of all the things I could hold over his head, I had to go and say bedtime stories? What's wrong with me?! Now I'm going to have to follow through and we're all going to be miserable. Maybe he'll earn them back? Is that a thing? No...that's what I usually do. It is obviously not working. Nope, I'm going to have to stick to my guns on this one. Bedtime with no stories. Oh boy. Here we go..."
It was awful. But not the end of the world. Liam begged me to just read already and Finn screamed and cried and got out of bed and shoved books in my face. But I didn't cave. It felt horrible. I hated it. But then I realized I didn't have to be angry, just stubborn. So I was sweet with him and told him how hard it was for him and gave him lots of love and told him we could read all the books in the morning.
Eventually he fell asleep. Honestly? It didn't even take that long. And in the morning, I could tell he was proud of himself. (Sleep has never been his strong suit - so falling asleep without one of his vices is kind of a big deal.)
"Mama, do you remember when you said we could read all the books?"
And that's just what we did.
(We're working on the letter A right now so we have a big stack of "A" books from the library. The Apple Pie Tree, If You Were an Astronaut, Hooray for Amanda and her Alligator, Angry Birds, Anakin to the Rescue, Are You an Ant?, Ten Apples Up On Top, An Anteater Named Arthur... This was another suggestion from my sister. Instead of expecting Finn to know the whole alphabet because we read Dr. Seuss' ABCs a few times, I should take it down a notch and focus on just one letter at a time. I am accustomed to dealing with Liam who learns so quickly he doesn't actually have to be taught. So this is new ground for me. I have to rethink everything with regards to Finn's education. So far, we're both feeling much more successful.)