Saturday, May 06, 2006

Bueller? Bueller?

So this week has been. Rough.

I promised no heaviness, but I lied.

I didn't know I was lying, but it turns out I was.

You see, my child is driving me crazy.

And perhaps you can help me. I need to know if I am just being a first-time mother who has no clue about preschooler behavior, and expects things from a little guy who just can't deliver. Well, that last part has already happened.

My son is afraid of everything.

Oh, it started off simply. Afraid of the dark. Ha, good one kid, I've got that one covered. Lots of kids are afraid of the dark.

Then we progressed to soccer class, which was taken a while back. What I neglected to say about soccer was that Mr. Personality refused to go on the field by himself. Ok, so I thought, I'll just kind of stand on the sidelines. No, it turned into he must hold onto my pant leg at all times and will not move forward unless I move forward. Basically, it turned out that I took soccer class, too. For free, since I only paid for him. I pleaded, I cajoled, I attempted to bribe. Nothing worked. The entire last class was spent on the sidelines with him crying and me trying to get him to run out on the field with every other child.

Turns out Mr. Personality is also afraid to move about the house by himself. If I tell him to go to his room and get a book or toy, he will not go unless accompanied. Ditto with the bathroom. Let me tell you, we do not have a very large house, and most of the time you could throw a wadded up piece of paper and hit someone very easily. But the fact that you can see my shadow pretty much anywhere in the house does nothing to assuage him.

Crowds? Forget it. They make him uncomfortable. Preschool? An absolute refusal to be dropped off and left by himself, although we haven't tried it yet. He won't even consider to agree to consider the idea. Parks? He won't go on the equipment unless someone goes with him.

And take today. Today, in front of dozens and dozens of people, I was probably branded "Worst Mother in the Known Universe" by at least a two thirds majority.

My mother and I took Mr. Personality to a local train/railroading fair that is held annually. As it turns out, they had one of the original Disneyland Railroad Steam Engines, which had been taken out of the Disneyland for the first time ever to be at this event. I asked Mr. Personality if he wanted to go on the train and pull the bell and make it whistle. Affirmative. So we wait in line for 45 minutes, and the second we get up to the very front of the line, Mr. Personality reminds me that he is three. Wailing, screaming, refusing to go on. I am thinking that I just spent 45 minutes of my life waiting to get on the dang thing, and we are getting on. So I pick him up as he is grabbing my shirt and snotting into it, without breaking a beat of the crying fit. I am figuring that once we get up there, he will be distracted by the dials and pumps and buttons. No, he refuses to even get near the kindly old conductor who is trying to show him things, practically pulling my shirt off me and giving the crowd a free show of an entirely different kind.

I wound up pulling the bell rope, and I wound up making the train whistle, because I was going to make it somewhat worth my while. They were letting people go on for as long as they wanted, and we were on for all of perhaps three minutes. I'm definitely rounding up.

As soon as we get off, even more wailing commences when I tell him in my least motherly voice, "Well buddy, you blew that one."

I think I should just by myself a T-shirt and announce my shortcomings to the world. That way, they know in advance that I am horrible about pushing my child to do things he doesn't want to do.

I just don't know what to do, and I am at my wit's end with his clinginess. I'm not sure I was designed to have a barnacle attatched to me at all hours of the day. He didn't used to act this way, when he was a toddler he would take off and care less how far I was behind him. Around his third birthday, these seemingly irrational fears took hold and haven't let loose.

I am almost ready to speak with a doctor about it. Am I just being an insensitive mother? I am torn between increasing his fear by pushing him versus encouraging it by playing to it. I am at a complete loss. Has this happened to anyone else?

Anyone? Anyone?


blueyedtracy said...

Man Gina,

I can sympathize - our worlds sound so familiar. After a while the clinginess feels like it just sucks the life out of you. (or should I say, me) I don't know that I have advice to give -since I am also a first-time mom of a 3yr. old boy. My son has been shy and reserved his whole life, so his times of clinginess are not quite as shocking to me as they might be with Mr. Personality. My little guy is a true 'introvert' and we have strategies of dealing with crowds, new places and unfamiliar people (it's called 'mom's lap') - and it probably helps to some degree that I am an introvert as well, so I totally understand what he feels. I just go into most situations knowing that he will take a very long time to involve himself - even with kids that he knows pretty well. There is always at least 10 minutes of him sitting on my lap and checking out the situation from a distance, and then he slowly tests the waters. Hmmmm . . I'm kind of rambling at this point, and not really addressing what you went through specifically. My little guy will be going to see the life-sized Thomas tomorrow with his dad, and it's a good reminder to me to let my husband know that even though the little man LOVES trains, he may freak-out and not want to get on the train. We also frequently encourage him to tell us his feelings in these situations, anad then we talk about what is scaring him, or making him feel anxious. Sometimes that allows us to go ahead and do the 'activity' and sometimes it's our clue that it's too much for him. If I had waited in line for 45 minutes I would have been so bothered to not go ahead and go on the train!! As far as "playing to it" goes, the fears he's feeling are completely real to him, so it's not like your giving in. I'm sure it's a phase - goes along with the wonderful imaginations they have at this age. Hang in there - you're a great mom!

oshee said...

