Monday, April 26, 2010

2 1/2 Year Old Wild Man?

The Question:
Mother Jane,
How great to have a mother to talk to! I have a little kid/little problem question. I am the mother of 5 young kids, 1 to 11 years. I thought I had babyness all figured out, then I had #4. The pregnancy was rotton, the sweet baby got up every hour, slept an hour, up an hour. He started getting sick at 2 months old and it has been one thing after another. For a while he would get better for 2 or three days, then sick again. He is the cutest little guy and so funny and we love each other so much. We kiss all day, but the little turkey is so smart, he can't stay out of trouble, he's got to be exploring ALL the time. 
Recently, he became intrigued by knives. I found him sitting in the corner of the counter staring at the serated butcher knife. As he was petting the chrome blade, he knew I was there behind him and said said, " Mom, I love this knife, I love this knife, mom." A few days earlier, my 5 year old came running to me and said, "Mom! Josh (name has been changed to protect the unaccountable), is playing with the matches!" I go in the living room and he has dumped an entire box of matches of the floor and like 15 have been lit! What 2 year old knows how to strike a match! I don't even know how he got them, we have removed all chairs from the kitchen and they were on the highest shelf in the highest cupboard! Just after he went into nursery, I went to pick him up and I noticed three kids bleeding from face wounds. I asked what happened and told me Josh had "gotten them". I told the Primary President they had to call me to nursery so I could protect the other children or he couldn't go anymore. 
This started just after #5 came home. They are only 15 months apart. The curiosity thing I can deal with. It's the hitting, scratching and pulling hair I am tired of. It has been intensly going on for a full year now. I have tried everything 100 times and he just doesn't care enough about the rewards/punishments/consequences to stop. I don't go to play group at the park because I don't want the other moms to cry when I pull up, I can't ask anyone to watch him because I'm afraid he'll hurt their kids. We have tried physically restrictive time-outs, "When you hurt us, you can't be with us" separation time outs, spanked him back, let the kids hit him back, pretended to cry because we were so sad, ignored it etc etc etc. Poor #5, he's the sweetest little boy, just one year old and he is either getting loved to death by Josh or wailed on by Josh. Please fix us. I'll even let you take him for a little while if you need to, ha ha ha........
Josh's Tired Mom
The Answer:

Dear Mother of "Josh",
Your letter reminded me so much of my good friend Cindy.  She had three little angelic girls--just unbelievably perfect.  I was raising my rough and tumble boys and I really felt that Cindy was a better mother than I was.  I tried to copy her methods but, try as I might, my boys wouldn't just sit in a circle on the floor and quietly play or color.  Then along came daughter #4--her version of Josh--the wildest girl I'd ever seen.  She was cross, sickly, defiant and full of mischief.  I'll have to be honest--I felt much better after that.  And I learned a lesson.  Some children are, for whatever reason, much more difficult than others.  I think the Lord uses them to humble us.  They take us out of the comfortable routines of our lives and demand that we constantly employ new strategies.  It probably doesn't seem funny to you, but I just laughed right out loud at "Mom, I love this knife.  I love this knife, Mom".  My friend told me about her nephew who was "Josh-like".  His parents tried to explain to him that Heavenly Father wanted him to be good, and Satan wanted him to be bad.  He said, "But I love Satan."  Of course, the parents thought their son was possessed...but he's actually turning out well.  Sometimes those tough children grow out of it fairly quickly--and other times, they're pretty challenging all the way along.  But almost always, they turn out to be extraordinary people, if their parents don't panic and crush them with harshness.  If "Josh" were my boy, I would:
1)  Pray.  I would pray for insight into his mind and for an increased ability to care for him.  I would pray that we could connect with eachother and learn from eachother.  I would just tell the Lord my feelings and struggles and ask for his help continually.
2)  I would keep him under close watch.  It's hard when you've had some relatively easy children, to shift into a more vigilant mode.  But that's what you'll need to do.  Assign family members to help out and teach them how to work with him...especially this year.
3)  No surprise, I'd continue to shower him with love and reassurance.  He was bumped out of the nest pretty early.  He's still not much more than a baby really.  It sounds like you're already doing this.  But really try to connect many times a day.  Look right into his eyes and make sure he feels all of your warmth and love.  When he's in this mode of constantly being corralled or reprimanded, he can start to feel like he's "out of your circle" and that the baby is in.  Little children who are as busy and curious and high-maintenance as he is, get used to receiving stern looks and glares from everyone--nursery leaders, family members, your friends--even strangers.  Those looks tell him that he's bad and unloved.  You can teach his siblings to smile at him often and look at him with love.
4)  Be in a mode of continual teaching.  Try not to let things escalate to where he's injuring someone or destroying something and has to be disciplined.  I'm with you that I wouldn't drop him off at the nursery or at the home of a friend right now.   It's too easy for him to develop negative habits and patterns.  He's a full-time job for a while.  Teach him appropriate behavior.  We often tell children "no" without being really clear about what we want them to do instead.  Have him practice little good behaviors like sharing, touching people's faces softly and gently, coming right when you call and then reward him.  Praise even the tiniest success.
Mainly, you are in a mode of protecting him and others until he has a chance to mature.  I've seen dozens of children who seemed hopelessly out of control at two, become really nice five year olds.  You're a seasoned mother with a great sense of humor.  You'll be successful.  You'll be telling that knife story with a chuckle when he graduates from college.  Keep that vision.  Pray hard.
With Love,


