DS 3.9 doesn't really want to do anything (with us) - at a loss

(37 Posts)
confusedgirlfromtheShire Sun 20-Jul-14 10:18:14

At an absolute loss to know what to do with our DS. I think DH and I are failing him, so coming on here for advice. Sorry it's long, trying not to drip feed and answer possible questions in advance!

DS seems reasonably happy with us and enjoys our company. I work four days a week, DH full time. He is in nursery three days a week, sometimes he whines about going but always has fun there. He plays sort of with the other children, sort of on his own, but nursery have no concerns about him socially/developmentally. The fourth day is with his nan - they play toy trains (his favourite thing to do in the world), go to the shops or the park; he is usually good there too. He eats well and when at home and we aren't doing anything in the afternoon he will sleep for up to 2.5 hours and still sleep at night 8-7. Basically, trying to detach myself, I think he's a nice little boy with a lot to like about him, he is pretty good on playdates which we have regularly (say once or twice a week). He seems to come alive with other children he knows well and even that might take half an hour. He is chatty and confident once out of his shell.

The issue is that he is so scared of so many simple things or reluctant to do anything and the gap between him and other children his age is getting more and more noticeable. He will not:
- walk more than ten minutes
- play in the park if there are other children there, go on swings, slides, climbing frames....
- go for a walk into the woods behind our house with us.
- get in the bath without sobbing and crying because he's worried about water getting in his face. Hairwashing is a nightmare. Once in, he won't get out. Cries and panics he's going to get cold.
- go swimming. DH has tried multiple times. It takes 30 mins just to get him to dip a toe in, he's terrified. Kids half his age are going down the big slides and loving it. Makes us feel awful.
- ride a bike (will sit on it and walk but won't even attempt to pedal)
- won't go on a scooter (terrified of falling off)
- doesn't want to leave the house for his music class. Only thing that is guaranteed to get him out is going out with DH in his sports car.
- won't wear shorts - terrified of falling over. Took half an hour to get him in shorts the other day but it was 90 degree heat so had to really.
- dance or participate in any activities at parties (went to a 4year old's party last week- he stuck to me, in my arms, like velcro although he knew all the children who were his age). Wouldn't even dance quietly with me in the corner away from everyone else to "warm up". It was embarrassing for me to be honest. Every single other kid was participating. He was terrified and crying.
- enjoy grown up stuff like food festivals/craft markets with things for kids to do - hates facepainting, bouncy castles, merry-go-rounds...

He is not much of a fan of doing crafts/art at home, baking, and other gentler activities. Just worried that he is so..... limited and we struggle to know what to do with him. He seems so behind other kids and we are worried it will start to really put him at a disadvantage. Whatever we suggest, he doesn't want to do, cries and whines and wants to stay in and play with his trains. Weekends are very stressful as a result and frankly, boring. Please help - we are clearly failing him. I am heavily pregnant with DC2 and worried about doing it wrong all over again.

Namechangearoonie123 Sun 20-Jul-14 10:24:43

I think you shouldn't ask him at all as it's made him really anxious. He feels responsible in some way for decision making.

Take him out, take a buggy in case he stops walking. And ignore, ignore, ignore the whinging. He's getting way too much attention from it.

His tolerance for being uncomfortable will increase if you're in the woods and just chatting you and dh. You have to increase his tolerance for things that are different by just doing them and being natural about it.

Get a paddling pool, you and your dh get in it. Splash about, listen to music, have fun, and ignore the whining outside - he will eventually get in it.

In general just do things, some he will like, some he won't, some he will tolerate. But don't run your life round him. Just go out and do them.

cece Sun 20-Jul-14 10:29:45

My DS1 was a bit like this. I agree he is getting too much attention. We just used to carry on as normal and 'drag' DS1 along. Ignoring the whines and moans as much as possible. He pretty much always enjoyed things once we were there and doing them.

For instance I once took him to Thorpe Park. The moaning went on all the way there. On the way home he kept telling me how awesome it was.

confusedgirlfromtheShire Sun 20-Jul-14 11:40:07

Thanks for your advice...my DM says he gets too much attention too.

I think I read on here though that children get anxious if they think they don't have any control at all so that's why we ask him to help choose what we do (between A or B) or make suggestions.