As kids learn more about the world and become more aware of themselves they go through phases of clinginess. It is normal. Most kids grow in and out of these phases. Some really shy kids tend to be there more often. It doesn't sound like this is Mr. Personalities "normal" state. As you said, as a toddler he was different.

As tough as it is, just keep working with him. You may want to hold off on paying for things like soccer until he shifts again.

One of the things we did with my daughter, which was marginally successful, was to talk to her about the experience for up to a week ahead. We would talk about what was going to happen. That there would be a lot of people there. We would talk about what she would get to do, touch, experience. Do our best to get her excited. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn't. She grew out of it and now likes to do the talking ahead about things just because she is excited.

The worst part of it all though. He sounds like a strong headed little guy. Which in the long run is going to be wonderful for him, but is going to be frustrating for you until he changes. The more you try to push him to change and do things on his own, the more likely he is to have no interest in change. Alot of kids are like this with potty training. Kids learn where they have power and hold on to it for all its worth.

Keep reminding yourself what a great kid he is. I have read enough to see that. :-)

Good luck Gina.

Granny said...

I think you answered your own question. He's three.

There are things that kids must do. At three, how many "musts" can there be?

I had a theory with the girls when they were younger. "If it isn't fun for them, why are we doing it?"

Preschool these days is probably a "must". Soccer and train rides? I'd put them in the fun category.

If it would make you feel better, by all means have him evaluated. There's no M.D. behind my name and it would probably eliminate your serious concerns.

Then I'd take things one baby step at a time.

I'll admit I have issues with pushing kids too hard and too soon. Some thrive on that kind of schedule but many don't. At three, Rebecca was ready for anything but Rochelle wept at every new experience. No temper tantrums; just sad and shy. It took her a month to leave the corner in her Sunday School room. She was the same way at Head Start - at least a week before she settled in and even then she was happier being teacher's helper than in joining a group. Eventually that all changed but it took time and patience.

Sorry - this is turning into a post. Bottom line for me; unless it's a "must", I wouldn't force the issues.

Sue said...

I was thinking much the same as the first comment, as I read. My first son was just like yours. Very clingy, very afraid to try anything new, always wanting to observe from the sidelines before joining in. As I'm also an Introvert it was never a problem for me, but other mothers seemed to think there was something wrong, and of course I did worry, because he was my first.

But, you know, there's nothing wrong with clinginess. Today's society is far too focussed on making children separate from their parents at a young age, but there's no reason for it. In lots of societies, past and present, the age for weaning wasn't/isn't till at least four or five, and children wouldn't ever do things without their mothers until at least seven or eight. When they were ready.

I trusted my instincts with my son, mostly. I let him determine the pace, and I let him know that I loved him no matter what he did. He needed to know that, to be told it constantly. He was so afraid of swimming pools that he never did learn to swim properly - but so what? He did other things, when he wanted to. And eventually he grew out of his clinginess, though he's still (at 19) a person who observes before joining in. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, in my view. But then I'm much the same.

I had a friend with three children. Her first daughter was even more clingy than my son, and the friend was less laid-back than me. She pushed her daughter into playing with other children, playgroups, pre-school, gym classes, etc. Horribly stressful for them both, and at about eight her daughter was STILL clingy, and very insecure.

Her second child was outgoing and happy to do her own thing from a young age.

Then she had a son, and he was just like his oldest sister - very clingy, wouldn't try anything, always scared. My friend decided she was NOT going to go through all that stress again, she would let him lead the way. So she breast-fed him until he was three, did some co-sleeping, didn't make him do anything he didnt'want to. Playgroup was all right, because she stayed with him, and he continued there rather than going to a nursery school. And... by five he was confident and quite happy to start school, with most of his fears gone. He just needed that extra time to be reassured. She wished she had been as relaxed about her first child.

So I'd say - forget any pressure to be a 'good mother' - just be the mother your son needs. If that means night-lights, no soccer classes, or no pre-school - then that's just fine. He'll grow up when he's ready to.

Anvilcloud said...

My initial gut reaction, especially to things like soccer and the train is to let him be. Let him watch the other kids have fun and see how that sits. Maybe he just has to get used to an environment or taste sitting on the sidelines. Maybe you are trying to hard to force him to have a good time. But, as I said, it's just my initial gut reaction, so take it with a grain of salt.

Note: there will come a time when you will wish that he was more clingy and less independent.

Liz said...

When my oldest was two, I kept waiting for the "terrible twos" to arrive. They didn't, until she turned three. Three is a tough age in so many ways.

Hang in there, Gina. Your instincts will tell you what to do and before you know it, another phase will come about to drive you crazy! 'Cause that's what kids do....just when we think we have them figured out, they change on us!

WordsRock said...

I'm of the opinion he'll move on past this stage with time. As irritating, no make that challenging, as it may be for you, try to relax and go with the flow. Now if he still behaves that way when he's, say, fifteen, well then you've got something to worry about.

Oh. And when he's all grown up and moved away and you miss him like crazy at least you'll have those memories of his clinginess to cling to yourself. :)


KMae said...

Well put Sue & Suzanne.

I can't say anything because I don't have kids. Therefore when babies & young children cling to me I love it. It's when they hit the teens & get snotty I run the other direction.