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What to expect ... or not

May 20, 2009 - Betsy Bethel
It is so nice to learn you're not crazy.

I get an online newsletter each month from Zero to Three called "From Baby to Big Kid" that tells me what to expect in my daughter's development during that particular month. It's pretty cool — you just type in your child(ren)'s birth date(s) and it sends you all these helpful tips every month based on their ages.

These types of tools are so great because they help you know what to expect, and what NOT to expect. When Emma was a baby, I read my "What to Expect in the First Year" book, and several others like it, religiously. I would often discover in those pages that Emma could do things I hadn't realized, like roll a ball or sip from a straw. I also learned not to be frustrated that she didn't know her colors at 18 months!

After a particularly stressful morning with Emma today, I found a "From Baby to Big Kid" installment in my e-mail inbox. This one is for 35-month-olds. (Emma is 3 years and 2 months, but it only goes up to 3 years, so I fibbed on her birth date.)

As I skimmed through it, a question from a mom caught my eye. She can't understand why her nearly 3-year-old grasps her explanations about rules in some instances, but throws tantrums in other situations. "What should I expect from her in understanding limits?" the mom asks.

The explanation, in a nutshell: She's 3. She is only just beginning to grasp logic. She does "get" it sometimes, and is fine with what you say. Other times, her super-strong emotions that she still is working on controlling will take charge.

The bottom line: Be consistent.

It's a maxim I've heard and repeated here often. And it is soooooo hard to do. Can I get an "Amen"?

This morning, Emma wanted a "treat" as soon as she finished breakfast. Yesterday, I let her have a Kit Kat after breakfast, but as a rule, I do not want her starting her day off with junk. I don't want her to make it a habit.

"Treats are for after lunch," I told her this morning. She then proceeded to cry for an hour. LITERALLY!

She moaned, she begged, she screamed, she cried, she wailed. She tried to get to a Kit Kat out of the fridge, and I wouldn't let her. She sat in time out. I explained to her over and over, calmly and loudly and angrily and matter-of-factly that she could not have a treat because it was too early in the day.

Thing is, she knows "broccoli makes you strong" and "treats make you weak." She eats both, she likes both. Most of the time, she understands the rules about treats, but she would not back down on this treat thing this morning.

And neither would I.

It came to a point where if I gave in, I knew she would think the longer and louder she cries, the more likely she gets what she wants. I don't want to play that game.

Yet, I couldn't help thinking as she CHOSE to continue to cry, "Am I doing the right thing? I gave her a treat yesterday morning, why not today? Am I a mean mom?"

At one point, she went upstairs to cry to Grandma. When she came back down, she told me Grandma was going to call the police to come and take me to jail because I was being mean.

I had to laugh.

But even risking jail time, I didn't want to get in the habit of chocolate for breakfast!

At long last, it seems to have paid off. After about an hour, she whimpered, "No treats in the morning. Not until after lunch." It was as if she absorbed it, after I said it 99,000 times.

And that was it. No more crying. No more begging.

I felt even more reassured when I read the Zero to Three answer to that mom's question. "One minute they seem very reasonable and wise and the next act totally irrational. ... You're left feeling confused — why is one explanation harder to understand than the other. It's not. It's just how an almost 3-year-old processes the world."

It's true. Sometimes, she "gets it" right away. Other times it takes an hour of boo-hooing. I guess there are a lot of adults like that, too. At least Emma has an excuse.


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Emma Skye, 3 years old


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