The Spirited Child

Like all families we have rules in our house. They’re not onerous:

No climbing on furniture
No playing in the cat box
No coming out of your bed after bedtime

My wife and I make the rules, of course, but our 3-year-old — a spirited child — doesn’t understand that. Here’s a recent conversation:

ME: “Who makes the rules?”
3: “I do.”
ME: “Excuse me? Who makes the rules?”
3: “I do.”

If he didn’t believe that the earth revolved around him and his love of rockets, trains and fruit snacks, then something would be wrong. But lately, he’s turned it up a notch. When asked to go wash his hands before dinner, he takes a detour to the playroom, grabs 17 toys, hops on one foot to the bathroom 15 minutes later then spends half the time turning the sink into a water park.

The bottom line is I was woefully unprepared for the toddler/preschool years.

Hospitals and books prepare you for the first few months of a child’s life. They provide a step-by-step guide to keeping a living, breathing, pooping, no-sleeping, always-eating-or-crying-machine alive. But I did no research on negotiating with and surviving a demanding toddler. I should have.

He is engaging, charming and loving. Eighty percent of the time he is an absolute joy. Our son is, as I say, a spirited child. Others might use other adjectives to describe him. He runs away from us in stores and in the street. He rarely listens. Frustratingly, he has even willfully wets his pants as a sign of defiance when he’s unhappy with a demand or punishment.

He’s sharp though. He knows the answers to our questions and recites them like a robot:

ME: “When Mommy & Daddy ask you to do something what do you do?”
3: “Do it.”
ME: “When?”
3: “Right away, without delay.”

Right answer, wrong result. He does want he wants, when he wants. And when he doesn’t get his way, things get thrown, walls get banged on and tantrums can last a while. In some ways, my wife and I feel like we are simply pledging a long-running parenting fraternity. This is what little kids do, right? But in other ways, we feel like maybe there’s something wrong with our offspring.

We’re rookie parents. We don’t have the intimate, day-to-day, minute-to-minute knowledge of what makes a toddler/preschooler tick. We asked our pediatrician and other medical professionals about his behavior, worried that maybe this was early evidence of ADHD or some other condition. What we learned is that his behavior is absolutely normal. (Which is absolutely frightening that having a meltdown because someone asked you to put on your underwear is “normal.” But I digress)

A counselor showed us a breakdown of normal behavior for a child his age. He is ruled by his impulses, completely ego-centered and quite smart for his age. The words came as a relief but doubts linger. Why are we unable to teach (discipline?) this boy enough that he follows directions or does what we ask after being told 19 times? Is he daft?

My wife and I ask ourselves all the time — “Are we too lenient with him?” I think the answer is no. If anything, we are on top of him more than many other parents that we see. (Helicopter much?) We feel that he needs to be reigned in and we aren’t the type of parents to let our kids run wild.

There is a silver lining. We asked one of our child’s Mommy & Me instructors about our problem. She asked how our son handles himself with others — grandparents, doctors, babysitters. We told her that he is almost always a model child, well behaved and respectful. The instructor said, “Well, see there. He knows how to behave. Take comfort in that.” He only pushes the boundaries with his loving parents, lucky us.

I know that a lot of you are knee-deep in toddlerhood. Please share your experiences below. It might help my wife and I realize that we are not alone!


The Beginning
About Happiest Daddy

Two boys, one wife and a ton of material. I live for family and I'm one of the most blessed people you will ever meet.

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  1. Carrie says:

    Yes, a model citizen with everyone (4 y. o.) But a huge temper tantrum at bed time 5 nights out of 7. You are not alone!

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