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In a negative spiral with my 4yo who doesn't listen

(8 Posts)
evertonmint Tue 22-Jan-13 14:10:41

DS is 4.9, in Reception. I am having some issues at the moment with the fact that he doesn't listen to me at all and I handle it badly and I'm not sure how to get out of this spiral. Today was a typical example:

Walking to school, he starts breaking icicles off the railway bridge (dark, dirty wall by busy main road). I don't mind him doing this as he's just exploring. He then starts licking the icicles. I ask him to stop licking the icicles, explaining that the water is dirty because it is by the side of a dirty road and on a dirty bridge. We had an extensive discussion over the weekend about how if he wanted to try eating snow or icicles (he has an obsession with icy things and also a bit of an oral fixation too!) then he should get them from our back garden. We had talked about how he wouldn't drink water from a dirty puddle so shouldn't do this and he acknowledged why it is similar. I remind him of this conversation so he has had fair warning that I don't want him eating snow/ice from by the road.

He kept licking and eating it. After 3 requests not to eat the icicle, he did it again. I asked him to give me the icicle, I explained that he couldn't have it any more as he wasn't listening to me and my reasons, and said I was going to drop it on the floor so he couldn't eat it any more. I did this. He started shouting at me - about how I shouldn't have done that, how he doesn't want to go to school etc. (this is a couple of mins from school). The rest of the school walk involved me cajoling, him stropping, me trying not to get frustrated, him trying to hit me (well, a limp-wristed semi-slap that he invariably doesn't do with much force or stops part way through - it's the idea of violence that he is expressing rather than him being violent per se) and me eventually just taking him into class as quickly as possible so we could get away from each other as once he is in that mood, and I am then in cross mum mood, we just need to be apart before we blow up.

The icicle thing isn't really important. The issue is that he repeatedly doesn't listen to me, even when I try to explain it in his terms or ways he might understand, and then gets very stroppy with me which winds me up. Once he has got his back up over something he then starts being non-compliant in everything else and I find it harder to deal with so probably become less rational in my dealings with him. At the moment the school run seems to be ending up like this every day. I allow 20-25 mins to do a 15 min journey to fit in dawdle/chat/exploring time but he dawdles even more than I have allowed for or starts doing something I have asked him not to do and ignores my requests to get a move on/desist etc. Time then starts ticking by, I get stressed and we end up at school in this non-listening grump quite often. On the way out, one of the mums asked me if he was ok as she had seen him looking a little down at drop off. It made me realise that it is not ok for him to end up at school like that and I need to sort something out with managing his non-listening.

Sorry that was long! In summary, he doesn't listen to requests, even if I have given several warnings, or reasons why he needs to listen, or asked him to repeat what I have asked so I know he has heard. When he still doesn't listen and I take action, he then gets very stroppy with me, invariably behaves worse on everything else and I respond badly. And we end up in this horrible downward spiral.

Any tips on how to get out of this rut we're in?

evertonmint Tue 22-Jan-13 17:43:21


naomilpeb Tue 22-Jan-13 17:57:15

I'm not sure I'll be much help, but I wanted to say I'm in a very similar situation with DD (4.1).

When you wrote this The issue is that he repeatedly doesn't listen to me, even when I try to explain it in his terms or ways he might understand, and then gets very stroppy with me which winds me up. Once he has got his back up over something he then starts being non-compliant in everything else and I find it harder to deal with so probably become less rational in my dealings with him. this could have been us exactly!

DD is very very similar. She has discovered her temper and gets really angry with me when I try and explain why she can't do something or has to do something else. And like your DS she then starts refusing to move, hold my hand, or generally cooperate. And we get into a negative spiral and both end up feeling awful. I can see she feels bad about making me upset too, but doesn't really know how to deal with that feeling.

I have always tried to 'own my nos' - as in, only say no when it really matters, rather than say no to trivial things (like picking up hundreds of leaves on the way to pre-school or eating snow) - but now I wonder whether this has made things worse.

We've tried a 'you can do X while I count to 10' to give her a time limit, but she's now started yelling 'don't count!' if I start doing that. Might that work for your DS?

