Saturday, September 17, 2011

Swiftly Approaching Disequilibrium

fI love these books by Louise Bates Ames & Frances L. Ilg in which they describe the development and behavior of different age groups. Here is the description of the three year old on the back cover of Your Three-Year-Old Child: "A three-year-old child is a real puzzle to parents, sometimes anxious to please and befriend, sometimes strong-willed and difficult to get along with. At the heart of the three-year-old's personality is often an emotional insecurity--and this causes a host of problems for parents!"

The first chapter of the book describes the three-year-old as easy-going and eager-to-please. Then, it describes an interesting phenomenon: at three and a half, the child undergoes a period of disequilibrium. Other Ames & Ilg development books describe how, usually at half ages, children undergo periods of emotional, physical, and behavioral "rockiness". This period is usually followed by a period of peace and stability. Here are some characteristics of three-and-a-half year old disequilibrium: "Refusing to obey is perhaps the key aspect of this turbulent, troubled period in the life of the young child....he strengthens this will by going against whatever is demanded of him.... (5)," "...characteristically inwardized, insecure, anxious, and, above all, determined and self-willed....The three-and-a-half-year-old child seems emotionally very insecure from the word go...(6)," "....stuttering...tensional, too, may pose special problems...emotional insecurity....sometimes it almost seems that nothing pleases...(7,8)."

When Aydon turned three, I immediately read and reread this Ames & Ilg book dedicated to three year olds. I do not follow all the discipline advice in the book, but I appreciate the description of age-appropriate behavior; it helps me be patient and understanding when my little guy has trouble.

At three, Aydon was so happy and easy to manage that I thought perhaps at three-and-a-half he would be an exception to the "rule". I am beginning to believe otherwise! Aydon is not three and a half yet, but he is almost there. Little three-and-a-half year old behaviors are manifesting themselves. Yesterday, at supper, he screamed, "Don't look at me!" to his dad, and then a few seconds later, sweetly offered to share some of his food with said longsuffering daddy.

But that is not all that happened yesterday! Earlier in the day, at the end of a long grocery-shopping trip, as I was sighing with relief and feeling proud because baby was sleeping peacefully on my bosom in the sling and Aydon was cheerful and visiting with me from the front seat of the cart, I encountered some astonishing behavior that ushered me swifty into the world of three-and-a-half. It all started with a small dollar-bill-like slip of paper that children are given at the checkout. It is called an HEBuddy buck; children place it in a kiddie slot machine located at the store exit, in exchange for stickers. Now, usually the cashier gives Aydon several said "bucks." But today, Aydon received only one. Being that Aydon was holding the buck, I thought that he realized he only had ONE to spend. I scooped Aydon out of the cart and set him in front of the machine. He skillfully fed the buck into the slot, and withdrew his sticker. "Ok, let's go home!" I cheerfully exclaimed, feeling like a GREAT momma (keep in mind that this slot machine is at the exit to the store; in other words, the kids using the machine are on display in front of all shoppers checking out). And that is where the trouble I lifted Aydon back into the cart, he loudly declared, "No!!! I don't wanna ride in the cart! AAAAHHHH! I want another HEBuddy buck!!" (flailing and ruckus ensue). A grandma nearby, seeing my son's distress, offered him an extra buck (, thank you, grandma). Foolishly, I took my screaming child out of the card and let him use the next buck. Then, as I lifted him back into the cart, drama ensued once more (oh, at this point he was also holding some pamphlets he had grabbed off a shelf), "NOOOO! I don't want to ride in the cart!" I finally managed to get him seated, upon which he angrily threw the pamphlets to the floor. Once again, foolishly, I lifted my boy out of the cart, growling, stifling my embarrassment, "Oh, no, Aydon, we need to clean these up." I held his hand and walked him to the pamphlets, placing one in his hand. "No! I can do it myself," exclaimed my suddenly-maniacal child, dislodging his hand from mine, and running like a madman toward the front door. At the last minute, he veered away, then made a wide arch towards the pamphlet stand, tossing the pamphlet onto it. And yes, horror of horrors, before I could get a grip on things, he repeated this with each of the other three pamphlets. Finally, I managed to grabbed my son and lifted him back into the cart. There was some good that came out of this: my son and I had an excellent and bonding conversation about the importance of listening to mommy on the way home.

As I reflected on the grocery store experience, I came to a startling realization: three-and-a-half is swiftly upon us. So, here are some decisions I am making in regards to how I want to handle things:

     1) As one of my sweet readers pointed out: parent by the Spirit. Allow Him to control me. When a situation presents itself, take a deep breath, recognize that I do not have to let sin (anger, etc) control me, and allow the Spirit produce his fruit in my life (gentleness, patience, self-control, etc).

     2) Revert to a main strategy used at two and a half, namely, remain near my child at all times, enforcing rules through swift, kind, firm action. For example, he absolutely must hold my hand in the parking lot, he will ride in the cart at the store, and if I make a request, I will stand near him so as to ensure that my request is heeded. This is because I realize that my son's inner world is rocky and out of sorts right now, and he needs stability in his outer world because he will have more trouble controlling himself than he used to.

    3) Spend a lot of time outdoors, engaged in free play. Limit television, which winds little man up. Provide my precious child with a routine that is not too rigid, yet allows life to feel somewhat structured.

   4) Remember that aberrant behavior is the result of inward upheaval, respond with compassion, don't take things personally, and recall how quickly this stage will pass, therefore enjoying each moment, whether easy or difficult to navigate.

Most of all, I want to remember that love and grace trump all other actions and attitudes, for my own Heavenly Father is constantly pouring out His love and grace on this often-crazily-behaved momma, as He gently reminds me that I need Him to take control, lead, and guide me at all times!



  1. This is really excellent. Thank you for sharing. My daughter just turned three and I would not exactly describe her as compliant!:-) I hope it doesn't get worse at the half year! 2 was great but three is a bit tougher. I love your exhortations to yourself.

  2. Very interesting. My oldest will be 3.5 in December. She is very sweet right now, we really get along great! But everyone keeps telling me "just wait." I think we have a good relationship and practices in place. She is fine with listening and obeying as long as we hear her out, if that makes sense-- she will accept "no, we aren't going to do it that way" as long as we have listened to her idea. thanks, it's helpful to know what to expect. We shall see I suppose!!

  3. Oh, that must have been difficult, to be caught by surprise like that! EW commented the other day that everything seems to be going smoothly right now and wondered when that will change. I told him both girls are supposed to hit hard ages, 3.5 and 9 months, in December, so get ready! :-)