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I want it/I don't want it. My 3 yr old won't make up his mind!!

(30 Posts)
Nellyc1 Wed 12-Nov-14 22:06:28

The most gorgeous and amazing 3 yr old boy moved in with us 3 months ago and after the initial honeymoon period he began acting like a 'normal' 3 yr old grin. However in the past few weeks he has started doing some very hard to manage behaviour. Basically he says he wants something but when I give it to him he says he doesn't want it. Then i take it away and he screams that he wants it. Then I give it back and (surprise surprise) he doesn't want it again!!
This is a lose lose situation for both of us because i can't give him what he wants because be doesn't seem to know what he wants.
Has anyone else experienced this and does anyone have any coping tips? We are working to a 3 strikes rule and then the item/trip etc is taken away. This has meant a few missing meals and trips to fun places!! sad

atoughyear Wed 12-Nov-14 22:11:13

Ds1 does the same. He's a little better now he's older but it still drives me insane. I think it's a self esteem issue and that he wants things but feels guilty for having it or thinks he doesn't deserve it. Now he's older I talk through with him why he does it and obviously try to boost his self esteem.

Nellyc1 Wed 12-Nov-14 22:18:23

Thanks for replying!! Am so glad your situation is getting better - gives me hope!!
Sometimes I think it's because he is so excited about doing something that he can't cope but with meals (I know they're always a bumpy area!) or me playing with him it gets a little muddier.
What did you do to get through it? Did you go down a stern route or a softer one?

MerryInthechelseahotel Wed 12-Nov-14 22:36:27

Congratulations on your beautiful boy! It is still very early days.

I think he is a bit 'new' and a bit young for sanctions. Also the emotion he is feeling is probably anxiety. I would be giving loads of love and affection and in the example you shared I would put whatever it is he is wanting/notwanting within reach and just say "its there when you want it."

I am sure he enjoys some snacks later if he misses meals smile

Jameme Wed 12-Nov-14 22:36:29

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

slkk Wed 12-Nov-14 22:54:30

We have the same here and similar age timescale etc. He will often say he doesn't want something but then cry for it. This week he spent an entire car journey saying ' I don't want grandma' then flew into her arms in excitement when we arrived. I usually let him know I've heard him but also let him know that is what we are doing/having now and it is up to him if he wants to participate. Control is a big issue for our lo. However things are better than early days when he would sob and cry for me then spit and scream when I got near. Now his behaviour is less extreme it's sometimes hard to know what is adoption related and what is normal 3 year old stuff.

excitedmamma Wed 12-Nov-14 23:14:57

Sounds like very normal 3 year old behaviour to me..... pick your battles....

Kewcumber Wed 12-Nov-14 23:30:10

Try "natural consequences" - if you want to go to lunch at X then we need to leave now or they will close. If you can't decide, would you like me to decide for you? Agree with "stuff" just leave it where he knows where it is and say "if you change your mind - look I have put it here, you can get it yourself if you want it"

FamiliesShareGerms Wed 12-Nov-14 23:47:33

Sounds v like the control issues DD has. She's much better now at 4yo - pick your battles would be my advice. If it doesn't matter if he has the blue or red jumper on, it first matter. And never eat the biscuit he said he didn't want grin

Italiangreyhound Thu 13-Nov-14 00:20:36

Nellyc1 congratulations on your new little one.

Our ds joined our family by adoption and was three when he came six months ago. We have a ten year old birth dd.

My dd was not bribe-able and I am pretty sure ds is not. It is a good thing not to be bribe-able, at least in later life, IMHO.

Italiangreyhound Thu 13-Nov-14 00:35:07

Nelly I would suggest you bear in mind it is very early days (for us too as ds has only been home 6 months). I agree with everyone else who has said, softer not stricter. smile

Personally I would say:

Offer items and leave in his reach as others have said.

Be flexible at meals, he can eat or not as he likes and have healthy snacks and non-healthy ones available.

As I am sure you have been told in your adoption prep, behaviour is communication, not trying to tell you too much as I do not know what he is communicating!

Have you heard about PACE? I will find a link and put it in soon. I am sure you have heard but for any others who have not.

So I would try exploring his behaviour with PACE so although he cannot tell you what is wrong he is showing you something is wrong, so stricter will not help, it will only make him feel perhaps scared, perhaps defiant, but it may well not get the result you would like. Even if it does it will perhaps stop the communication, which you need to establish. I am not saying you will always have to, or want to, put up with bad behaviour, but this is just frustrating and annoying rather than 'bad behaviour'.

