So I wrote awhile back about how I was re-thinking the old “count to three” parenting strategy we’re all familiar with. I tried to re-frame in tone and body language with my toddler that when counting to three, I’m offering a slow, calm chance to cooperate willingly, with empathy for the disappointment and resistance he feels; I’m not threatening with force (even though, when push comes to shove, I will be forcing him to do whatever I’ve said needs done). It was a new strategy at the time, and I said I’d let you all know how it went longer term, so I am!
Basically, it worked for awhile, and then it seemed to work less – I found myself getting less cooperation right after counting to three, and having more often to enforce whatever it was time to do (putting on shoes, getting in the car, sitting at the dinner table, etc.).
However, I also found myself falling into behaviour more in line with the cultural habits of counting to three. I was counting faster. I wasn’t breathing calmly and deeply when speaking with him. I wasn’t always getting down on his level to address the issue. More than once, I heard more warning in my voice than empathy. And as a result, I was getting more resistance. I was losing some of the connection I felt I’d made with my kiddo.
So I’ve gone back to some of my earlier mindfulness in these interactions. And it does seem to be helping. The other thing that has changed is that A is constantly developing, too. He’s changing day by day in how much independence he’s looking to assert. He needs more time to process my requests, because he’s considering more thoroughly whether or not he wants to cooperate with them. So I have to be slower. To expect him to make the same decision every time – ie. to always cooperate when I start counting – isn’t really giving him a choice at all, is it? To accommodate this, we’ve also been working on a new skill – getting and receiving his attention before making a request of him. Essentially, we’re working on the idea that when I or his Dad calls his name, he should say, “Yes, Mommy?” and look at us. It’s slow learning, but it seems to allow him to better understand that I’m about to make a request, and it lessens my frustration because I’m not (unfairly) asking him an extra time before he’s even really listening.
One thing in my favour, though, is that he is fully in his toddler “I do it myself” obsession, so I use this to my advantage for the time being. My script has changed a little bit:
I used to say: “I’m going to count to three, and then you need to [insert action required here].”
Now I say: “I’m going to count to three, and then give you a chance to [insert action] by yourself. If you don’t do it by yourself, I’m going to need to help you.”
This seems to work pretty well, since he really, reeeeeally likes to do things by himself. When he doesn’t do it by himself and I’m forced to “help” him do it, he’s often pretty upset. If it’s something I can let him ‘re-do’ by himself (like putting his hat on), I often will, but if it’s something we don’t have time for (like getting out of his carseat and getting back in by himself), it’s a good opportunity to say, encouragingly, “It’s okay – next time I bet you’ll be able to do it all by yourself, right?”
It’s all a learning curve, and while that’s sometimes the scariest, most frustrating part of parenting (when am I just going to figure this out!?!), it’s also pretty hopeful – because we are making progress, even if it’s one small toddler step at a time. As he and I both grow, we’ll just get better (I hope!) at working out the tricky bits together.