QUESTION: I am
the mother of a 3 year old and a 3 month old. My question is about my
3 yo. She is a wonderfully bright and outgoing little girl. The issue
is with her behavior around me. She gets out of control with frustration.
She gets so mad that she will throw herself down and start screaming
at the top of her lungs. We continue to attribute it to anything external,
i.e. changes in her life, the terrible twos, whatever.
We have watched this beautifully strong and
independent child develop over the last several years. I very much
want to help her to keep her strong will and assertiveness, but I
also want to help her to use it to her advantage. (I have the same
type of personality, but my spouse, also a woman, has the opposite!)
I want to help her to set appropriate boundaries, but I am tired of
always having to hassle over every little detail. Occasionally, I
would like her to just say, "OK, mommy, I will put on my shoes." Is
this too much to ask? Am I having unrealistic expectations again?
I could appreciate some advice.
ANSWER: Your daughter's capacity for asserting her needs has
no doubt blossomed with the loving support she has received from both
of her parents. Your willingness to nurture and value her "strength
of will" has likely resulted in a hardy sense of entitlement.
She is now having to share the spotlight with a new
sibling at the same time that you are adjusting to increased responsibilities
for your new family member. The combination of her increased needs
and her parents' decreased availability naturally leaves a gap which
she fills with heightened protestation!
The good news is that you have successfully nurtured
her self-esteem. Now is the opportunity to teach her the value of
nurturing others. She has learned to "speak up" for herself at an
early age and this is just what she is doing! It will take a similarly
determined effort on your part, to teach her the beauty and strength
of cooperation. It will take a bit of time for her to accept that
even her parents have needs that she must learn to accommodate. And
that accommodating can be a "good" thing.
It is not too much for you to expect more cooperation
from your daughter, and no doubt you need it right now! It is too
much to expect it to occur instantly. Do not use her sibling adjustment
as an "excuse" for non-cooperation, but realize that her strength
and ability to oppose you may be the tools you nurtured in her to
deal with stressful situations! Her first adjustment will be to express
herself strongly to let you know what she wants. The next step is
to teach her that she does not always get what she wants. Your responsibility
as a parent lies in teaching her how to take care of her relationships
as well as herself.
Set aside separate time for activities with her on
a one-to-one basis. Let her know that she will get to be the center
of your universe at a particular time each day. Reading children's
books together about sharing and cooperation might help. Stories which
depict other children (or animals) working through natural feelings
of sibling jealousy may open the door for productive expression of
these emotions. Separating her feelings from her actions however is
key to her development at this time. Show her that you understand
how she feels. You may even suggest she draw pictures of these feelings.
But remain clear that her behavior needs to change.
Unlike previous messages, in which you may have nurtured
empowerment based on her feelings, you are now telling her that she
is not to always act on these feelings! Be clear about your
expectations and your confidence in her ability as a three year old,
to achieve the ability to meet specific behavioral goals. You are
not giving her double messages here, you are helping her develop a
new ability to empathize with the needs of others, which must sometimes
come before her own.
Do not shy away from expressing your needs to her
when you are not under stress. Explain the needs of Mommies
who must care equally for two very special children now. Let her know
you need her help to put her shoes on, pick up her toys after dinner
or learn how to "wait patiently" for you when you are tending to her
younger sibling. Express absolute confidence in your belief that she
can learn "patience" and "cooperation". Just as she has learned the
value of expressing her wants and needs, with your clear support,
she will learn the values which will make it easier for her to develop
and sustain healthy relationships.
Our job as parents is to teach our children to care
about themselves and to care about others. Your daughter has developed
a strong and healthy sense of her own needs. Now it is time for her
to develop empathy for the needs of others and the impact she has
on her relationships. Cooperation and empathy are necessary for her
to achieve rewarding adult relationships. She will fare better learning
limits from those who love her, rather than from strangers.
Your daughter's "spiritedness" is not merely independently
generated. In fact, it is at least in part, a result of your own very
strong beliefs, from which she has no doubt benefited. It is likely
that you wanted to be certain that your little girl would have the
ability to "stand up" for herself in the world. You may have found
it difficult to do so in your own childhood or within the context
of "femininity" in our culture. You are right to be concerned about
the possibility of her "losing her voice", but you need not be. You
have already done a great job of promoting her self expression which
will always be the foundation of her personal power.
It is time now to teach her the pleasures that can
be found in "yielding". She will benefit from developing an ability
to accommodate the needs of others. And you will be available to her
for many years to help her learn a healthy balance of "give" and "take"
in a variety of situations and relationships. Remember that her capacity
to love is based on her ability to "accommodate" as well as "assert".
Under your clear guidance and role modeling, she will learn that the
value of "cooperation" is also in her own best interests!
Wise words came from my 6 year old son when I was
"teaching him patience". I admonished him for having "no patience".
He corrected me by explaining that he did have patience, but he was
not "using" it. I realized then, that I also needed to develop my
ability to "use" more patience! Perhaps your daughter will join you
in brainstorming ways she can "help" in producing the overall focus
on teamwork that is now necessary in your expanded family.
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