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January 05, 2010

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My current challenge is drop off and pick up at day care. My son is 27 months. He's been at his current daycare for about nine months and he loves it. Ever since the return from Thanksgiving (we were out of town for the full week) he has at best been clingy when I drop him off and at worse been sobbing. There is a lovely teacher there in the morning who always takes him on her lap and talks to him. Then when I pick him up he does not want to leave. Once this resulted in an hour long tantrum.

Obviously this is a transition issue. Any suggestions on how to resolve it or at least make it a little more bearable?

I am so there with my 20 month old. This is such a frustrating time for both of us. I was doing really well being flexible, rolling with the punches for about the first month, but by now there are so many punches. I'm feeling burned out.

Our number one frustration is the car seat. He won't get into it, would much rather run up to the driver's seat and blast the horn.

Force (which just feels wrong to me) and bribery (in the form of food, and even this fails 70% of the time) seem to be the only things that'll get him in. I've been using avoidance for now (as in not driving anywhere. at all. it's driving me crazy.).

Any thoughts on how to deal with this? I was thinking a special car-only toy, but that seems like it would just set us up for more struggles

I agree with your point about avoiding the conflict, particularly since I have a very strong-willed child. She is waaaaay more stubborn than I am, so I learned early that I'd better choose my battles carefully. The problem I have is that a lot of people will see me doing this and tell me that I'm spoiling my child. To me, there are some battles that are worth fighting (usually around safety and being nice to people) and some that just aren't worth the effort. But a lot of people seem to think that parents should just lay down the law and force the issue when needed. I wish more people would think about the developmental aspect!

Another, related, problem in our house- Pumpkin gets her stubborn streak from her Daddy. The two of them can get caught in a battle of wills over an issue that I think is silly. Usually, if I can get him to take a step back, Hubby will agree that it is a silly issue. But how do you back down gracefully? We don't want to set up a situation where we'll cave if she screams loud enough. Any ideas?

Sorry if this posts twice... I had a little clicking error....

I agree with your point about avoiding the conflict, particularly since I have a very strong-willed child. She is waaaaay more stubborn than I am, so I learned early that I'd better choose my battles carefully. The problem I have is that a lot of people will see me doing this and tell me that I'm spoiling my child. To me, there are some battles that are worth fighting (usually around safety and being nice to people) and some that just aren't worth the effort. But a lot of people seem to think that parents should just lay down the law and force the issue when needed. I wish more people would think about the developmental aspect!

Another, related, problem in our house- Pumpkin gets her stubborn streak from her Daddy. The two of them can get caught in a battle of wills over an issue that I think is silly. Usually, if I can get him to take a step back, Hubby will agree that it is a silly issue. But how do you back down gracefully? We don't want to set up a situation where we'll cave if she screams loud enough. Any ideas?

@ Erin - we had a similar issue with our daughter. She HATES the carseat. But after I read Easy To Love Difficult To Discipline, I started giving her a choice about the carseat. I tell her she can get in it herself, or I can put her in. Now she chooses to get in herself, and we have *mostly* been able to avoid the carseat struggle.

Our biggest discipline problem now is getting my 27 month old daughter not to hit/push her friends when they invade her personal space or take her toys.

One thing that works brilliantly for me(another tip from ETLHTD) is to focus on telling our daughter what we want her TO do, not what we DON'T want her to do. The problem is that my husband and pretty much anyone else that attempts to discipline her can't seem to remember that it really works...

I have a 21-month old girl, and she's doing exactly what she's supposed to be doing developmentally... so she's driving me nuts!

I have a range of responses that include:
- give her what she wants, if it's a minor issue and harms no one
- explain calmly and quietly why things have to be done a certain way or a certain time
- completely ignore the fact that she's resisting, and cheerfully do what needs doing as if there's no problem at all
- distraction that at least temporarily gets her attention elsewhere, and avoids the whole question of who "wins" the battle
- do something silly that turns it into a game instead of a fight
- offer choices so that she feels she has some control
- if all else fails and my patience has run out (I'm quite patient, but I have limits), I lower my voice to a growl, get a firm grasp on her, and tell her in words, tone of voice, and body language that I've had enough.

