Raising a Challenging Child: Putting the Brakes on “Freight Train”

Walking2soccerFull speed ahead at all times, sharp as a tack, and undeniably volatile.

That’s our 3-year-old boy.

The youngest of two boys, this little guy has put his stamp on our family and made his presence known from the second he gave his mother nausea in the womb. “I will not be ignored,” was made clear to us before he even entered this world and he hasn’t backed down from that sentiment yet. He is our little monkey, he is our snuggly baby, he is our biggest challenge in parenthood. From clashing and causing mayhem with his brother, to giving us the scare of our lives, to sucking his thumb while stroking mommy’s hair as they snuggle together on the couch, to always being spot with saying “Please” and “Thank you” when he is supposed to, the affectionately nicknamed “Freight Train” (and sometimes “Space Invader”) knows nothing about living life down the middle.

As parents, we are charged with raising him to the best of our ability and making sure that when we send him out into the world he is making the right decisions, and just as important for an impetuous 3-year-old, safe decisions. His volatile ways tend to surface mostly at home whereas at places like daycare or social events he seems to be content with (for the most part) letting everyone know of the possibility.

Whatever the case, I believe he still needs to be reigned in more and can’t operate as if he runs the show and makes the rules. We’ve tried love, we’ve tried stern, we’ve tried reason, we’ve tried bribing. We’ve tried extra attention, we’ve tried ignoring him.

But no matter what we try, he still does what he wants.

He listens, but that’s after doing what he wants. His icy blue eyes are stern with protest and often coupled with admirable vocals, but he listens. He reluctantly gives into the call of bedtime just as he will slowly relinquish his post atop whatever he just climbed. He’ll put himself in timeout when told and always says “I’m sorry” afterwards to whoever he has to. He knows what to do and will do what he’s told, but it’s his initial, often eruptive reaction he’s yet to understand.

If you have experience with such a strong-willed, confident, and volatile kid this is where I hope for your input. Is this just the Terrible Twos evil, older cousin? Are the Threes the new Twos, as the kids like to say? Is immediate action when he crosses the line the right approach? Will that get him to check himself before he goes Freight Train? Or should we continue giving him space to figure these tough decisions out on his own and hope he eventually stops trying to make/break the rules?

But, here’s the rub. Safety concerns aside and our continual message to him about how we expect him to behave always being present, I kind of don’t want him change. I know he will eventually “get it” and realize his actions affect others and learn what’s appropriate and when, but I don’t want to see him stop taking on the world.

Him being sharp as tack not to be forgotten, the wild one is “game on” in the intellect department. I’d call it street smarts, but he has the other part as well — the knowledge. He can navigate a new situation on the fly with ease as much as he remembers nearly everything, always knows where we are and who everyone is. He commands a room with the best of them and he is an instant star anywhere we bring him. People gravitate towards him and once they spend a little time with him they are forever wrapped around his little finger — a point that is not lost upon him nor does he have a problem using this to his benefit.

I don’t want him to change. I want to see what the combination of confident, charming, smart and commanding turns up for him in this world.

His teachers literally don’t stand a chance.

I love you, Freight Train. Take it down a notch, but please don’t ever change.


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About Brad the Dad

Enjoy a unique, fresh and entertaining perspective on parenting as Brad the Dad learns what it takes to raise 2 boys in today's world. #DadsRT co-founder.

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  1. Happiest Daddy says:

    We’re right there with you, brother. Our 3-year-old can charm you out of your last dollar one minute and make you want to gouge your eyes out the next. His spirit is infectious, his wit is sharp and his manners are perfect. Yet…his listening skills are only slightly better than a deaf person. I think this is part of his age and his will and the freedom with which we’ve raised him.

    “Safety concerns aside and our continual message to him about how we expect him to behave always being present, I kind of don’t want him change…” That’s my feeling, too. I wish for him to retain his boundless exuberance and fearlessness of life but maybe just take it easy on his old man and momma for a bit…

  2. Our oldest is a challenging or spirited child. We ended up pursuing professional help and it was worth it’s weight in gold. With the strategies we were given and a lot of patience and consistency, she is much more able to control some of her impulses and I’m happy to say she isn’t subdued or changed but just more in control which is good for the whole family.

  3. Hey Brad! Awesome article…brought tears to my eyes because it is true~ you never want to break the spirit of a special little guy like Freight Train. Little boys are pretty energetic all the time…at least our three were. But there is something extra special about the tykes that take over a room, cause chaos as they are charming the heck out of you! I think it is important for him to realize who is boss, but it’s all in the delivery. Firm but fair…clear, concise and consistent but loving and unconditional! It’s a tricky balance to strike, granted~ It’s just to keep Freight Train on the right track. Those qualities will be strengths when he gets older, if they are focused in the right way! Enjoy the shaping of your little guy~ Sounds like he will be a force to be reckoned with his whole life, and that’s a good thing if he’s guided and nurtured…trained in the way that he should go!
    Ann Van De Water
    Author, MOMMY MEMOIRS~A Hilarious and Heartwarming Look at the Trials and Triumphs of Being a Mom
    Certified Leadership Parenting Coach

  4. Brad- I stand right there beside you. Aaron has always had a temper, and it is only in the last few years (19-21 or so) that he has really gotten it under control. Fortunately, it was usually directed at himself- no fights- just rage. I heard Ross Greene speak several times, and found his work to be useful. http://www.livesinthebalance.org/

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