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2.5 Year Behavioral Regression

I need some insight. This probably isn’t a typical blog post that you run into. Usually blog posts are all about the answers. Well, in this blog post I’m asking questions, and I need your insight. I need some outside perspective on this issue. I like to think through things by writing them down, and I often write about our daughter’s “regressions” as they are happening. This is one such regression, and I really want to know what tactics you’d be using if this was happening in your house.

I would describe my 2.5 year old as very obedient, a good listener, and just well behaved. We’ve put a lot of upfront work in with praising good behavior, setting expectations high, and staying consistent and I think it’s really paid off.

For the last couple of weeks something has changed and she’s really testing boundaries. I’ll focus on one specific example, but it’s happening quite a bit.

I’d like to hear your tactics for dealing with the scenario below, as I feel like I’ve tried everything from choices to discipline and everything in between, and we just aren’t getting anywhere. I’m now to the point that I’m actually getting upset, and I hate feeling upset with my 2 year old. I’m feeling upset because it is happening so often now, and it is seeming to get worse and worse. I feel like I’m in a constant power struggle, which is not at all where we need to be!

The Scenario:

Every morning after breakfast I have Caroline bring something from the table back to the kitchen to help clean up. I then unload the dishwasher and clean up breakfast, and her one task is to put the silverware away. She’s always enjoyed doing this and is great at it. It’s just been in the last couple of weeks that we’ve gotten into a routine of doing this every morning, however. I just ask her to put the silverware away, and tell her that when she’s done, she can go play while I finish.

I am met with the response “I need help. Will you help me, Mama?”. She’s done it on her own without help so many times, and I have other things to do, so I explain to her how good she is at putting it away, and that I need her to do it on her own, since Mama is busy doing the rest of the dishes.

She then proceeds to demand help what seems like about 20 more times. I respond with things like “I’ve already answered you”, or “You know you are only supposed to ask one time and respect Mama’s answer”, until we get to the frustrated mama- “Caroline stop asking. If you ask me again you are going to your room to calm down”. I’m trying to be patient with her, but she knows how to do this, and she knows she’s only supposed to ask once. After a few times saying no, she’s screaming and crying. Ignoring doesn’t work, and I can’t take the screaming, so to her room she goes. Putting her in her room is my attempt at us both calming down.

(Just a side note: with our expectation being to only ask one time, I am trying to be better about actually enforcing that. If she asks a second time I’m reminding her of the expectation, and by the 3rd time she’s going to her room. We are disciplining for this at all times so she’s seeing consistency. For example, if she asks for help putting her flip flops on, and I tell her I can help her when I’m done with X, if she asks again she gets the warning/reminder, a third time the shoes get taken away. I’m trying to have the consequence makes sense and be logical if at all possible).

So back to our scenario, Caroline is now brought to her room to calm down. I then tell her that, when she’s calm, to call me and I’ll come get her to do the silverware. I also try to help calm her down (if she’ll let me) with a hug, reminding her to squeeze her hands together, take a deep breath, etc.

Usually she ends up calming down, we can talk, hug, and she’ll eventually get back to doing the silverware.

Lately, however, it’s escalated. Today it is now after lunch and she still hasn’t done it. The consequence for her today (and any day) is that she isn’t getting any playtime until she’s put the silverware away. I haven’t allowed her to have any playtime as a result. She spent most of the morning in her room. I checked on her a few times to see if she was ready to put the silverware away. I took her down at one point and just tried again. I was met with more screams, so back to her room. She simply sat on her bed the entirety of the time. We then had to leave to go to an appointment, came home and have had lunch. I’ve given her opportunities to do the silverware, and reminded her that. once she does it, she can have playtime. When she tried to insist on playtime, I told her she really only had two options right now- she could go put the silverware away, or she could go take her nap early. She told me she’d rather go to her room. So she started her nap early (at 11:30)…and was asleep really fast (surprisingly since she hasn’t done anything today).

She’s getting so upset during these confrontations that she’s hitting me if I try to help her calm down by offering a hug. She’s not one to do things like that. I’m then getting so upset that she’s getting to this point, that I’m yelling. I hate this side of me…the side that can get so frustrated with such a tiny person. I need a solution to this because I’m just not liking this phase one bit and I feel that a change needs to be made.

So here are my questions:

– Do you think my expectations are too high (a 2.5 year old being expected to put the silverware away each morning)?

