Year three for Chris was a tough one. He seemed to take "terrible twos" to new heights in terms of shenanigans, difficult behavior, and meltdowns. He destroyed furniture, drew on walls, smeared poo, screamed, ran around like a lunatic. He threw food, dumped cups of ice water, and generally caused chaos wherever he went. He pushed us to our limits on many occasions. There were times when I just walked into the bathroom, closed the door behind me and burst into tears. How could this little person push me over the line?
I read books and sought advice from friends. The more I read and talked, the more I felt as if it was my fault that things were like this. I was told that he wouldn't do this stuff unless I was "letting him get away with it" or that we "need more rules". I felt hopeless and miserable.
I started to wonder what exactly people thought was happening in a house like mine, where there's a wild one. Do people think that I sit back with my eyes shut and let the walls crumble around me? Do they think we equip him with sharpies and scissors and let him loose? The truth is that even if there are rules for behavior, some little ones will challenge them and a time out isn't a deterrent. He just wasn't connecting the behavior with the time-out in a cause & effect way.
Over the year we got better at being his parent. We turned around his dresser so he couldn't climb the drawers or empty them out. We took the shades out of the windows so he couldn't pull them down and took all books from the room to prevent shredding. We installed gates EVERYWHERE, bought cups with lids for us and put knob covers on any door we didn't want him to open. Yeah, it might sound like lockdown, but we turned our home into a place that would reduce his temptations so there would be less frustration for us (and more sanity) and more days where we had no time-outs or yelling. We were ALL happier with things this way. It's not pretty, but it's not forever.
Somewhere along the line things started to change. I'm not sure when exactly, and I honestly didn't realize how much things had changed until a friend who I rarely see said to me "From your posts on Facebook, it sounds like things are getting better". And I thought....yeah, it had been a while since there was an "incident" so extreme that the world would be amused at hearing about it. I started to think about my little boy (who was now 3 years old) and how far things have come in the last 6 months and it's remarkable. He's still him but he's a better listener, time-outs ARE an effective deterrent for naughty behavior, and we even put the shades back in his bedroom. He's not a perfect child, but his behavior is so changed that we feel hopeful for the future.
So what was it that helped? I think setting him up for success by extensive childproofing his spaces was really important. But the biggest factor was just him growing up. Maybe his behavior was related to the frustration that comes with limited verbal communication, maybe it was impulsiveness, maybe it was lack of cause & effect understanding. I don't really know for sure, but things are better and I'm thankful.
To parents of a challenging child, who are at their wits end, who are in tears, or finding themselves saying "NO", "Stop that", "Don't touch", "Put it down", "Let go", or "Please do not eat that" more than they say anything else, please know it won't be forever. It's not like a light switch. The change can sneak up on you, and one day you will find yourself in a much calmer, happier place and wonder how the heck that happened.