Behavioural Analysis: From Toddlerhood to Boyhood

Hercules has been behaving out of character lately. Up until now, I have never had to do a differential analysis for the change in his behaviour (unlike Aristotle, who required one at regular intervals since before he was even 1 year old). Aristotle has always been my super-sensitive child that needed careful management at every step of the way. Every few months, I would be flying to the books to decode his latest behavioural changes and learn how best to manage it.

Hercules was not at all like that. He was a pretty easy baby and toddler – as long as you don’t count the stuff that he destroys on a regular basis, and the scrapes he gets into because of his intense curiosity. Otherwise, he’s generally a very pleasant child to be around because the takes everything into stride. He is often of a sunny disposition and usually recovers quickly from hurts and upsets. He gets excited about almost everything and is a lot of fun to be around.

What happened?

Shortly after his third birthday, Mr Hyde emerged. Hercules became disagreeing, irritable, and extremely temperamental about everything. “No” became a favourite word as he pointedly refused to do anything he was asked to do. Nothing we said or did could bring about a change of heart.

I started timeouts (which weren’t really working) because he would be hysterical while he was in it but the moment I let him back in, he would promise to behave with the most cheerful voice and repeat his offenses five minutes later. It was a hair-tearing experience which left me sorely tempted to throw the mother-of-all-tantrums myself. I could not master the look or tone that Daddy delivered with such effectiveness and I could not gain my child’s cooperation with anything without the use of force.

He wouldn’t take his bath, he wouldn’t eat his dinner, he wouldn’t change his clothes, he wouldn’t sit on the toilet to pee even though I knew he had a full bladder, and the list goes on. After dropping Aristotle at school, Hercules would complain all the way to his own school, stating that he didn’t want to go to school. Since he started school, Hercules has generally been very eager and happy to go to school (there was a small hiccup along the way but it smoothed out very quickly without too much intervention). Even the teachers at school were stunned to observe this change in his behaviour.

Although he resists going to school, the day generally goes well once the other children (particularly his bestie) arrive. The teachers report that no incidences arose and that he participates in almost all the activities willingly. He clearly does not appear to dislike school because he does appear to enjoy it.

What could it be?

I decided to create a differential list of possibilities based on what’s been happening. Here it is:

  • Terrible threes – it is a fallacy that the terrible twos are the hardest stage of early childhood. Children go through various phases of development as they grow up and each will present us with challenging behavioural developments. Heguru mentions that 3 years old is the first of the three rebellious stages that children go through. Now that he is in his fourth year, he is technically no longer a toddler so perhaps this change in behaviour is related to that milestone…
  • Weaning – yes, we are slowly weaning Hercules. My milk supply has started declining as Hercules tells me from time to time that there is no more milk coming out after a short suckle.
  • Sleeping without Mummy – I have been sleeping with the boys since Aristotle was born. Now that Hercules is older and has learned to take comfort from the presence of his brother, we thought it was time to see if they would sleep alone – they would still have each other but Mummy would not be in the room at night.
  • Cutting the nap – around about this time, Aristotle was cutting out his afternoon nap. We have also started noticing that afternoon naps (no matter how short) seem to make it a lot harder for Hercules to sleep at night. If he has an afternoon nap, he ends up sleeping very late and that makes it hard for him to wake up for school the next morning leaving him cranky and possibly rejecting school as a result.

What can be done?

The Terrible Threes

Heguru recommend offering greater understanding and cutting your child some slack during this difficult growth process. Harvey Karp recommends better communication with your child so he feels connected and “heard”.

So recently, when he threw a tantrum at the doors of his school, I, too, flung myself onto the floor beside him and continuously repeated what he was saying: “Didi says ‘No school! No school! No school!'” While I spoke, I stroked his chest. I continued echoing his feelings and stroking his chest until he calmed down.

When he was silent, I reminded him about all the fun things at school that he liked – his friends, painting, making sand castles, the playground… If he started crying again, I would switch back to echoing until he calmed down again. And we continued repeating the cycle until he finally said, “Mummy come with me.”

So I followed him into school. After he was settled, I asked if I could leave and he said “ok”. I gave him a hug and a kiss and told him I would see him after school and he was fine. The next day, there was no problem going to school. Was it because he now felt he was “heard”? Maybe. Or it could also be more sleep…

Cutting the Nap

The day before, he dropped his nap. He fell asleep during dinner and slept all the way until morning. It was the first full night’s rest he had had and perhaps that was why he responded better towards going to school…

Weaning and Sleeping “Alone”

Usually spending more play time with me can help to make up for the lost connection he feels. Now that he is getting less “Mummy time” through nursing and sleep, we need to up the time with other activities.

Slow to Warm Up

This was not listed under the differential list because it can only really apply to the school incident. Hercules has a carburetor engine – he’s slow to warm up to new things. For instance, he hates wearing new clothes and shoes. Even when he was outgrowing his old shoes, he would still insist on wearing them until we had to hide them and force him to wear his new shoes. Once he wears the new shoes, they immediately become a fast favourite. Same goes for new clothes.

In the instance of school, one of the teachers remarked that at the start of every new week, Hercules is usually more reserved than usual. He will gradually warm up as the week progresses.

Conclusion

So I guess we’re just going to do all the solutions mentioned above, cut him some slack, and ride the storm until he finds himself again.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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