That last tactic is something I never had to do until the last month or two (the 18-22 month period) and even now, I keep it as a last resort.... more for fear it will stop working than for fear it will traumatize her! She is not one to be easily intimidated. But I do feel it's useful for her to learn that human patience is finite, and that if she goes too far over the line, the results can be unpleasant and a little scary. I know from my own childhood that a parent who gets frighteningly angry too easily, over little things, can leave psychological scars even if they never cause physical pain. But I also wonder what effect it would have if a child's parents *never* showed anger - how would they learn to recognize it and cope with it?

At 2.5, the best tactic I learned for DD was 'do you want to do X all by yourself, or do you want me to do it for you?'. It doesn't work now at 3.25 :-( Now, it's more 'big girls don't do X. Only babies do X.'

Apart from avoidance/prevention (brilliant post, by the way!), the best discipline strategy I have EVER come across for 2-4year-olds is role-plays in times of non-conflict. Use toys or whatever to role-play whichever conflict or undesirable behaviour issue is current, having the preschooler tell you whether the toys are behaving correctly or not, what they should have done, blah blah blah. Also role-play the correct/desirable behaviour. It's brilliant! It always works! Why don't I do it more often?

Off-topic now: I've just noticed today that DD is having a really amazing developmental leap. She told her first blatant lie tonight, is starting to understand about interrupting, kind words, & nice voice (!), is asking lots of questions about older/younger, bigger/smaller etc (comparisons), and is starting to abstract moral issues from common family scenarios ('Brother did the wrong thing'). All of this I have been attempting to (gently) pound into her for about a year now. It's amazing, and wonderful, and a little bit scary about how much is starting to 'click' with her all at once!

A couple of months ago (when my older child was about 2&1/2, my husband was really feeling like the bad guy because he was the battle of wills guy (not his normal MO.) Anyway, at one point during a conversation about what kind of discipline works and how I thought we could improve our house, he said, "It seems like you TRY to avoid doing things that upset her." Turns out I was using the best discipline strategy ever. I'll have to send him over here for a read.

Also, I'm really with everyone who says they use choices. I constantly say things like, "Do you want to walk or should I carry you? Will you get in the car seat like a big girl or do I have to put you in?" I have an independent kid so it works most of the time.

Our son is 27 months and we started using time-outs with him. He gets a count-down (if you don't do XXX by the time I count to three you are going to have a time out) and usually we get to 3 and he's doing X. I give him lots of choices too, when that's possible and when it's not, I try to explain the reasoning which is probably developmentally inappropriate. For example, if he says he doesn't want to put on his winter boots and is wailing about wearing his rubber boots (and it's minus a kagillion outside) I explain that I understand that he likes his rubber boots better (they have trucks on them) but his toes will get very very cold in them and he won't be able to play outside at school. This typically works.

In the morning, he comes in to bed with us. We very recently phased out the last nippled bottle (the am bottle) and he's rejecting morning milk in a sippy cup. This morning he said, "I don't want that cup". I explained that we no longer had bottles, that we gave them to the babies who need them, and that he is a big boy now. He said, "No!" and refused his milk. I've learned to never get in to a battle of wills and let it drop. He started yelling and wailing. I asked him to stop, he said No! I told him I didn't like being yelled at so I offered him a choice -- you can stay in bed with mummy and drink your milk or you can go back to your crib and keep yelling. He chose to stay with mummy and drink the milk.

SO interesting... I find it fascinating that those of you who mention ages at which your child is / was a handful, those ages correspond to major developmental shifts (well, you didn't think I wouldn't notice, did you?).