It's hard because it ruins our precious weekends for us too. It's difficult to ignore if he's refusing to walk and has just collapsed on the pavement - if we walk off he WON'T follow and then he's not safe... he is a big lad and it's getting ridiculous, needing to use a buggy at his age. He's too heavy even for DH to carry for more than a few minutes. If we can't physically manhandle him on to a merry go round ride or fairground attraction, or make him look at or do XY or Z then we end up totally running out of things to do at a place where we should comfortably be able to spend half a day... me being the size of a small whale doesn't help either as I'm permanently knackered.

We are trying to carry on just doing stuff and not letting the world revolve around him, thinking he would start to get the message and enjoy stuff more as he got older - it just hasn't happened and I guess we are both ground down by it.....

CultureSucksDownWords Sun 20-Jul-14 14:56:26

confusedgirl, the choice thing should be more along the lines of "do you want these shorts or those shorts" i.e. a small choice between two things that are both ok choices that you've decided on. Then your DS feels like he has some control but it is on a safe level for him.

I would agree with all of the advice of the PPs. With using a buggy - you are heavily pregnant and he won't walk far so it seems reasonable until he is better at walking distances.

Don't forget to praise him for each tiny little thing that he does well or without being reminded to do.

GirlWithTheLionHeart Sun 20-Jul-14 15:16:54

He sounds quite introverted. The fact he opens up after a while to other kids is a good sign. Maybe it's just his personality? Not everyone is outgoing - wants to dance, go on slides swimming etc

Do you try and just embrace his personality and do things he enjoys rather than trying to get him to do things he doesn't like? (Not meant to sound condescending at all btw)

confusedgirlfromtheShire Sun 20-Jul-14 18:42:36

Hiya, thanks. Yes, we praise a lot when he does something he would normally struggle with - ie walking to the bus stop!

He is definitely an introvert, as are we, but I kind of learnt how to adapt early on as a child to "expected behaviours". DH on the other hand had real problems as an extreme introvert with very narrow interests up until his mid 20s and had, in his words, a totally miserable time as a result - so we are trying to let DS be who he is but also "push" him a little, frankly for his own good. Otherwise we would be stuck in the house all day every day playing with trains, which you can only do for so long as an adult. I think the swimming and bike riding are "life skills" which we should encourage (my parents never did and I always remember how it felt at school being so behind my peers). We also think it's important to expose him to a range of (relatively gentle) things to at least try and broaden his horizons...

It sounds from your replies that at least there is nothing major or fundamentally wrong with us as parents - because I know you all would tell me if there was!!

CultureSucksDownWords Sun 20-Jul-14 19:03:20

With the praise, make sure you praise him for every little thing that he does that is positive. Not just when he does something he wouldn't normally do.

Also, he's only 3 - I wouldn't worry about him wanting to play with trains all day! A lot of 3 year olds (who are extrovert/introvert whatever) do that, it's completely normal. I would also be careful about pushing things now, as you could put him off permanently. So, how about a trike rather than a scooter or bike?

With the swimming, will he play with water in a paddling pool to begin with, until he's used to water?

confusedgirlfromtheShire Sun 20-Jul-14 19:22:09

Ok, that is something we can try, thank you Culture. Maybe also another six months might see some improvements... he is very excited about the baby and I've managed to whip up quite a bit of enthusiasm in him about the thought of being in charge and teaching the baby things - maybe that will help him get his confidence up in a funny sort of way.

Yeah, weirdly he does like the paddling pool and loves getting wet, including a splashed face... this is why we thought he might like swimming now. DH takes him only when it's quiet and in the toddler pool so trying to ease him in gradually.

He has a trike but it's the same issue with not wanting to pedal. He doesn't really fit on it anymore as he's 107cm! Come to think of it, nursery say they've seen him pedal fine there - I don't know really whether to believe them to be honest as they always tend to tell parents a good story, don't they?

Was wondering whether we should try sending him out with some friends of ours and their DD (his best friend) as they've offered - friends are absolutely positive he'd be fine and love it. If so, that means the problem is us...

