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Mom of 3
Mom of 3 asks:
Q:

My 3 1/2 year old boy doesn't listen to anyone. How can I discipline him when he is so energetic and stuborn?

I have 3 boys 14, 8 and 3 1/2, we are a very loud family. I try to teach my children to be soft spoken and courteous to each other. This has caused my toddler to grow up loud and out of control. When he gets to go out and play he runs away b/c he know we are going after him. Other parents in our street have toddlers and they play very well with each other. When I take him to the store he wants to run around and screams when I sit him in the cart. He doesn't let me hold his hand when we are walking and hence runs away and sometimes into the streets! I am so mortified! I tried putting him in soccer so he can interact with other toddlers but he was not interested. He once ran away from the field and towards the street, I was running like mad after him! Time-out just doesn't work with him (or maybe it's me). I try not to lose my temper but I don't know what to do. My husband has a very aggressive temper and loses his patience with him and yells at him and spanks him. This makes me so mad and frustrated it often leads to my husband and I arguing. Please help me!
In Topics: Discipline and behavior challenges
> 60 days ago

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Expert

Hand in Hand
Mar 19, 2009
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What the Expert Says:

Dear Mom of 3:

You have a lot on your mind, and a huge job in parenting! I can feel the love and care you have for your boys--it comes through so clearly as you write.

There's a way of relating to your little boy that you might want to try. I think it will make a big difference, though it may seem "out of the box" at first.

In order for their minds to function well, children need to feel close to their parents. They can't feel close when the parents are full of tension, because that tension sits between the parent and the child, and children are very accurate tension detectors. So when your little guy feels the tension rising in you, he doesn't want to come close, he wants to run, wants to act out--he's now full of tension, too, scared that the person who's taking care of him is not on his side. This is really frightening for a little one, who is dependent on your good will for his existence.

So, an interesting first step to try would be "Special Time," maybe 10  minutes in the morning, and 10 minutes later in the day, if you have that kind of time. If not, then 10 minutes whenever you can arrange it. For that little bit of time (set a timer, it will help you focus) say, "You play whatever you want to play!" and then, show delight in him. Whatever he chooses to do with you, do it with pleasure in him. Be pleased. Make eye contact with him. Touch him with affection. Speak gently. Try to keep the thoughts about what an amazing little being he is at the front of your mind, so you're not just trying to be nice, but genuinely pleased with him.

When it's over, hug him warmly or ruffle his hair or show some little sign of affection, and tell him when he can have Special Time again.

Most likely, because tension in him has built up over time (spankings are frightening to a young child--the base of their brain interprets a spanking as very dangerous thing, so spankings lay in more tension, and result in more off-track behavior in the long run) he'll be disappointed at the end of the time. He'll find some reason to fuss or tantrum. At that point, move close, don't stop being supportive, and let him cry.

We call this Staylistening. You allow the child to cry out all that tension. That's how children get rid of bad feelings. That's how they recover from their troubles and find some relaxation and a sense of closeness again. So if you can be a real adventurer, and head into stormy emotional waters with him. listen. Don't argue. Don't try to get him to stop. Just let him cry until he feels done. He will feel closer to you, will behave much more sensibly, and will probably cry easily again, because he has some emotional catching up to do.

You will probably want to try this when you don't have to fend off critical onlookers, or critical family members. It's hard enough to do it the first time, without others getting angry with you for trying something new to help.

There's much more about this approach and the good results it gives at the Hand in Hand website. You can try this article:There is No "Throwaway" Behavior, and look at the booklets and articles and success stories we have at our general website, listed second below.

Good luck with your experiments. Your little guy is warm, loving, and wants to be with you! Listening to his feelings will help him remember that, and spend more and more time being reasonable and fun to be with.
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