As others have said pick your battles. I would want to stop violence etc or destroying things etc etc but just being very indecisive is not such an issue so early on - yes, I know it is very annoying and easy for me to say put up with it - sorry - blush

Try and have a quiet time of it, not too many outings or meals out etc, I know it is hard , we did go to places like a fair and a show fairly early on but had to be ready to stop the activity for ds if it was all too much! Which was a gamble as we had dd with us too but we would have had to be aware of what ds could cope with and at the time we did not know! So we took it slow, e.g. gentler play places before the fair and ready to leave the show if we needed to, me with ds leaving dd and hubby there! Luckily it did not come to that!

He may well not know why he is upset, he may well be grieving for the family he had before, whether it is birth, foster or both, he may not be sure where he fits in with your family, so therefore not sure what he wants etc.

My ds sometimes cries and when I ask he does not know why he is upset. I just comfort him, and I would probably say it is good for kids to know it OK not to know why they are upset but just to be comforted by their caregiver/mum etc when upset.

Perhaps he is now trusting you and can express those feelings he could not before. Our ds was quite 'well-behaved', went to bed on time, got up on time etc, when he arrived but after a while he got more 'naughty' and I saw it that he was finally relaxing and expressing some of the frustrations he had been through.

As I am sure you know, children who have been exposed to drugs and alcohol, in vitro, who have experienced chaotic lifestyles, seen violence etc may act in different ways, and may need to be thought of as younger than their years. Many children who come through the care system have had such experiences and even if your son has not he will probably have some things in his past that could contribute to not knowing or not being able to express his feetings well. Think of him more as a toddler than a three year old. A toddler often does not know exactly why they are upset.

I've written tons, sorry! Once I get going it hard to stop! blush

MerryInthechelseahotel Thu 13-Nov-14 00:45:13

italian you are amazing! Don't stop! grin

Italiangreyhound Thu 13-Nov-14 00:45:28

Nelly Were you offered a parenting course? We had to go on one and this is where we were introduced to PACE - playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy.

I do not always remember to use it! I get frustrated and all that. I just think it is helpful to remind myself what it is all about as it is useful and aimed at the kids we are parenting (I would include my birth dd who is challenging, dyslexic and needs plenty of empathy rather than strictness).

This interview, Using PACE to create loving attachments – An Interview with Kim S. Golding and Daniel A. Hughes, is very interesting.

Part way down the interview is...

"As all parents can testify, children who are emotionally secure with their parents will at times express themselves through challenging behaviour. The ‘terrible two’s and three’s’ is a common although perhaps misplaced expression for a normal stage of development in which children express their developing autonomy through tantrums and oppositional behaviour. Behavioural advice can be very helpful in helping parents to manage this sometimes challenging stage with their children. Some children, whether because of the unwitting reinforcement by the parent, or because of their own developmental challenges, will continue to exhibit these challenging behaviours as they grow older, placing additional strains on the family. Many sound parenting interventions have been developed to help parents of these children with broadly helpful results.

Children who have been hurt, rejected, neglected and/or experienced separation and loss of parents early in life do not have an emotionally secure base. For these children the social learning-based approaches are less helpful because they are centrally focused on behaviour, and therefore less focused on the building of trust and security with parents. These children therefore need a more tailored experience of parenting which leads them to develop more secure attachment relationships with their caregivers, whether they are a biological, adoptive, or foster parent or other kind of substitute parent. Attachment focused parenting combines the social learning ideas of traditional parenting interventions with ideas more centrally focused on building emotional security and helping children to heal from past trauma and loss. This parenting tends to focus on building security through higher levels of warm and empathic nurturing, greater attention to emotionally connecting with the child, and helping the child to experience love that is unconditional alongside the behavioural management that is always going to be a core part of parenting children."


"This book describes the ‘PACE’ parenting model. Can you tell us more about the model and how it works?

Kim: PACE is an attitude to help parents connect with the children they are caring for. Through a playful, highly accepting, curious and empathic approach the parents can more deeply connect with their child’s internal experience. This is modelled on the way that parents connect with their infants in healthy parent-child relationships, and is the foundation for healthy relationships and the development of attachment security.

Dan: We have found that the core qualities of playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy tend to develop trust and leave the child in an open and engaged state of mind, receptive to his parents’ guidance and love. We have also found that when parents are able to consistently maintain the attitude of PACE, they are able to relate with their child with greater patience and understanding regarding their child’s behaviour, and then be in a position to respond to it, rather than react to it.

One thing that stands out is the book’s positivity in contrast with many other parenting books’ focus on discipline and managing problems. Is this an important part of your approach?

Kim: Absolutely, we want to help parents have deeper, intersubjective relationships with their children which are deeply rewarding for both of them. Relationships which provide security for the child, and also an experience of deep connection with another are the foundation of healthy emotional development. This goes way beyond discipline and problem management. Our aim is to help parents and children have healthy, emotionally connected relationships within which children learn to adjust to societal expectations for their behaviour, whilst also developing a positive sense of self and the confidence to go forward in their life to make many more happy and connected relationships."

