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
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
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.