Delphiniumsblue Sun 20-Jul-14 19:28:47

Your first reply was really good.
You are making him insecure with choices. Just be matter of fact.

fledermaus Sun 20-Jul-14 19:33:49

My DS isn't really an introvert, but he does play up a bit more for me than other people. I have seen him pedal a trike at nursery (from a distance) but he claims it's too hard to pedal one at home. Similarly taking him swimming - he would cling to me the whole time, not even hold the side, panic about his face getting wet. I sent him to swimming lessons and when the (fairly strict grin) teacher told him to get in and swim across the pool he did. I almost fainted in shock grin

I'd say your boy sounds more introverted and sensitive than many, but also I wonder if he has fallen into a pattern with you of making a fuss about things and it being a drama? I would try completely ignoring the crying/panicking about the bath for instance. You can't force him to enjoy bouncy castles or merry go rounds, but if you want to go for a walk in the woods stick him in the buggy and go.

joanofarchitrave Sun 20-Jul-14 19:34:58

NO it doesn't mean the problem is you - he feels absolutely safe with you and can show everything he feels and know that he won't be harmed.

I do agree that some pushing will be good, and just doing things as best you can. However, a small child who will play with trains all day and will never whinge to go out and do things may be an absolute Godsend when you have a small baby!

At this age when 'phases' are longer, it can be hard to think that everything is still a phase. He may always be introverted and enjoy quieter pursuits but he will not stay like this for ever.

GoogleyEyes Sun 20-Jul-14 19:45:14

Can you identify what it is he finds hard? Is it noise levels? New people? Not being able to touch / get to you immediately if he needs to? If you can work that out, then it will help you identify how to introduce new things without him being quite so anxious.

For example, swimming might be 'there are no big kids in the pool, no-one will splash you if you don't like it. If big kids come I will take you to the other end of the pool. I promise we won't do anything in the water except cuddle, unless you want to.'

I have a child like this - new things take a bit of planning and preparation, but easier as she gets older and can read a book / ask me about whatever new experience is coming up.

heyday Sun 20-Jul-14 19:46:09

Definitely use a buggy until he gets out of this no walking phase... It's hard work carrying a toddler.
Could you get him a little pair of goggles so he can wear them in the bath or paddling pool so he doesn't get water in his eyes.
How about making up a little scrap book where he can put photos of all the places he has visited. He can even take a toy train along and make it a bit of a quest to be photographed with his train in as many different places as possible.
A trip out with friends could be a good idea too just to change the dynamics a bit.

specialmagiclady Sun 20-Jul-14 19:50:51

Good advice here. On the bike thing, because of balance bikes, people are very keen to get their tiny children riding bikes. Why? I don't want a 3 yo going much faster than I can catch him, frankly. Also a balance bike is more than adequate at this age, riding a bike is a hugely complicated skill - pedalling, balancing, braking, speed awareness...

On the swimming front, though, I would persist a little. Fear looks like a brick wall til you break through it and it's only when you get to the other side you realise it is merely brick-effect wallpaper! But if it's allowed to fester, it can sort of calcify into something real and solid.

Do the paddling pool thing, then find a pool with steps into it and get him sittng on the steps. Make it clear that you are just going to sit on the top strep today. Do that for a few minutes then go home. Next time extend the time or go down a step. Not both. Reward heavily. Keep going. When he can get in the water and splash about a bit, outsource to a swimming teacher. (Like me! I teach lots of people this age!)

Another thought: maybe if he's out of the house all week at nursery and away from you, he maybe just wants to "depressurise" after a busy week. Could you do a visual timetable with a picture of trains in the morning, woods/swimming afterwards and trains again in the afternoon so he knows he can get back to them.

confusedgirlfromtheShire Sun 20-Jul-14 20:44:27

There's some really great tips in here, thanks ladies. I will definitely discuss with my DH and put them into practice!

Fledermaus - that behaviour is exactly how my DS acts.

Googley - I have asked, calmly when cuddled up on the sofa, why he doesn't like doing X, Y or Z? Just get the same shy answer "because I don't..." If I say is it because (insert reason) he'll say yes. If I say is because (polar opposite reason) he'll also say yes, e.g the swimming pool can't be too hot AND too cold! Hard to get to the bottom of it.
I promise to stay very close, try to keep upbeat, tell him he only needs to do something for a minute and then we'll go, give loads of reassurance and cuddles -btw I am always very physically affectionate with him which he enjoys, so he does know he is loved.

specialmagiclady - yes, I should have said, I was only talking about a balance bike not a real one!

