Current Issue

Q:  My husband and I have three boys, ages four, five, and eight. The two younger ones share a room that looks like “tornado alley.” They don’t watch TV, so they color, play with plastic building blocks, tear up paper, and the like all day long. They give me no problem at all when I tell them it’s time to clean up, but within minutes it can look like a disaster zone again. The eight-year-old does the same thing, but on a slightly smaller scale, since there’s only one of him. I’m constantly telling them to straighten up their rooms and am beginning to feel like a certified nag. Should I just close the door and leave them alone?

A:  You’re not going to get a lot of sympathy from me, nor will you, I expect, from my readers. After all, you’ve got three boys who (a) occupy their own time by playing creatively through the day, (b) clean up without complaint when you tell them to do so, and (c) are polite and respectful enough not to have told you that you are becoming a certified nag. Most mothers would love to have your problem.

You should praise the Lord that they create a mess only in their rooms and leave the rest of the house alone! Now, you need to leave them alone! One good turn deserves another, after all.

The source of your stress is your own somewhat unreasonable expectation that they play creatively without making a mess. Let’s face it, creativity is messy. You can reasonably expect them to clean up their rooms once a day before bedtime. During the day, have them keep their doors closed. As they say, out of sight, out of mind.

Q:  My son will be two and a half next month. To bring in a little extra money, I recently started a family day care at my home. I took in a three-year-old boy and a 16-month-old girl. My son is not handling this change well. He has become extremely aggressive, especially with the little girl. He pushes her, takes toys from her, pinches her, and so on. Yesterday he bit the little boy for no reason, just out of the blue. When he is aggressive, I put him in time out, but he won’t stay there when the other children are present. We’ve participated in play groups before, and I’ve never seen this sort of behavior. The last two weeks have been awful. He spent most of the time in time out, and he’s obviously not happy. He becomes a monster only when the other kids are here. On the weekends, he’s back to his normal sweet self. What do you suggest I do to stop the aggression while I’m running my new business?

A:  Unfortunately, I don’t think you’re going to be able to stop your son’s aggression any time soon. Sometimes, the forces behind a child’s misbehavior trump any discipline adults can come up with. This is one such situation. Continuing to punish him is only going to pile one problem on top of another.

I think your only options are to (a) accept that, through no fault of your own or anyone else, this experiment with in-home day care is a failure and call it quits, or (b) find another mother who operates an in-home day care and exchange her toddler for yours. The problem you describe is fairly common among home day-care operators who have toddlers for the simple reason that toddlers are generally not ready to share their mothers with other children the same age or younger. Believe me, there is no consequence powerful enough to override your son’s jealousies. You’re fighting a losing battle—one that will ultimately take a huge toll on you, your son, and the relationship.

For your own peace of mind, and especially for the long-term emotional well-being of your son, I advise immediate and unconditional surrender.

Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Elizabeth Stevens at 919-403-8712.

Messy and Jealous: What Can We Do?

by John Rosemond
From the November 2004 Signs