Special flowers and mama bears

We have good friends who have a 3.5 year old. We were friends before babies, then they went to baby land, we went to baby land, and now we’re coming out of it, they’re out of it, and all their friends that were in baby land with them are on baby 2 so back in baby land. This has provided a great opportunity for us to reconnect a bit which is really nice.

The problem is that their 3.5 year old (C) does not like Gus. I don’t know what goes on in C’s mind so maybe it’s that he doesn’t like the shared attention (likely) but it’s a problem. We’ve hung out a few times in recent months and he’ll yell at Gus, hit Gus, and one time picked up both of his feet while sitting in a chair and kicked Gus in the chest. It’s happened and their house and our house and things are normally best if we are in a neutral space and C is getting lots of attention.

Yesterday C’s parents had a potluck with lots of families and we went. We went early as we couldn’t stay long (Lesley had hockey) and there weren’t many families there when we were there. C was playing with another little boy and there was a little girl and her baby brother. The boy C was playing with was meaner than C. Gus was not allowed in any room they were in. Gus had a balloon and they would walk up to him and hit it out of his hands. They would come from another room to where we were, get down to Gus’ level, and yell in his face, “NO! Go away baby!” The parents of the little girl noticed this too and were super sympathetic but the parents of both boys were busy other places. After a few rounds of this Lesley picked Gus up and simply said, “We’re leaving”. I grabbed our stuff and we slipped out the back door.

When we got to the car I strapped Gus in and got in the front seat to find Lesley crying. Admittedly, she was a bit extra hormonal but it really is so hard to watch. Gus loves other kids. He just wants to play with them and follow them around. And to watch other kids treat him poorly, especially to yell at him which is something he doesn’t understand, hurts. It hurts a lot.

As these things have come up our friends have handled them appropriately. I’ve asked about ways to deal with this on facebook mom groups and have basically heard that if our friends deal with it appropriately that’s the best we can hope for and that this is kid stuff and will work itself out. It’s great that our friends deal with it but in the meantime I don’t feel super safe having my kid there. Gus isn’t learning how to play with other kids through these interactions, he’s being hit and yelled at. And while I agree this is kid stuff, I think it’s different when there is an age gap and Gus is so young.

Lesley attributes this to the parenting phenomenon she calls “special flower”. We agree with gentle parenting so much but she wonders if validating feelings and talking through things is at times not enough and not helping kids. All kids learn they are special flowers and fail to see the whole garden. C is great at identifying his feelings but still thinks he has the right to use his body against another child. We very much understand C is three. This is normal three year old behavior. He’s a good kid and we care about him so much. But as we watch this happen we start to wonder how we can do things differently. How we can be gentle parents but also set boundaries and have consequences.

After leaving there we went to the hockey rink. Parents there are (for the most part) not parents of special flowers. And there kids are nice and loving to Gus. A four year old followed him around and hugged him. A 2.5 year old we see there often shows him all her things and doesn’t get overwhelmingly upset when he takes them. These are kids who have time out and told to stop crying and all of the things we are so against. Yet these are the kids who are nice to my kid.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t think we can know the right way to set consequences until we know what motivates Gus. At this point there is little need for it. Sometimes a toy (and by toy I mean the broom) gets taken away or we leave a place because he’s freaking out or something of that sort but he’s young to be fully understanding what that means – it’s just stuff we need to do. This whole parenting thing is all a guess – we do what we think is best and see what happens. But what happens when what we fully believe is best is playing out in front of it and from the other side it doesn’t look so good?

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Posted on November 9, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 39 Comments.

  1. C needs better parenting – and I don’t mean that in a judgmental way. But clearly his coping with the world around him isn’t working. Perhaps you can try the book Hands are not for hitting (recommending it to your friends at least). Gentle parenting doesn’t mean letting kids act inappropriately. At 3.5 he’s old enough to be learning how to channel his frustration and emotions in different ways that aren’t physical. He needs to also be learning empathy to not purposely act mean. And in the meantime, I think you are right to keep Gus away. All he’s learning is how to behave in a way that you don’t desire.

    We have seen jealousy from that age of kid with Melody too. If the kid is just pissy, we don’t stress on it, but if they starting hitting we won’t let her be treated poorly either. I think you did the right thing leaving. I’m sad for Gus too, but I suspect he’s more resilient than we all are because we have all the experiences of bullying and stuff to draw on. He’s likely just confused as to why they don’t like him. If he’s anything like Melody it just makes him try harder to get them to like him.

    I hope you can get a good solution soon. At least there’s hockey!

  2. This is definitely hard. I can see how you must feel very conflicted. I don’t have much advice on that end because, as you said, Gus is a different child with different parents.

    I can tell you from living through the “threes” that they are still very selfish and self centered. They still react physically because it’s a natural response and they aren’t always verbal enough to explain how they feel. They can be rough. They can be unpredictable.