Oh dear god - the trains. He plays by himself for about two minutes then is begging me to play with them with him, or for me to invent a situation for the trains to act out. After 2 years of this phase to the exclusion of most other things I'm a spent force. He loves reading - we have to hide his Thomas the Tank Engine boxset to get him to read other things! I do still try but I am tearing my hair out with boredom. Won't be helpful with a new baby to contend with!

He sounds like my DS who is about to turn 4 at the end of the month. I also have an 8 week old baby.

He is quite reserved and what nursery call sensitive. Right up until the baby came he was in the buggy, then the day the baby came home he was like "the baby can have my buggy now".

Can I just be reassuring and say that he's actually been a lot better since the baby came. It's like the focus is not on him and he's absolutely cool with that.

It was like pulling teeth to get him out the house but now once me and the baby are out of the house he just follows on.

I think it helps that I'm around a lot more and he's figured out the good things happen outside the house e.g park, ice cream etc. he really enjoys being "helpful" with his brother too.

Toastmonster Sun 20-Jul-14 22:55:17

I could have written your exact post, DS, exactly the same age. Same behaviour, it's utterly exhausting. He will not walk further than 5 metres without asking for a carry so I've resorted to the pushchair again, strange looks as he's so tall and looks older. Everything the same, trains, scared of birthday parties ( even his own ), doesn't want to do anything. I've always been so worried but I've finally accepted that this is him and as long as he's making progress in himself then I won't compare any more as it was making me ill. One thing I do find that helps is that if I've taken a video of him at soft play or park, then I show it to him and then say shall we go, he usually says yes. It's almost reminding him how much fun he had. I'm also a believer in disequilibrium / equilibrium in children ( google it, someone on here told me about it ) and it's certainly true for my son.

MultipleMama Mon 21-Jul-14 03:42:14

Have you thought about museums, and zoos as an alternative to swimming? He might find them more stimulating and interesting. I'm sure museums have train stuff!

Have you ever considered buying an inflatable train and filling it with plastic balls? And inviting a couple of his friends round to play?

My son loves Crafts and all things Space. Maybe you could engage him crafts by building a train with carboard and making "passengers" with lollipop sticks etc.

If you want him outside more, you could try a remote control train that he can take on walks with him. Would he go out in one of these instead of a bike?

I'm all out of suggestions! smile

dobedobedo Mon 21-Jul-14 04:05:27

He sounds exactly like my ds when he was 3! You're not failing as a parent, you just got a very sensitive kid. This will have a lot of positives when he's older, trust me! Mine is now 9 and a lovely little boy. Very perceptive to people's feelings and situations. And he's outgrown all the various fears etc he had.

As for the swimming thing, ds was the same. Petrified! It got to the point where he had to go swimming with school and I was dreading it, thinking they'd have to for sure call me to collect him.

Nope. Teachers told him what to do, so he did it. His friends jumped in, so he did. He loves swimming. If I get water on his face at home during bath or shower times? He'll STILL freak out sometimes. But that's because I'm his safety net, like you are for your ds. He doesn't "need" to be brave if you're looking after him.

And ignore the whinging or tell him you point blank refuse to do anything he asks for in a whiney voice.

Sorry can't remember other points in your OP, it's 4am smile

Thumbwitch Mon 21-Jul-14 04:07:08

We didn't stop using the pushchair for DS1 until he was 4; at 3.9 I wouldn't worry too much. You do what suits you as a family, not what society "expects".
I couldn't carry DS1 as I have a bad back, so it was as much for my benefit that we took the pushchair as his - but I think that his legs did get tired if we walked a long way and it was eaiser to have the pushchair to put him in when he got tired than trying to drag him along. I'll be doing the same with DS2 as well.

dawnlight Mon 21-Jul-14 06:01:04

Your lovely little ds sounds so much like my ds (8) at that age. I really understand how physically and emotionally draining it can be when our children won't just 'join in and get on with it'. My parents used to drive me mad by constantly asking me "what's the matter with him?"

