There is something about turning 3. For 3 days after my son turned 3, he refused to go to school. Exasperating would be an understatement. On one day, I took 1 hour to get him to get into the car. It reached a point where I yelled at him, which only served to make things worse.
I shall attempt to note down my learning points and strategise my way forward.
#1 Discern the Reason
There is always a reason. Children are authentic and innocent, but they sometimes express how they feel in an unsuitable way and they have not learnt how to regulate. There are a lot of resources out there that talk about this. Here’s what I noticed.
My son was cooperative in eating, bathing and wearing his uniform. The resistance began when it was time to leave the house. He used every excuse he could: play toys and watch TV. So I applied what I blogged about – defocus and refocus. Only to find myself defeated by him. He moved from one toy to another and he really knew how to stretch it. If there were 10 lego blocks to be stacked into a single object, he would play with all 10 lego blocks individually, effectively delaying by 10 times longer (I hope he’s inherited my mathematical genes).
Reflecting with my wife, he was probably acting very rationally – he was trying to maximise his utility gained from his limited resource, time. Playing at home with daddy was probably more fun than going to school (I tried wearing work wear to create the illusion that I wasn’t going to be at home, it didn’t work), even though he enjoys school. He probably wasn’t able to anticipate what was going to happen in school such that it might be more fun than being at home with me. It also probably didn’t help that he had just received a huge lego set as his birthday present and did not have enough time playing with it.
There could have been many other reasons.
- Is he being bullied in school? (We checked with the school on this, he wasn’t and there were no visible signs. He talks about classmates and teachers fondly)
- Did he have enough rest the night before?
- Is he feeling unwell?
- Is there something else that is more interesting? (We figured it was this)
- Was it separation anxiety? (And this)
- And many more…
All the years of attempting to read my wife’s mind has paid off. It is teaching us to learn how to read our children’s mind when they don’t know how to express it.
Husbands, don’t get angry with your wife if they expect you to read their mind. They are preparing you to be an awesome dad.
#2 Come on, it’s common
Defeated, I went on to blogs and social media to find solace and sure enough, I found it. There is strength in knowing that we are not alone. I’m thankful that at least I got through the wearing of uniform, I’m thankful that I don’t have the pressure of rushing to work.
No, I’m not gloating at the misery of others. It’s different. Gloating is finding strength in knowing that others are worse off. I’m finding strength in knowing that there is a community that I belong to, I am not alone.
Parenthood is 90% unglam. The other 10% made it to InstagramLee Min Leo-Yong, 2021
Sometimes we just don’t see enough of the ugly side of parenting that we think we are alone. A couple of friends, upon reading my social media posts, found strength in me sharing about my struggles. They privately got in touch with me to encourage me or thank me for expressing their own struggles.
#3 Connecting before Correcting
My wife shared with me this post before and a kind friend reminded me of it when she knew of my struggles. I’ve also written about this before, the battle that takes place within us, the urge to find quick fixes and the loss of our ability to regulate our own emotions.
This didn’t help me much over the 3 days, probably because there was nothing to correct, or the correcting was done at the wrong time. If the child is throwing a tantrum, trying to correct it at that moment isn’t going to be productive. Disperse the tantrum first, that’s what connecting really means, identifying with the emotion, call it out and help to regulate it. What I tried to do was just hugging and telling him I loved him, etc… it just didn’t address the emotion.
#4 It’s ok not to be ok
I tried, trust me, I really tried. Before leaving home, at the car park, I showered him with hugs and love. I sat down with him on the floor at whichever place he was having a meltdown (in hindsight, I should have gone to a more conducive place, away from attention. I was doing this near the car park…).
Ok, so I failed. I shared that I yelled at my son. I lost it. At that point I was on the verge of tears. I snapped photos and videos of what I was seeing and sent it to my wife, which brought her to tears. I fell from grace.
I love these lyrics, it reminds us of our humanity and offers us hope. It reminds us to draw strength. The scene from Captain Marvel perfectly portrays this. This isn’t an excuse to give in to our humanity, it’s an exhortation to rise above it and be better. It gives us permission to accept our failures, love ourselves and inch closer to becoming a saint in our own right.
#5 Transit to Car Seat
Day 1 was tough (45 mins), Day 2 was worse (1 hour), Days 3 and 4 were easier (30 min, 15 min). There were a lot of opportunities from the home to the car: outside the house, the void deck below the house and detour to the car. This helped us tremendously.
So instead of urging him to the car directly, we used key milestones in the long (20 metres) journey to the car. We urged him to the garden outside the house, then to the open area in the void deck, then to the newspaper stand to buy newspaper then to the depositing of his school bag into the car (not him, just the school bag).
This is a variant of a tug and pull method that one parent described (I can’t find the source anymore, probably a forum). She would let her DD pull her against the desired direction, then she would pull back a little bit to gain more ground, then let her DD pull again, then gain more ground again. It made it look more like play as well as letting her daughter feel like she is getting it her way.
I guess the difference between these 2 methods is one is discrete graph (what we did), while the other is a continuous graph (what she did). Sorry, I just had to infuse some mathematics.
#6 Give in ≠ Give up
Eventually what got my son into the car seat and gave me the permission to belt him up without him struggling (which makes it impossible without exerting bruising force) was the use of YouTube.
Despite trying to avoid the use of devices, we chose to do it anyway. We were clear that it was the lesser of 2 evils and I was on the verge of succumbing to the greater evil – Don’t go school, stay at home. That’s what giving up would have looked like.
But make no mistake, even if we did give up, I’d remind myself about point #4.
As we made our way to school in the car, he continued to find excuses for the 1st minute of the journey. Thereafter, he had soon left everything behind and was ready for school.
It was unusual that this whole saga happened. My son never displayed school reluctance nor separation anxiety. What was the magic about turning 3 years old?
He had had too much fun celebrating his birthday. It made school pale in comparison to the fun he had. Does it mean we deprive him of fun? If we did that, whose interest are we acting for? Our own? So that our lives would be easier? Is that a loving action?
Mondays are usually the toughest, now we know.
But we’ve learnt 1 way that works, we’ve expanded our repetoire of strategies by 1 more. The more we learn, the easier it gets at managing our children. Never stop learning.
One last hint: Sometimes we get our kids to promise and they respectfully say they promise and say ok. I’m not saying that we don’t trust them but proceed with caution and skepticism.
In our journey to become Respectful Parents, don’t let Respect Fool Parents.