PACE to create loving attachments – An Interview with Kim S. Golding and Daniel A. Hughes ink{\]]/}

There is more, read on if interested or Google about for more.

Hope I am not teaching my grandma to suck eggs.

All the best, Nelly.

Italiangreyhound Thu 13-Nov-14 00:46:11

How lovely * MerryInthechelseahotel* you made me giggle out loud with your kind comment. grin

Italiangreyhound Thu 13-Nov-14 00:54:08

The book is Loving Attachments ink{\]]l}

Italiangreyhound Thu 13-Nov-14 00:54:59

Sorry Loving Attachments ink{\]]l}

Italiangreyhound Thu 13-Nov-14 00:55:38

it is late I can't seem to get the hang of this tonight!

Nellyc1 Thu 13-Nov-14 08:48:06

Thanks everyone for your help. Primarily it is great to know I'm not alone with this behaviour and your acknowledgment of its difficulties lifts a bit of the pressure I was putting on myself.
I'm going to try and much softer approach today and see what changes that makes.
The only thing I will find hard is the idea of leaving the thing he wants/doesn't want in the room with him as this often makes him really scream and lash out. Sometimes trying to push the offending item on the floor. I also kept myself close to him yeaterday during the I want/don't want to play with you and it seemed to make him worse.
But maybe if I go for the cuddle first the hopefully we won't get to that stage.
Thanks! X

meoverhere Thu 13-Nov-14 09:26:05

Hi Nelly

Hope you don't mind me asking a related question on your thread?

Our Dd is 5 and has been home 6 months. She is displaying the same behaviour, but not with physical things. It's with things like brushing her teeth or choosing what to wear...first she wants me to do it, then she wants to do it herself and if I then leave her to do it herself, total meltdown. If I try to help her, meltdown.

Any hints tips on how to deal with this/help deciphering this behaviour? It can be exhausting.

Italiangreyhound Thu 13-Nov-14 12:41:39

Hi Nelly you said The only thing I will find hard is the idea of leaving the thing he wants/doesn't want in the room with him as this often makes him really scream and lash out. Sometimes trying to push the offending item on the floor. I also kept myself close to him yeaterday during the I want/don't want to play with you and it seemed to make him worse.

Personally, I would play it by ear, if it is distressing him, maybe put it in a place he can get it, low down shelf or whatever, box by the hat stand or whatever, and just say, it's in yoru box, my box, the shelf, by the sideboard in another room and you can get it if/when you need it. If the 'item' is you, it is very hard. sad Hard for you to know what to do. I would try a bit of distraction, not too many choices but sometimes one simply choice between two equally good things can help (so I am told) to focus the mind of a child struggling. "If you don't want to play with mummy any more, there is teddy on the sofa or a puzzle on the table, you can choose which you like?"

If anything I suggest doesn't work ignore it. It is all just ideas.

Italiangreyhound Thu 13-Nov-14 12:43:56

Nelly It will almost certainly get easier. smile and you will almost certainly learn what works for your child.

meoverhere hi, sorry to hear you are suffering too. It's early days, like me.

Did you read the link to the interview about the book. Can you see how PACE might work or are you already trying it? Good lukc. smile

Nellyc1 Thu 13-Nov-14 13:25:30

Meoverhere - it's so hard isn't it! You don't want to force them to do things but then again they won't do it themselves!
We're letting a lot of things slip. Our social workers told us that a child can go without food for 6 days (if they have water) and so a missed meal won't hurt. Neither will not brushing their teeth.
But when I do either I'm left with so much guilt - I'm going to give them an eating disorder or their teeth will fall out!!
I've been trying the love bombing today and hugging him when the I want/don't want cycle starts and it seems to be working. But who knows if it will tomorrow.
Am trying not to dread tea time, bath time and bed time!

slkk Thu 13-Nov-14 14:01:37

Sometimes choice itself is stressful for children, especially if early experiences have been chaotic or an adult hasn't been in control. Our lo seems calmer when we remove the choice and let him know that we are in charge, not him. After a control 'blip' where we have taken charge, he skips, sings and seems the happiest ever!

Italiangreyhound Thu 13-Nov-14 19:08:23

Nelly but you know he won't get an eating disorder missing a meal and his teeth won't fall out without cleaning one time. It sounds like you have (maybe) some stresses and worries. Could he be picking up on this? Ignore me if I am wrong!

If you can talk to others in real life as well as us, kids can all be very picky with food and crap at cleaning their teeth and still survive. I am very sure it will all get more normal soon, and relaxing and cutting yourself some slack will help that to happen.

All the best.

Italiangreyhound Thu 13-Nov-14 19:09:14

I should say IMVHO! grin

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