  1. Dear Mother of "Josh"-

    I don't have nearly as much experience as Jane (my little one is only 13 months) but I just thought I would add my encouragement.

    My niece was a difficult child, too. She's the second of two and my nephew (her older brother) was just an angelic, easy toddler. Then she came along. She walked at 8 months, then ran and never stopped. She was hard to control, mischievous (she loves to color on walls, furniture, herself, etc)., loves to run away, good at throwing fits, etc. But also very funny and smart and physically coordinated. A great little kid but super duper hard to manage. Her parents implemented some of the suggestions that Jane mentioned- specifically having her practice appropriate behavior over and over. She'll be four next week and she's so much different! She's still really high energy but you can actually take her places again! I just wanted to let you know that you can do it and that he will grow out of that really difficult toddler/preschooler stage!

  2. Dear "Josh's Mom,"

    I had a little boy in nursery who is very similar to your Josh. I did/do a lot of watchful care with him. I remember one night feeling a little overwhelmed and I went to the church's website and said a little prayer for help that I could find some material to help me see what I needed to do, and I received a lot of help on articles that the website had. The biggest thing was I learned the difference between discipline and punishment, and I worked so hard to teach him good behaviors, and I always try to talk in the affirmative. One thing I have learned is that I have to be totally ready and there when I am with him, and I love it now, because I felt that he has been a refiner for me. He is really smart and talented. I am VERY protective of him. I don't like him being around anyone who doesn't like him because he KNOWS when someone doesn't like him, and it's just not a good scenario. He sounds really cool.

  3. "Josh's Mom",

    I wish I had some advice for you! My sister and I both had boys just like this. My sister's son was very active, always getting into things, and some days it seemed like his main goal in life was to try to ruin hers. One day she was so burned out that she decided to stop trying to stop him, and insead she sat down with a notebook to take notes on everything he destroyed. By noon, she had filled 3 pages and gave up.

    Mine was very clingy and angry toward me. I often wondered what I did to make him hate me so much. He was also very sickly, and when he was around other kids he was either very introverted, or extremely agressive. He would scream because he wanted something, and when he finally figured out he wasn't going to get it, he would scream for something else. I cried myself to sleep a LOT of nights.

    I can give you some encouragement, though. My nephew is now 8, and while he is still very active, most of his mischevious tendencies have mellowed out. My son is now 5, and he is the sweetest, most caring little man that I've ever encountered. He's finally at a point where he doesn't have a mean bone in his body. Keep on trying and don't give up, and I can tell you that it will all be worth it in the end. I believe that boys who start out with the little 'rough patch' turn into AMAZING sons of our Heavenly Father.

    One other thing.... with the knives and matches, if you feel like it's getting to a dangerous point, there are toddler-proof cupboard latches called Tot-Loks. You have to have a magnetic key to open them, so there's really no way for him to get around them.

  4. I have a son just like this. He's the oldest of 5, so it makes our household pretty crazy sometimes as all the other children look to him as an example. He was diagnosed with ADHD. He was also very sick as an infant..tons of ear infections. But through a lot of constant prayer and nutritional efforts he is now doing A LOT better. It turns out he is just very chemically sensitive. (all those artificial colors, flavors, and smells that are a part of our modern world) And milk was causing all the congestion that led to all the ear infections. A great website to check out is:
    The one thing I love about my son now (when he's not having a 'reaction', is how much he smiles!)


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