The providing choices strategy is certainly a great one and has lots of benefits, particularly for those hyper-independent kids and those kids under around 4. But I also think it can backfire at certain ages (they see through the tactic and feel manipulated).

@Laurie: That's a really tough one, and an issue that your child will probably grow out of before you find a perfect solution. The things that I would try, that I"m sure you have already: point out what to look forward to at school before getting there, have lots of lead up time so the transitions don't feel abrupt (so, ask the teachers to give him a 15 min warning that it's almost time to leave, then 10, then 5, etc.), you can try providing a "transitional object" like a special stuffed bear that goes from home to school and back with your child (so he feels some constancy), you can try mirroring his emotions ("you feel angry at mama for taking you away from all the fun", "you're sad because mama's leaving. I'll be back soon though.") so he feels you understand his struggles.

@Cloud: Husbands are a whole 10 other posts... I think one of the best things is to talk to our partners about strategies when they are NOT in the throes of a conflict. So, later that evening, you could mention to your husband that you saw how hard he was trying and that you find a, b, and c work very well. Empathize with how hard it is to NOT make it a power struggle, remind him what his goals are, and keep it light-hearted. I may be projecting here from my own experience (oh hell, I DEFINITELY am projecting), but I think most partners have a hard time being criticized for their parenting when in the throes of a struggle with a puny terrorist. It is already a stressful situation and pointing out that they're doing it all wrong can often make it worst (and doing it in front of the child also is a tough one).

@LeeAnne: BRILLIANT suggestions. The idea of telling our kids what TO do rather than what NOT to do is critical, especially for the young ones who don't have the ability to actually keep in mind the things they need to do and can get so easily distracted.

@Irene: All great tactics, and I totally understand your thoughts about showing your displeasure/anger. I tend towards the camp of encouraging the display of a range of emotions (except contempt) and how those emotions are regulated and repaired effectively. I think these experiences can be invaluable for children. I think showing serious anger, through body language, tone and facial expressions is fine as long as you "repair" with the child as soon as the situation is diffused. More on repair later...

@Penny: I LOVE the role-playing idea. I too always forget to use it because it has to be done AFTER the conflict and, well, I often forget to bring it back up when it's not an issue. As for the HUGE changes that are happening with your DD, isn't it CRAZY?! She's hit the "theory of mind" stage. It is SUCH a cool shift, bringing with it exactly what you mention: empathy, the ability to lie, the ability to abstract (at a low level) what is expected (and feel shame if they are caught not living up to that standard, btw), etc. ENJOY!

@Chaosgirl: I've been using that countdown for 2 years -- I have yet to explain what happens to my boys when they hit 3... so strangely effective. Reasoning is always appropriate as long as you think he understands you. Your example is awesome for that.

Oh, I seem to have arrived at the party after the lights are out!

A great post considering today was a really tough day discipline-wise with my 3 year old. In fact my husband resorted to some pre-historic disciplinary action which created quite a bit of tension between the two of us. And all on Zoe's third birthday too. Will get him to read this post later on.

@Cloud, it seems the sippy cup was too much of a novelty because yesterday the midget spent nap time drinking from the new sippy rather than sleeping, and the same goes for much of nap time today.

@paola: You have no idea how many people have the worst discipline nightmares on children's birthdays. All the hype, expectations, stimulation, sugar, fuss, attention-seeking and socializing seem to be the perfect recipe for many disasters. Sorry to hear it was tough :-(

@Laurie: Yeah, daycare dropoff/pickup can be so hard. My son is 22 months and just came thru an rough few weeks right before the holidays. I was totally expecting to back slide, but we have transitioned back to pre-holiday routine with little fuss. So time/age helps alot (so hang in there-it'll change faster than you think), but here's a few things I tried.