Some children are just very sensitive and need a whole heap more patience and really can't just be chucked in at the deep end. They do get there though. It often just takes time, and a different approach.

walking We never use the 'W' word. Telling ds we are going for a walk is guaranteed to make him go limp and start whining. We go, exploring, on an adventure, for a trek, a hike, a race, a run etc. We also quite often don't tell him where we are going, just what. So, out for a picnic, to find minibeasts, to a café, to take photos, or nothing at all. I've learned that sometimes keeping information to an absolute minimum can be the best route forward. Maybe take the trains on a ride through the woods?

bathtime. What worked for us was just picking ds up and putting him in. No discussion about it. A really fun bathtime with the action men (could he bath some of his trains?). 1 minute warning about getting out, followed by pulling the plug if he didn't comply, again no discussion. Lots of warm towels around for when he did stop shouting and finally got himself out.

Hairwashing give him a towel to hold against his face and get him to tip his head backwards, wash his hair quickly then rinse quickly with a cup, not the showerhead. Rub his hair dry while still in the bath. Ds hated those trickles of water that run down your face/neck after you've washed it.

swimming The swimming pool can be a massively scary place. My dd had a terrible fear of the drains in swimming pools that at one point (before she could articulate it properly) it also included toilets and baths. It took 18 months to go from her not being able to leave the changing room to returning to swimming lessons (ages 4 to 6.5). I think you've just got to be massively patient and encourage him to go a little bit further each time. Again, could the trains go swimming? We took some barbies in with dd, which got her from the edge of the pool to knee deep. I also found a pool with a graduated shallow end, which really helped as there was no 'getting in'.

bike / scooter / music class Don't push him. He'll do stuff like this when he's ready.

won't wear shorts Get some long linen or thin cotton pants. These things just aren't worth the battle. My friends little boy would only wear long sleeved pyjama tops for about a year. He's 7 now and wouldn't be seen dead in a long sleeved pyjama top. grin

parties Take him, but explain to the mum when accepting the invitation that he finds parties quite stressful and that you might not stay. Ignore any hmm responses. ds still hates loud chaotic situations, so I sometimes turn down an invitation if I think It'll be too much for him. He mostly loves parties now though.

food festivals/craft markets Again, noise, too many people, over-stimulation. Don't take him, or take him for a very short time. I find if ds has a book to read we get much longer out of these events now, as reading gives him some 'zone out' time. He wouldn't have coped with this kind of thing at all at 4, or it would have been a full time job for me to keep him on an even keel, so not worth it.

Good luck op.

Delphiniumsblue Mon 21-Jul-14 06:38:29

Very sensible advice from dawnlight.

goshhhhhh Mon 21-Jul-14 06:49:18

Mine was a little like this but being a number 2 he had to get on with things - so I agree being matter of fact & giving limited choice helps.
Sensible advice - we did similar stuff 're hair washing. Also just didn't wash it very much. He now washes his own (7). Best thing we ever did was swimming lessons when he was 4. Screamed like a banshee on first lesson (just at beginning) & then just got on with it. They were so much better at it then us & the other children helped with expectations. Now loves it.
Just persever it will get better.

bronya Mon 21-Jul-14 06:49:36

I too have a very sensitive child. He's been like that from birth and we have made a conscious effort to take him out and about, keep him experiencing new things, and to reassure him without letting him give in to his fears. It has definitely helped. For things at home - I'll start doing something, then he'll want to join in. It's his choice to take part and he can stop at any time, but he will want to play with Mummy if I look like I'm having fun. Out and about, he can hold my hand for reassurance, or Daddy will carry him if it's very busy/noisy, but we are going to be wherever it is until we've finished what we went to do. He knows to look to us for help if he's a bit overwhelmed, and takes enough comfort from that now, that he copes quite well without always needing it.

Try to be there if he needs you, but don't let him run away from the situation, is what I'd say. So he can sit on your lap somewhere busy and watch, fine - but you're not going home. That sort of thing! You can help him learn to cope. What you need to avoid, is him getting stressed and upset as that creates negative associations with that sort of activity. So let him have his favourite toy in the buggy as a comforter, get Daddy to carry him or sit on the edge of the activity so it's not too overwhelming. In time, he'll adjust.

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