Learning to co-parent with compassion
ASK THE EXPERT: Q:I’m a single mum to a three-year-old boy. I’m also a mature student in college and lately I have noticed my son’s behaviour has changed and I’m wondering what the problem may be and what I can do to try to alleviate it. He is very outgoing and socially able but lately he is acting like a teenager and gets very cross and upset if he doesn’t get his own way.
While I’m sure this is normal to some degree and he is only asserting himself, I feel his behaviour goes beyond this and I’m wondering is this something he is learning from me. He has a great relationship with his dad who he stays over with two nights a week and his dad adores him but does not discipline him.
He often calls in and, when both of us are there, he condones bad behaviour while I’m trying to correct it. I think our son sees this and perhaps both of us are wrong.
I don’t know how to communicate with our three year old that he cannot scream and get cross constantly.
I’m under pressure in final year of college and perhaps he is picking up on this. He goes to a creche for half the week and the staff say he is getting on great there and they have not noticed any changes. I suppose my real worry is that I’m somehow causing all this.
I try not to show my stress in front of him but perhaps I’m not doing a great job. We spend lots of quality time together and do lots of activities. However, recently he has stopped wanting to do these things. Is this telling me something?
AWhatever the specific causes, screaming when angry and displaying tantrums are relatively normal behaviours for three-year- old children. When faced with this behaviour, it is easy as a parent to react by correcting, criticising and battling with children to behave, especially when you feel stressed or under pressure. However, such reactions can inadvertently reinforce your child’s misbehaviour and all too easily become a habit between the two of you that can wear both of you out and damage your relationship.
If you find yourself constantly correcting your son, or always on his case to get him to behave, or if you feel you are regularly in a battle with him, then it is important to take a step back and to try to find more positive ways to manage.
In dealing with his tantrums, the key is to make sure you are able to pause and to not get hooked in to reacting emotionally to his negative feelings. Then it is important to respond thoughtfully and calmly with a range of strategies that can include asking him to express himself rather than screaming (“use your words to talk to Mum”) or by soothing him (“oh, I know you are upset, let’s calm down now”) or by distracting him (“let’s go and play with the cars”) or giving him a choice (“you can have the toys when you ask politely”) etc.