    With that said, they also need to learn how to use their words. Empathy is still very hard at that age, but the more parents model the behavior, the more they learn.

    Sometimes, the babies get rough. And I never say “they are just babies” I say, “Cordelia, no hitting.” And I’ll take her hand and show her how to be soft. She doesn’t care but her brother and sister see that and they model it.

    I hope you find something that works for you both, even if it means changing some aspects of your parenting philosophy. I have to parent all my kids differently, so it’s always possible you parent exactly how you want and they turn out different because they are just a different child. And sometimes, you do everything right and they still punch their sister. Sigh.

    • It’s so hard because we know C is three. We know he’s not a bad kid. We know that while he is bigger and more verbal he still gets frustrated and acts out. It’s all understandable yet it just doesn’t work for us. Gus wants to do everything the older kids do so being hit and yelled at doesn’t translate well to the next play date.

      • No, it doesn’t. And that’s unfortunate but not reasonable. When Thatcher was little, he had a friend who was so rough and mean to him and we spent the entire play date having to console him and her mother had to apologize/redirect her and it was a mess. She grew out of it but those several months, we were always nervous to keep them together. We ended up having to give them very different activities and it made the play-date sort of useless. It sucked.

      • Not UNreasonable! Yikes, sorry!

      • What’s funny is that the parents who witnessed this all, the parents of the little girl, have really struggled with her behavior and she has always been the “bad” kid at playdates – hitting, being mean, throwing fits. They have worked on it hard and she was great yesterday. (We don’t know them well but know all this history from our friends.) They were relishing in C’s behavior a bit – you could see the hint of a smile and glimmer of “This time it’s not us!”

  3. Oh friends, this breaks my heart – both for Gus and for both of you. I think you did exactly the right thing getting Gus out of there and taking him to a safer space. While we generally go with the gentle approach, it’s evident that we’re already in a position of setting boundaries for Dar when it comes to other kids. When she or her little buddy N are physically violent with each other, we intervene immediately but calmly and remind them to use gentle hands. For their age this has worked very well, and they have even started walking up to each other and patting each other. There are times when they are both exhausted that we keep them separated. We try to not ever let hitting/hair pulling/yanking on clothes/biting go with a response and redirection.

    This is all to say that I really don’t see gentle parenting as a reasonable excuse not to watch your kid like a hawk when you know they are being violent (especially towards smaller/younger children) and intervene immediately/supersede any incident. When a kid is behaving in an unacceptable manner towards other kids, those parents have a responsibility for the safety of other children. Their “special flower” doesn’t get to smash the other flowers. 😦

    • I re-read that and it made me sound like we always handle the violence between kids perfectly. There are been times when I have yelled, and times when I have picked up the instigator and plopped them on a futon in the other room and walked out. It’s not easy to stay calm when a one kid is hurting another (I’ve even found myself getting very protective of little N when Darwin is trying to bite/hit/etc.)

      • Oh I know. It’s like the first four times, “Gentle hands, buddy!” and then come time five, “DON’T TOUCH!”

      • I resemble this remark…:)

      • Oh, I definitely get to that point, too. I’m only going to redirect so many times before I say “Nope, that’s it. You’re done.” And I do the same with my own kids and ALWAYS encourage other people, if we’re in a group, or whenever to feel comfortable telling my children “no”. If they are behaving poorly, especially in a rough or physical way, please, by all means, tell them to stop. Don’t worry about finding me.

      • C is normally pretty good about listening to us. He might still do the offending behavior again but at least tries to problem solve a bit and will communicate before the offending behavior. This other kid though gave zero fucks as to what we had to say (and in turn C gave zero fucks because the was another kid there). I think that’s what really set Lesley off – that she asked them not to do it and they did not care.

      • Yeah, that’s one of those situations where parents should probably be at least aware of how their child will act with other kids and, in general, left unsupervised. If I had been Lesley, I certainly would have been frustrated and upset. Both at the child who was ruining the situation and the parents who were MIA. :/

    • Response and redirection are key for us, too. Gus has gradually become a more gentle kid which is great but it’s a constant struggle to keep on him about it. I think yesterday was hard because they were hosting a party so were less hands on than when it is our two families. And this other kid, man, this other kid.
      When we got in the car Lesley, through tears, said, “Gus in my special flower!”

  4. Jen and I have lots of these kinds of conversations when it comes to discipline. When Ali was gus’ age, we almost completely redirected and/or modified the environment so Ali had very little that was a ‘no’. Now that she’s a little older, we are figuring out the best ways for us to teach her how to act, and it’s helpful to see how different parenting styles play out.
    One time we were at a park, and there was this little a-hole kid that was hitting everyone and pushing the little kids down, parents were just watching and doing nothing. Finally this dad bellows in the biggest, baddest, meanest voice I’ve ever heard, “no! You will not hit my kid!”, about 2 inches from his face. He cried, the parents got all huffy, but he stopped his crap. Now, when I find myself in that position where a bigger kid is bullying Ali, I channel that dad and put my mean face on and put some base in my voice and tell the kid to stop. It almost always works.