I am not generally keen on reward/punish kind of things like star charts or taking away privileges, as I'm not convinced they work at her age and I'd prefer the consequence to be more immediate and directly linked to what she is/isn't doing, but I'm wondering if I should think about them. Have you tried them at all?

Something that sometimes works is just distraction. Every time she starts doing something I don't want her to do, I can sometimes distract her from it by talking about something else. Like, yesterday on the way to pre-school she was about to go off and pull leaves off a big bush (something she loves doing and is asked repeatedly not to do) so I just carried on walking and asked what biscuits she wanted to make at the weekend, and it actually worked! She carried on walking beside me and chattered happily about different biscuits and cakes she'd like. I doesn't always though...

I'm not sure if I've helped - but you really, really have my sympathy. Maybe someone with greater wisdom will come soon and tell us what to do!

naomilpeb Tue 22-Jan-13 18:03:52

God, that was epic - sorry!

evertonmint Tue 22-Jan-13 18:29:30

Thanks! Yes, sounds very similar. Distraction works sometimes if I can get him before it escalates, so will keep at that. I too hate sticker charts, not least because they never worked with him when I tried with potty training and he appears completely indifferent to small rewards in general. But also hate the focus on one behaviour to exclusion of others when I'm more interested in encouraging all round behavioural development as he matures iyswim.

I like the idea of counting. Sometimes I think I say no to an action because I think it will waste too much time rather than because I inherently think it's inappropriate. So maybe allowing it for a count of 10 might work for us both and diffuse the tension.

He's always been very stubborn and independent. Most other kids seem to happily hold hands and do as parents say on school run! Certainly we seem to be only ones who end up at school not speaking to each other! Mine has his own ideas and sees no reason to bend to my will unless it suits him. Admirable qualities in some ways but makes parenting hard (esp when I have same tendencies grin)

BornToFolk Tue 22-Jan-13 18:35:07

You could try a pasta jar. My 5 year old DS has one. One piece goes in for good behaviour, one piece out for bad. It works quite well, I actually rarely take a piece out, the threat of doing it stops him in his tracks! When the jar is full, we going to Legoland but in the meantime he gets a real kick out of me noticing good behaviour and putting a piece in the jar.

averagemum Tue 22-Jan-13 18:53:48

I totally get the frustration of not being listened to and having to repeat something 10 billion times before it gets done / stops. Maybe a different approach would be to accept that there will be strops and arguments and general crossness but to decide that once the conflict is over it's over? I don't mean don't tell him off when you need to etc., but just find a way to drop him off without the lingering feeling bad for both you? Your post chimed with me too - I found myself doing lots of shouting on what should have been a fun trip to the shop / adventure in the snow this weekend with my 4 yr old, and we both felt bad, but once we got there we had a kiss and said sorry for arguing, and the way back was loads better. I also find that I'm much less able to stop myself from getting angry quickly when I'm already in a bad mood about something completely unrelated / hungry / knackered for some reason that isn't his fault - recognising that has helped me to minimize my own reactions a little bit... No idea if that helps!

evertonmint Wed 23-Jan-13 10:06:15

This is all very useful for me - thank you smile

I set off 10 minutes earlier than usual today (so a full 30 mins to do a 15 min journey!) so I knew we would have extra time should he start dawdling or we get into a stand off so that running late wasn't a factor in how i responded.

Naturally he had a brilliant journey to school, no faffing, listening to me when I asked him to hold my hand etc and we arrived early! Oh well... To be fair he was also very good at getting dressed and I didn't have to ask more than once for him to do things this morning. No idea what has got into him as he's never done that before: maybe he's been snooping on Mumsnet ;). Bearing in mind your advice, averagemum, not to leave things lingering, instead of just dropping him off I told him that I was very proud of him for listening to me today and getting ready for school and thanked him for a nice journey to school. Obviously it's easy to do that when he's behaved brilliantly and listened to everything, but I'll try to make my peace every day whatever happens smile

Anybody else got tips? Today is undoubtedly a one-off so I'll be back to dealing with it tomorrow. Taking a lot of pleasure in today though so I can remind myself that he can do it when it's really horrible smile

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