What I found that helps is: 1) talking about "school" in the car on the way. I talk about what his day will be like, naming the teachers/kids/toys/activities that I know he likes. 2) I leave myself a little transition time at drop off. I set him down and try to engage him in an activity (doesn't always work, but sometimes - I never sneak out but if he's doing something, sometimes goodbye is just a glance). I talk "brightly" to the other kids and teachers. I always say hi to one or two of the happy kids. They now get excited when we come in the door, so there's usually one kid jumping up and down to be acknowledged and saying my son's name. I pick him back up when he gets upset, but calmly say, I know he's sad but I have to go and he's going to have a great day. I try to remember that he mirrors my moods, so if I seem upset leaving then he'll feel that, etc. After a couple of minutes, I say goodbye and hand him to the more comforting teacher. I try to stay very consistent about how long I stay to transition.

He cried for about 2-3 weeks then things got better.

On pick up, I do a bit of transitioning too. If he doesn't want to go, I engage in whatever activity he's doing, give it 5 minutes or a natural stopping point (end of the book, etc) and then ask him what daddy's doing at home, or if he's going to play "x" (insert favorite toy/activity) when we get home. And out the door we go.

I'm a bit late here too, but here goes anyway.

@Laurie - we're having the same drop-off/pick-up issues with my 3-yr-old son at daycare. He's been going for a year but has transitioned to the bigger kids' area.

I second (and third and fourth) Amy's point about never ever sneaking out.

The last couple of weeks have worked better.
We've been getting there earlier so we have time to stay with him anywhere up to half an hour - basically however long it takes for him to show us the toys that he's into and have a bit of a play.

Then a bigger kid usually comes up and says hi and takes him away to play. We watch a bit, then call over "bye!" Everyone blows kisses and we leave as he goes back to playing.

I don't know whether it's doing these things that have helped or whether he would have been fine anyway, but it can't hurt!

@Cloud: I so know what you mean about other people looking upon the pick-your-battles strategy as somehow spoiling the child.

I have to defend it over and over to my parents and family (who have very different ideas about what constitutes discipline).

@Paola- DOH! On many levels. I'm sorry the sippy cup thing didn't work out. I think you're right- its a power thing, and she's going to pick something no matter what you do. I am clearly not in any position to give advice, since we are back to having major struggles around getting ready for day care in the morning. There is always some part of the routine that she picks to stonewall us on. We just never know which part it will be!

And I think co-parenting is super hard, even when the kids are behaving. I think my husband is a great father and I hope he thinks I'm an OK mother, but we have had plenty of "discussions" over things one of us does that the other doesn't like.

We do use the "If you don't do X by the time I count to 3, I'm going to do it for you." The problem is, I have to be willing to follow through and force the issue. Trying to force a squirmy 2.5 year old into a shirt is no fun at all, so I use this as a weapon of last resort.

For day care drop off, we have luck with distraction. As in, putting Pumpkin down next to the teacher and saying "Why don't you tell your teacher about your new clips?" or "Look! A garbage truck!" And then running for the exit. We still get melt downs sometimes.

When we were having trouble around leaving day care, I developed a routine to help with the transition: first we wash hands, then we have a little snack, and then we leave. That worked, but made it take FOREVER to leave. My husband managed to wean her off that while I was out with the new baby.

So really, very similar to what @Amy said.

So, yesterday we tried to take our almost 18 month old daughter outside to play in the snow -- total failure. She didn't want to wear a hat, her dad insisted that she wear a hat. She wanted to climb into her usual stroller, we wanted to take the jogging stroller (which can handle the snow). Conflict, unhappiness, retreat to home.

My partner said "how could we have made this work out better" and we talked about this post (or another one that talks about avoiding situations that result in temper tantrums) and came up with a couple of ideas, mainly getting the right stroller out of the garage so that our daughter doesn't get focused on the one that wouldn't work.

Today, she was just as resistant to wearing a hat (but I brought it and lots of warm stuff so that she could wear it if she changed her mind). We met her dad at the corner with the jogging stroller and had a fabulous day. Thanks for the tip.

@Melina: So glad it worked out!

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