Friday, March 7, 2008

Parenting the Three-year Old

I commented over at 3 Peas today that I think two is a stressful age for the child whereas age three is more stressful for the parents. I only have a sample of one, thus far, but this has certainly been our experience. Two was challenging but our overriding thought at the end of that year was that Joseph just seemed pretty stressed out the whole time. Now that he's three, well, there's still a good bit of stress but he's so much smarter.

Joseph spoke very well by his second birthday. He was a late enough talker that he was once recommended for speech therapy but once he started he was speaking full paragraphs within weeks. So by his third birthday we were used to the constant prattle of a little toddler but the prattle didn't demand all that much of us. He'd talk and talk and on our good parenting days we'd try to engage the talk but he was happy to just talk on his own and look at books and play with toys. Then he turned three. If Joseph started saying "no" on his second birthday, he started asking questions on his third.

"Mama, what is that big yellow thing?"
That's a bulldozer, Joseph. You know what a bulldozer is.
"Mama, what does a bulldozer buld?"
"Mama, what happens if a bulldozer doesn't buld dirt?"
uhhh . . . then it's not bulding dirt?
"Mama, what happens if a bulldozer does buld dirt?"

And on and on. All day long. Don't get me wrong. I adore my son. He is very bright and wonderful and I'm so glad that he's curious about his world. I guess I just thought he would ask questions with answers. And that's the thing of it. Children, I think, thrive on order. Not schedules, necessarily, but order. Margaret knows that we put on pajamas and then brush her teeth and that the toothbrush goes back in the toothbrush dish and then we turn off the light and then we go to bed. She gets the order of bedtime. She's the master of the micro-order these days. Joseph is concerned with order on a more macro level these days. We've found that physical therapists love light-up toys that teach "cause and effect." Push a button and . . . a song! Yaayy! My new rule of thumb for these toys is that if the relationship is simple enough that a toy can do it, you don't need the toy. Where's the toy to teach that when you throw down a basket of books it causes a disordered mess that detracts from the well-being of the entire family? Where's the toy that teaches that eating all your oatmeal at breakfast gives you more energy for your morning fun? There aren't toys for these things. They must be learned very slowly and patiently by the child and the parents suffer right along with all the consequences, natural and imposed.

Joseph is so very aware of his abilities (and, increasingly, his disabilities) that I'm needing to develop actual activities for him. He wants to be an artist (take out the paints!) or a cook (playdough!) or a hunter (hide all the animals and get out the braces and walker). He needs not only the small little routines and rituals but a larger framework for his days and weeks. He needs reading time, and creative time, outdoor time, Mommy time and Daddy time, meals, sleep, baths, time with friends, and time to just be. For the first three years of Joseph's life, and so far in Margaret's, I felt like any shortcomings in our day-to-day life were more or less covered by a parenting style that I think is pretty darn good. But now Joseph notices the lack and he reacts. He remembers things. He's so verbal and so smart but not really rational, yet. I can't explain myself away to him even though he can call me out when I'm neglecting him.

I used to always think that I was prepared to parent children, I just didn't know what to do with babies. That was before I had kids, though, and babies turned out to be not so scary and mysterious after all. I think I've done okay so far in that department. But what about this child growing up so fast before me?

1 comment:

Charlie and Andrea said...

I just had to laugh while reading this post! I can totally relate! I have a 3 year old (almost 4) who spends her entire day bombarding me with questions. I cracked up when you mentioned that you thought you would be asked questions that have answers! I know what you mean!

This is my first time to stop by your blog! I enjoyed reading today and I think that we have a lot in common!!