    • I think it’s interesting because this goes back to the “we all judge other parents” conversation. People get so huffy when I say that we leave places and talk about other people’s kids and parenting but this is how we’ve learned what we want to do as parents and I think it is extremely important.
      I’m at first taken aback by the dad yelling at the kid but you know what? The kid needs to stop and no one is doing anything about it. And I guess the lesson I want Gus to learn is that I will stand up for him and what’s right and yeah, sometimes that might mean yelling at someone else’s kid. I don’t really care what the other kid takes away from it. What Gus will (hopefully) take away from it is that that behavior is unacceptable AND I’ve got his back. Those things are way more important.

      • I think it’s weird to not talk about those things, but to each their own. Of course kids have different personalities that you have to take into account, but we have seen some consistencies in certain behavior, good and bad, that comes from different approaches.

    • Thank you for sharing that! I have no clue how to handle other people’s kids in these situations, though I haven’t had to worry about it much yet.

      • You’re welcome πŸ™‚
        I’m not going around constantly screaming at other people’s kids, and I usually just watch for a bit to see how my girl handles herself, but when a bigger kid targets her and there is potential to get hurt, I step in.

  5. I think we as parents have to not be afraid to step in and mediate with other people’s children. The hand block and sportscasting of the RIE method is a good one for _that. “I will not let you yell at/hurt/take from Gus” and blocking him from doing so. We are all so afraid of offending other parents by talking to or parenting their kids, and that taboo needs to be lifted. C was begging to have some boundaries set. It is good you all decided to leave and take care of yourselves. It is really hard seeing another child hurt or be mean to yours, especially when they are younger.

    • Totally agree with you! And it goes both ways, if Ali is acting like a butt and for some reason I’m not right there, I hope someone does something about it!

      • Exactly. I want other people to be able to step in and keep him from hurting another child or climbing up the wall.

      • It’s so funny because we are all so weary of doing what we want others to do. I think I struggle with older kids because I have never parented a kid that age so am not sure how to approach the situation. Jenn, the RIE stuff is great for that because I don’t have to overthink it, I am protecting my child. Thanks for the reminder. πŸ™‚

      • We all need these reminders. It is so much easier to plan it in our heads than to remember it in the moment. I struggled with this a lot with some of the kids I have worked with. One 3yo boy was very intentionally mean to Wallace and to his baby sister who was only 5 months. I could not keep him out of my reach for even a minute. I couldn’t have done that job long term though I liked the parents a lot. I would leave completely exhausted from just constantly playing defense. Anyway, brainstorm things to say and ways to handle it when you next see C, in a hopefully less chaotic setting. Your job isn’t just to protect Gus but to help him and C develope a relationship and give them both the tools they need to interact successfully.

  6. You know, I’ve been wondering if it’s socially appropriate to set boundaries with other people’s kids in situations like this. Not lecturing or anything but saying “be gentle, he’s a baby.” I’ve noticed it a lot with 3-4 year olds we encounter at the library or play spaces. They yell at B or grab things away from him and their parents are either oblivious or just stare like they don’t care that their kid is being a little a-hole to my 1 year old who clearly doesn’t know any better. Kids need to learn social cues. I don’t just let my toddler run into everyone, pull their kids hair or steal their toys, even though I know he’d love to.

    • It’s so hard to know what to do. I find it’s even harder with older kids because I don’t have one so don’t know what they get. A friend of mine pointed out our boys are at a storage age. Because Gus walks a 3 year old doesn’t see him as a baby but a three year old doesn’t quite understand that there’s a lot between baby and 3.

  7. This is a really tough situation. I know that Bumbi is likely to be the aggressor and her social skills are delayed so I watch her like a hawk when we have company. I know this was a party and the parents were busy but we do a lot of hosting and my partner and I trade or I ask my sister to keep an eye on Bumbi or a close friend pitches in. This weekend we had a 5 year old family member over who proceeded to start breaking all of Bumbi’s fat crayons in half and I asked her what she was doing and she stated very matter-of-fact she didn’t like them. I informed her that they weren’t hers to like or break for that matter. But she was at our house with her grandparents who do not do discipline so I’m sure my message won’t stick. Kids do weird stuff. It’s a tough situation and I’m truly sorry. It’s really hard if the parents don’t see that their child needs help with their social skills.

