Our 3-year-old seems to be a master procrastinator. He can easily turn a one-minute task into a 20-minute ordeal. As frustrating as this can be, I am realizing that sometimes his stalling is more than just naughty or frustrating behavior.
Sometimes, he uses this behavior to slow me down and bring me to his level because he doesn't know any other way.
The other day, for instance, he was putting on his shoes—shoes that he has been putting on independently for four months—he looked up at me and smiled: "Mom, is this the right foot?"
"Yes buddy, you know it is," I said impatiently with our 15-month-old weighing on my hip.
We weren't rushing out the door like we usually are when he seems to switch into slow motion and find ways to stall. We were simply going into the basement to do laundry, but I was impatient nonetheless.
He used all of his tricks on this particular day. He began with innocent requests like: Mom, look at me. Help me with this. I want my other hat, etc. And when I didn't respond in the way that he wanted, he cranked up the silliness and eventually resorted to some good old-fashioned naughty behavior: tackling his brother, throwing toys, and using the kitchen tongs as a hammer.
The more he tried to rope me in, the more I resisted, which made for a long and frustrating day. It wasn't until after he was asleep that I realized what might be going on.
Just over three weeks ago, Alex started wearing underwear and using his little potty chair or the "big potty" regularly without prompting. This alone was a huge jump in independence. But he has also made so many other steps forward since turning three, most of which were self-driven.
He is learning to brush his own teeth and hair. He can dress and undress and put shoes on with little support. He uses a fork and small knife to cut food and he puts his dishes in the sink when he's done. His pretend play has become richly imaginative and he is more comfortable playing with other kids in small groups.
I have encouraged and praised him for each of these skills, but I have also been quick to raise my expectations of him while I prepare him for what's next. In doing so, I sometimes neglect to acknowledge how far he has come. And I forget how much he still needs me, though in a different way.
He knows that I know he can put on his own shoes, but that used to be something that we did together. Diaper changes, though often dreaded and hurried, used to be more time that we spent together and the same goes for dressing.
Each step toward independence brings with it greater responsibility and a bigger gap between him and his little brother. I think the stalling and silliness are often his way of resisting his independence—despite the pride he feels when doing things himself.
He sees how I swoon over his little brother when putting on his shoes. Or the way I tickle his tummy after I fasten his diapers. It isn't true jealousy—it's more like a tug on his heart that reminds him of how things used to be.
I know what my big boy is capable of and when the pace of our day quickens, it is tempting to hold him to a high standard—even if that means reprimanding him for dramatic or seemingly naughty behavior. But when I slow down and acknowledge the limits of a 3-year-old's emotional development, I am moved to adjust my expectations and be the mother that he needs me to be in that moment.
In some ways, I am not so different from a 3-year-old at times. I still want my husband to acknowledge the simple things I do—even the things I do every single day. Sometimes spilled coffee or ruined baked goods are reasons enough to make me cry. And when things don't go as planned or when someone is rushing me, I can feel the stress creep in and overwhelm me.
So why would I expect more from a child?
Alex has days when his threshold for frustration is low, being a big brother is too much to handle, and he resists his newfound independence. And sometimes these days collide with the days when my threshold for frustration is low, my patience runs thin by 10 am, and I put my plans above his needs.
These days are hard, but sometimes slowing down and lowering my expectations—both of myself and my son—makes all the difference. Sometimes simply acknowledging that we both need a little extra validation and a lot of extra grace is huge.
You might also like:
- Secure attachment means giving your children independence, too
- Montessori at home: 10 tasks young kids can totally do on their own
- Cooking with toddlers isn't easy, but it teaches them independence and teamwork
Originally published on In Between Yesterday And Today.