Preschool Behavior Issues: Ask the Experts (Part 1)

It was like a scene out of High Noon, me in the middle of a dusty street, sun behind me as I looked my opponent in the eye. Both of us knew that only one of us would win the battle; the only question was who would come out the worse for the wear on the other side.

O.k. So it wasn’t noon and the only dust in the street was because the street sweepers don’t actually make it to our little corner of Brighton. (Which is entirely fine by me since I’ve now been towed TWICE thanks to street sweeping, but that’s another story entirely.) It was actually 8:05 a.m., and it was 4-year-old James whose stare met mine. And by stare, I mean, his outraged, wild, tear-filled gaze as I stood in the middle of the street holding two binkies high above my head, having just taken them from the trash can after going so far as to place them on top of it because I was about this close to actually throwing them away, having no other leverage whatsoever to make him loosen up enough out of his Exorcist-like pose in order to get him and his brother to school. (Before you call the authorities, note that I didn’t place the binkies in or on the trash can itself, just onto the broken Dirt Devil that we were throwing away after 5 years. As for the fact that my four-year-old is still using binkies, well, don’t judge.)

Needless to say, not one of my proudest moments as a mom. How did I get here? It started with the pancakes.

Twenty minutes earlier . . .

Everything had started out fine. We managed to all get up on time, and, apart from a slight disagreement over long pants vs. short ones (he got to walk out of the house with shorts, but I cheated and snuck the pants into his bag for school just in case), he was fully dressed. Since that had gone off just fine I agreed to let him watch The Incredibles while I got breakfast together for him and his 11-year-old brother, Will. (Hubby left for a work trip to TX at 5:45 a.m. and the 14-year-old was out of the house before the rest of us were awake.) He asked for one of his standards — “bread, cooked, with pink; turn one over and put them together” (i.e., a sandwich of toasted cinnamon swirl bread with strawberry cream cheese; again, none of that judging thing) — and then, once that was finished, “three breads, cooked”, and then 5 mini pancakes with “syriup.” Knowing that he would eat maybe half of one of those things, I went with his first choice, the strawberry cream cheese sandwich. Which of course wasn’t the right option. Commence teary tantrum.

If it were just him, or if it weren’t just me, I wouldn’t have forced anything. But since Will does, actually, need to get to school on time and we were already running ten minutes late, I told James we were leaving, picked up his bag and mine, and walked to the front door. At which point he ran to the front door and threw himself up against it, refusing to allow me to open it without having to maneuver him out of the way. I calmly (yes, I was somehow still calm at this point) asked Will to take James’ bag for me (which he miraculously did with only a little bit of argument) and then I scooped a full-blown-tantruming James into my arms and carried him out to the car. As I started to walk around to the side with his car seat in it, he turned up the volume, yelling that he wanted to GET INTO THIS SIDE OF THE CAR and sit in THIS seat (i.e., the regular Captain’s chair seat) that he has never in his life sat in (and for which he won’t be ready for another several years at best). When I refused to allow that, he began thrashing so that by the time we were around the other side of the car, he was beyond tantrum and well into full battle mode.

It took me a full two minutes, but I managed to get the two shoulder straps over his arms and clasped without hurting him, although I have no idea how since he was doing everything possible to not just resist, but actively fight me. (Cue bystander walking up the street with a disapproving glare.) But then he became possessed and straightened and stiffened the lower half of his body so that it was physically impossible for me to put the rest of the harness in place without forcing him down. Which was when I took the first binky (the unauthorized binky in his cup holder, binkies now only allowed at night) and brought it to the trash.

This did not go over well, as you can imagine. Determination setting in, the screaming got louder, the commitment greater. Although I wasn’t in screaming mode – yet – my determination set in, too, and I took the second bink (the one he’d managed to carry out of the house with him without my realizing it amidst the drama) and brought that one over to the trash as well. The screams became inhuman. The body as whirling a dervish as is possible when halfway held into a car seat harness, although that was becoming questionable since he was now realizing he could slide out of it. No freaking clue of what I could now do. No more binkies left and, well, I couldn’t go so far as to actually throw them away. So I stormed over to the trash can, grabbed both of them, stalked back to the street and held them up above my head. On the edge of losing it, I yelled that he could have the binkies back if he promised that he would just sit in the seat and let me buckle his seatbelt so that we could get Will to school on time for Heaven’s sake!

Oh dear.

As if that weren’t all bad enough, I happened to glance over at Will (who I am with terror now realizing didn’t even come close to giving us a hard time), who was now in the front seat of the car and trying desperately not to laugh hysterically. And then I looked behind me to see a car stopped behind me since I was standing in the middle of the road and holding two binkies over my head as I used them as a bargaining tool with my now hiccuping 4-year-old. After essentially pulling them out of the trash.

And I stood there thinking, There has to be a better way. But since James seems hardwired to meet even my reasonable demands (and, yes, I fully recognize that not all my demands are reasonable) with complete defiance, I am often at a loss. And it happens regularly — when it’s time to leave for school, when it’s time for dinner, when it’s time for bed. We’ve tried the threats of “If you do X you will not get Y,” and we’ve tried the, “Let’s earn a star for every time you do what we ask.” I know that I’m supposed to get down to his level and give him attention (which is not the easiest thing when, say, it is well past time to get the 11-year-old to school or when the 14-year-old is having an existential crisis) while at the same time not overexplaining or allowing a 4-year-old to dictate the flow of the household. In other words, despite going through this twice already, I am entirely clueless.

Thankfully, I work at a place where there are experts in dealing with toddlers and preschoolers and it occurred to me that I could actually ask their advice. Interested in hearing what the experts have to say? Stay tuned for Part 2…

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