    • Yeah, I think C’s friend’s parent wasn’t even in the house when all this happened. I know our friends feel bad and after we left i did explain why because I think it’s important they know but yeah, you need to watch your kid extra. Gus is overly enthusiastic – he does not leave our sight.

  8. What everyone said about 3s. Because word, it is a tough age. Glorious no doubt, but with plenty of challenging moments that afterwards leave one feeling either woefully inadequate or like a parenting champion.

    It sucks to have an older kid be inappropriate with your baby/toddler/little kid though. Good on L for getting G out of there. At this age, most of the time I very much intervene (including leaving, sportscasting, and enforcing boundaries), both to teach our kids that it’s not okay when another kid is treating them poorly (+ encourage our kids to be assertive) as well as to indirectly teach our kids that those behavior choices are not okay/that it’s not okay to treat other kids poorly. I’m all about the “it takes a village” mindset and have no qualms about gently parenting someone else’s kid if their kid is making poor choices, especially if those poor choices are hurting our kids or other kids.

    • I hope my post didn’t come off too hard on C. I can’t even imagine how hard it is to be 3. I know our time will come but this stuff has me seriously worried about our parenting ideas (and poor L even more concerned).

      • Read up on gentle parenting/respectful parenting and you’ll find a lot of great techniques that really do work. Except when they don’t and you just have to pick your kicking & screaming kid up and leave (p.s. that kind of leaving might also have you/L in tears, because c’mon special flower, you’re killing me). You have the advantage of just having G – which believe me, is definitely an advantage when you’re working on correcting the asshole behaviors. It’s really hard to stay calm & gentle when one of your kids is being a jerk towards (excuse me, “making poor choices”) or hurting your other kid. But eventually they do start to model what they see, and gentle/respectful parenting helps them learn how to be gentle and respectful to others when they’re frustrated. Not that we’re perfect over here, but good enough we hope.

        Eventually C won’t be such a jerk…probably right around the time when G starts to be a jerk. πŸ™‚ Don’t worry, you know you will be all over this when the time comes. There’s plenty of awesome that comes along with it too, which all helps.

      • You know, here’s the thing: I can’t imagine raising Gus any other way. We will be gentle parents because we just cannot. And sometimes we’ll parent according to plan and sometimes we won’t and we’ll have to regroup. This stuff with C has opened a new conversation and hopefully leads us into the next stage with a strong remembrance of how it feels to be the parents of the smaller flower.

  9. Gosh, we have asked the same questions and we do tell our twins to stop crying because a few months ago we really felt it was becoming intolerable for us, our neighbours, and anyone with ears! I hope we are doing the right thing. I feel it depends what they are crying about, no? X

    • My point of view is this: most things are fine with follow up. So for example, I hate the idea of time out but in the traditional sense of telling a kid to go to a corner and then asking if they know what they did. A kid having space to calm down and then talk about what happened and how they were feeling? Great! Telling the kids to stop crying – absolutely sometimes necessary but (in my opinion) it’s all about how your phrase it and what follows it. That being said, I have a vast 13 months of parenting experience so who knows if any of this is right. πŸ™‚

      • I tell Ali to stop crying pretty regularly. Not in a ‘man up, quit being a baby’ way, but she often uses crying to try to manipulate me into doing what she wants. It took me a couple months to admit my special flower was manipulative, but I came around eventually.

  10. There have been several times when we have been out at a park with our kids and there has been an incident when kids have been mean or nasty to each other, including our very own Mary. I have no qualms about redirecting the behavior of someone else’s child. I think that it’s absolutely a great thing to practice gentle parenting, but there are certain situations that require a different sort of response. Hitting (at least in my book) is comepletely unacceptable, even at 3, because the truth is that 3 years old’s understand, especially if you have told them before that hitting is not ok. We are firm believers in time out’s, mainly because they work. Having worked in childcare for so many years, I cannot even begin to tell you how easy it is to tell which kids parents “don’t play that shit” and which kids parents couldn’t care less. The “they are just kids” or “boys will be boys” or “they will learn in their own time” mentality is just not ok. We, as the parents have to do our best to guide kids and teach them what is appropriate and unacceptable. At 0-2, that is modified completely, because of language development, but you can start explaining and saying, “not nice” “gentle hands” “no hitting”, and modeling the behavior so that by the time they are 3, they aren’t kicking other kids in the chest because they feel like it!

    Poor gus! I can just imagine how confused he was while this was all happening. I’m certain your friends don’t want C to be as aggressive as he has been, and I hate saying it, but a time out would completely and totally be appropriate at his age.

    • I think that someone can avoid time out (like I mentioned somewhere above- my issue with traditional time out is lack of follow up) BUT you have to be on your kid. C has been struggling with these things (jealousy, hitting) so when other kids are around he needs a parent right there.
      I just got a baby center email about teaching your toddler to share. It was good timing to start good habits!

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