Dear Savvy Parent,
I have two questions:
1. At times, it seems my son has two personalities: a well-behaved one (in front of his father) and the typical toddler behaviour (in front of me and any female relatives). Is this normal?
2. He behaves fairly well at home, but at grandparents’ and in public (when his father is not there), he constantly pushes the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. It almost seems he wants to check how far he can go before I snap… Again, is it normal for boys his age?
It is very common for young children to behave differently at home from when away from parents or away from the home. Do not worry that your child has a case of the “Jekyll and Hyde” behaviour, it is normal and I’m sure many other parents can attest to this.
Unfortunately, it’s usually the worst behaviour that is saved for parents and generally it tends to be the mothers that get the brunt of it.
How does one deal with this?
First of all find a strategy to deal with your anger. Ask yourself, what is your breaking point and how can you prevent yourself from reaching it? Figure out what works for you. For example, take a few slow breaths while reciting some tasbih quietly to yourself when you start to feel yourself getting angry.
When a child insists on something or is unwilling to comply with your wishes, it can be tempting to give in, especially if it means avoiding a tantrum, but all children need boundaries, and the best thing you can do to encourage positive behaviour when your child acts up around you is to be vigilant about setting and enforcing boundaries. Do not get into a power struggle with your child. Generally, in the case of a power struggle, parents feel that their power is being tested and challenged by the child.
The more the parent tries to exert power, the easier it is for the child to win simply by saying “no” or making some excuse and then the focus becomes more about who’s in charge rather than the misbehaviour itself. I am sure many parents out there have found themselves in this exact situation. Remember whatever is going on, whatever your child is doing, losing your temper won’t help. It may feel good or like it’s working in the short term, because you have enforced your parental authority and power, but in the long run the child has learned an ineffective lesson about managing conflict. Ask yourself, “How can I best handle that situation and how can I make this work without fighting?” You’ll have a much better chance of resolving this situation effectively.
Your child is old enough and I’m sure has a pretty good handle on what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behaviour, hence the button pushing and testing of boundaries. Again, yes, it is all very normal.
Next, lay the ground rules. Remain firm and consistent; set clear and most importantly FAIR consequences for unacceptable behaviour. For example, if your child doesn’t clean up his toys, then you take those toys away (set a reasonable time limit, such as 2 days). Another example would be, if your child has a nasty attitude around family members, you will send him away to another room (for example). If he can’t be nice to others, he must be alone. Before going out or visiting grandparents, discuss what is expected from him before hand. When deciding on a consequence, avoid situations that put your child in control of others, such as: “We can all go get ice cream after you clean up your toys.” This allows your child to control all family members and does not put any real consequences in place for their behaviour. It will only exacerbate their passive aggressive behaviour.
Lastly, remember the intent of consequences. They should not be to punish your child for the sake of punishment. Consequences should be logical and a form of discipline that parents should use to teach their child a lesson. So when you remove and reinstate privileges, in a calm manner be sure to explain to your child why/how he misbehaved and what you expect of him next time.
Make sure both you and your husband (and any other family members you may be living with) are on the same page with regards to unacceptable behaviour and it consequences. Consistency is the key!
Insha’Allah, I hope this helps. Happy Parenting!!
The Savvy Parent