– What would your tactic be if your 2.5 year old wouldn’t do the task on their own when you know they can?

– Do you discipline for asking over and over and over and over and over and over?

– How do you prevent yourself from actually getting upset? Usually I have to “show” Caroline I’m upset and make the effort so she knows she’s upset Mama, but right now I’m actually upset and it’s a horrible feeling.

– What am I overlooking?

In general she’s doing several things things:
1. Not listening to us when we ask her to do something
2. Not accepting our answers when she asks something and asking repeatedly
3. Throwing all sorts of fits when she doesn’t get her way
4. Hitting and trying to bite (super out of character) when she’s in the throws of her fit
5. She’s not wanting to DO things that she knows how to do, or TRY things that we’d like her to learn (and that she’s ready to)
6. She’s pretending to be a baby (see note below about pregnancy)

This is out of character for her, although the longer it goes on the more in character it seems LOL! She’s getting progressively more stubborn and listening less and less. Part of this is highlighted because I’m trying to be more consistent, so she’s not confused in any way. So we are having more confrontations throughout the day as a result.

She’s getting 2 of her second year molars in (but that’s been happening for awhile now and she’s also not saying her teeth hurt when I ask), she’s been sick, she’s been hungry, and tired. All of those things I’m trying to help her with to remove them as a root cause.

On an interesting note, she’s gotten worse since we told her we are going to have another baby. She’s been pretending to be a baby and whining and crying. She tells us she’s just pretending to be a baby and babies can’t talk. Is she somehow doing her regression now, instead of waiting for when the baby comes? I’ve always heard of the older sibling going through a regression and whining and crying more, and doing things to get more attention..
.but there isn’t actually a baby yet! I find it hard to believe she’s doing all of this because of a baby that she can’t quite fathom….

What we’re doing in summary:

1. Truly trying to avoid power struggles just to diffuse. if there are times I know something is going to cause all of this to happen, I often avoid it just so we can start to see more positive behavior. But I refuse to always let her off of the hook like that even without her knowing. We expect her to help around the house, and I don’t feel like putting the silverware away is too high of an expectation, so I continue to ask this of her daily (just as an example).

2. I still try to offer choices as a way to empower her.

3. I’m trying to be as consistent as possible with my expectations (which often leads to increased discipline throughout the day).

4. I try to help Caroline remain/get back to a calm state. I offer hugs, and offer tools that she knows to use.

5. When all is said and done, we talk. I explain to her why Mama was upset. I explain to her that i understand her feelings and show her empathy (I do this initially as well). We BOTH apologize. I apologize first for anything I did that was wrong, and then I ask her what she’s sorry about.

6. We focus on good behavior and praise as much as we can.

7. We are talking a lot about helping the family, being a big sister, etc. and referencing Daniel Tiger, since she relates to that show a lot. We are trying to get her excited about more independence and doing things she’s capable of doing.

8 Consequences. Lots of them, unfortunately. When talking and reasoning aren’t working, when choices are not taken, etc… there’s just consequences left, and we are using them.

Here’s what I hate right now: choices aren’t working. Empowering her is not working. There are less and less opportunities to praise for good behavior. I’m having to discipline more than I like, and the discipline is in the form of taking things away. It’s the only thing that is somewhat logical (I hate random punishment and I don’t feel like it ever does any good). But sometimes, the item I’m taking away makes no sense because there isn’t anything that makes sense, and it just has to be motivating to get her attention. But it’s not the way I want to parent…it’s not what I envisioned. I take things away from her
daily for behaviors like the above scenario. In the flip flop example, I take away her flip flops and it makes logical sense, but other times there isn’t a logical item to take away. In the silverware example, she doesn’t get to do anything else that she wants to do until she helps put the silverware away. After a whole day of this and it still not getting done, it’s just not seeming like it’s working. Maybe I have to give it more time? Or maybe a new tactic?

The only other thing I can think of is doing a reward chart until she’s back on track. I only like doing reward charts when behaviors are being learned. Since she already knows to ask one time, and listen to Mama, I’ve refrained from doing this, as she’s already learned the behavior. I don’t like to reward for things that are just normal expectations. Maybe we need to do it long enough to just snap her out of this phase… I have no idea at this point, which is why I’m looking to you and your ideas. I feel too immersed in this issue to even come up with creative solutions right now, and I’m feeling stuck, so I need your ideas!
I’m also pregnant and my emotions are running high right now, so I know that’s not helping. Give me your ideas, please!!

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