I attended son's playgroup parents evening last week. According to them, he is learning to stand up for himself, after a shy start, and is as good as the proverbial golden child. I retreated, gobsmacked. At home, he doesn't have to stand up for himself, because he is too busy lording it over his sister. He is not in the least bit shy, and he certainly isn't good. he is Omen like in his ability to predict what will annoy most. So far this week, he has cut his sisters hair (again, so she looks like something from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), taken to smacking her on the head when he thinks I'm not looking (despite my telling him, with alittle artistic licence, that it hurts your brain, in retrospect, this is possibly encouraging him), waited till she's set up her entire doll's house and then driven his motorbike and army men through it ("what? What? they're just having a smash-up party!"), lied ("I DID NOT eat the gingerbread!" Here's a hint, wipe the gingerbread mush off of your face before you deny it), smashed his room up when sent to it, and scribbled biro over the bath. Which to be fair, was hardly noticeable alongside all the grime and rust from skanky bath toys. All of this accompanied by a point blank refusal to sit on the naughty step. (Look at him in this pic, I thought he was bad at 2, but boy, I was wrong).
He is rising 4, and I'm wondering if this sudden bout of sheer stubborn naughtiness is a hormone surge. At around aged 4, boys experience the first of many (ARRRGH) hormone surges, which increase aggressiveness, energy levels and urge to engage in boisterous play (launching himself at husband as soon as he gets in from work screaming "fight me!"), and reduce their ability to concentrate. Luckily for us mums, this first surge lasts about a year (a YEAR?) and then fades until about aged 7. Steve Biddulphs' book "Raising Boys" is very informative on this. I can glance across to son at any given point in the day and he will be engaged in transmuting his sisters carefully thought out narrative with the farm animals into a farm armageddon. Yes, a definate hormone surge. Only a few months ago he was gentle thing. Now he is a maniac. So what to do?
I'm trialling the 1,2,3 method. It's meant to work well with boys and children with autistic spectrum disorders, because the rules are simple and do not allow for much negotiation. Now son is older, I often find myself embroiled in negotiating with the boy rather than stating what he should do. As a teacher, it's a cardinal rule: you earn the right to negotiate, it's not a given. Yet here I was, involved in some high table UN debate with a 3 year old. 1,2,3 it was. Basically, it's an old teaching trick but it works, hopefully. State to the child that they get 3 warnings only and on "3" , what the consequence will be. As son will now no longer sit on the step without running off it to where I am and mooning at me (yes, really), my "3" consequence is for him to be put in his bedroom without his favourite toy motorbikes for 5 minutes, then 5 again if he hasn't calmed down and apologised. Then, you clearly get to "3". Here's an example from this morning.
Daughter is screaming, with real tears. Son has hold of the toy she had, and she haltingly (but with glee) stammers out that son hit her on the head. I know she's egging it a bit, she's gone all Bette Davis, but hey, he did hit her. Son admits it.
"Say sorry to your sister and give her the toy back"
"No! I don't want to!"
(Holding up finger, speaking calmly) "That's one. Can you please say sorry and give the toy back."
"NOOOOOOO! it's MINE! (stamping feet)"
"That's 2. Can you please say sorry and give the toy back. It is not nice to hit on heads, or snatch".
"No!" (throws toy).
"That's 3. To your room, please". March him upstairs. Remove motorbikes. Much wailing and screaming. After 5 minutes he is still lobbing stuff about. Tell him he has another 5 minutes. Go back in after that, he is forlorn on the bed.
"Why did I put you in your room?"
"Because I whacked her and now her brain might hurt". (near enough).
"So what are you going to do?"
Gives sister cuddle, has a cuddle, carries on until next outburst approximately an hour later.
By the end of the day I usually only have to get to 2, or sometimes even 1. It does seem to be working, but as with everything, consistancy is key. I know I am doing it religiously, as daughter was telling her dollshouse crew off in the same manner.
Other pointers for the angry boy parents out there.
Firstly, accept that he will get angry. Example: yesterday, I told him not to take food from the fridge without permission. He denied he was (still clutching the chicken leg). I asked him to put it back, he got angry. After the 1, 2, 3 scene, we had a chat about why he got angry. "Because I really wanted the chicken but you said no", and discussed what could be done instead of getting angry. "You could have asked me nicely for a snack, couldn't you?" and so on. Make it clear that everyone gets angry, but that there are often other options.
Praise the gentle. Really go overboard. "Oh son, the way you are stroking the chicken gently is lovely, they really like that" etc etc. Praise nice behaviour to the high heavens.
Go rough. Make an assault course of cushions, play boys games (yes, there will be killing in them), and encourage LOTS of walking, running. Get out everyday. Get messy. Be a boy for a bit. And, if there is a man on the scene, a daddy, uncle, whatever, rough play. I simply don't get the rolling around bit, but they do and they love it. It's a very important bit of male whatever. I know it hypes 'em up before bedtime, if, like me, the man arrives home just before bed, but hey, go to bed 15 minutes later.
Get your man model to model being gentle. And if your man model shouts (mine does at times) make him say SORRY. Little men will copy the big ones.
Get some man on boy time. Send them off to do tasks. Boys often learn by DOING at this age, and a morning with the man sweeping snow or hammering will work wonders. And get him to praise, praise praise while he's doing it.
Now, i'm off to do my counting again, as I can just hear a yell......