Conundrum #73

     I don't know if this is how this works- but I found your blog when looking for answers and would like to pose my current conundrum.

      I recently began working at a position that includes a three year old boy who has me a little lost. He has another nanny part week, and my days have been covered by two different nannies over the past 7 months- clearly much of both our frustrations have to do with too much turn over- but since I can't fix that piece it's about a functional daily existence until we can get to a better place with time. Our daily conflict seems to be a lack of interest in listening and a strong decision to be defiant and disruptive for the sake of doing it. I appreciate the child behind the actions and want very much to enjoy our time together as I have with both charges in the past and my own daughter- but I guess I've just never had the luck to encounter a child who drinks the pool water after being repeatedly asked not to just because "he felt like it". It doesn't matter that we'll leave, and he knows we will, he "ruins" it to ruin it. Sadly our days end up being prep work for fun, the complete destruction of the moment in minutes, and recollection/clean up. Hence all he's achieving is a frustrated me and alone time while everything is put back together- his actions only serve to isolate him and my impression is that's the last thing he wants. Attempts at redirection, giving him tools, talking things out logically, using rewards systems, using punishment systems like "your room" (this is what his parents use and directed me towards) aren't really affecting the behaviors. I can't seem to get ahead. I can't seem to reach a part of him that wants to be part of the team and enjoy an outing/activity/experience. And sadly because he's so quick to destroy I'm not sure we've gotten to anything enjoyable to reference. My own child is very much her own person and I feel well equipped to offer respect and trust to a child who wants freedom. But it doesn't seem to be what he's after. His uniqueness seems to be more a true desire to destroy, he takes pleasure in keeping us all miserable, while of course voicing frustration with the situation he's made. Example- he wants the baby to be quiet but he wouldn't let her go down for a nap because he needed to scream and throw things- so she's mad and I don't blame her. Beyond the fact she's annoying to him he's also left us with no time to play one on one by keeping her awake- is he old enough to register how entirely he's in control of all the things he's unhappy with? Cause and effect are really all I have left :(. Is being destructive a personality style? Is this just who he is? How do I keep it from dictating the direction/tone/activities of the house? Ideas on how to reach him?
      I deeply want the best the day can be for him, but I'm afraid he's won because I'm losing all desire to put in effort where it's not welcome- and starting to wonder if this behavior isn't a result of too many nannies but rather the reason they've all left.
Thank you very much for your time,


a mom said...

it sounds like he isn't satisfied with the amount of attention he is getting. One of my 3 children is like this and it is very difficult for all of us. I have found for my own sanity that it's better to sometimes just ignore the 'bad' behavior, pretend I don't see it and casually redirect. For example, if he is drinking pool water, instead of saying "stop or we'll leave." and then following through on the threat by leaving (which creates more attention for the child), say "hey! Lets pretend we are making some magic potions - go get some buckets and we'll get started!" Don't even acknowledge that he is swallowing pool water. Pretend you don't see it.

I know for most kids, consequences for 'bad' behavior ultimately 'correct' the 'bad' behavior, but for some it doesn't. Some kids would rather do what they want and serve the punishment over and over again rather than 'comply' with a rule they don' like. For these kids, consequences brought on by someone else don't work. But when your little darling complains that night that he has a stomach ache, you can casually say "hmmm, did you swallow a lot of pool water today?"

MaNanny said...

kind of along the line of what mom said; how about positively verbally reinforcing anything you can with the kid and try to ignore the bad behavior-unless it's completely dangerous to him. If attention is what he's after-than give him that only steer it into a more positive direction.


" Wow, Tommy! I'm so impressed with how gentle you just were playing with the baby." "Tommy, way to go! We stayed at the pool ten minutes and not once did you drink the water. What a big man you are!"

Perhaps also making plans with him about activities to do for "when the baby goes to sleep . . . what would you like to do with me?"

Honestly, I would try to put him in charge of as many choices as you can "your pick, Tommy! What do you think about this?" or "uh, oh, Tommy, the baby seems to be having a hard time getting to sleep. What do you think we should do?" perhaps than gradually going into . . . "Oh!? You're saying that if it quiet, the baby might go to sleep better? What a brilliant idea! And you could help me with that? Wow. Thank you Tommy."

Good luck!

Tales from the (Nanny)Hood said...

2 things come to mind for me here - 1) He is testing you with his behavior to see if you are going to leave like the last 2 nannies have, and 2) He needs as much positive attention as you can manage to give him.

I think even 3-year-olds can reason out that nannies just leave if that is what they experience, so he may be holding back from trying to form a positive bond with you based on that previous experience.

So, ultimately, he is starving for attention, and if negative attention is all he can get, he'll settle for that.

I think your best bet is to do all you can to focus on the positive, as the 2 previous posters have said. You need to "catch him" being well behaved, or at least not being destructive. At the pool, praise his swimming ability, or his water pouring, or whatever, and calmly ignore him if he drinks the water. Look away from him, hum to yourself, find another toy to play with yourself, etc., and as soon as he stops the negative behavior, focus on him with a compliment on his positive actions.

I would not even mention the behaviors you dislike - focus on praise, and on positive direction. when you head off to put baby to bed, ask him to decide what he wants to play during his time without baby around, and have him get that toy out.

It may take a while, and you will want to gradually stop the "praise barrage" once his behavior has turned the corner, slowing it down to occasional compliments on his actions.

I've mentioned this book here recently, "Winning the Whining Wars" - it offers suggestions and support for coping with negative behaviors!

Good Luck!

oh well said...

It does sound like he feels frustrated and needs attention. I would try and teach him to express how he feels and to verbalize his emotions instead of acting them out. I would associate the impulse to destroy with the fact that he is feeling miserable inside. Ask him to draw something he likes (a monster) or to make up a story with him, giving him lots of positive reinforcement. Also, you mention that he has a baby brother/sister. Sibling rivalry can be tough, especially as he is only three. He needs to feel that he is loved for himself. It is easy to coo over a baby and to overlook a toddler, but doing the opposite might be quite helpful. There are lots of books which can help you handle it. Good luck

Village said...

I agree with the first post. Ignore the behavior. Continue to give him positive feedback regardless of what he does. Clean up his messes at the end of the day as a matter of course, without referring to him at all.

The kid needs more unconditional hugs than you alone can give him, IMHO.

HungryCollegeStudent said...

Agree with ignoring the behavior as well. I would, however, casually mention that people pee in the pool.