Whoah, that last post was kind of a bummer. It sounds like I’m just sitting around constantly thinking about this Terrible Thing that could have happened to my baby, when in fact we have moved into the black humor stage, as evidenced by JB cheerily announcing to me this morning that he had checked the monitor and that Dylan was just sleeping with his toy cord, but gosh it sure was quiet in there.

Oh, I know. I could never even tell you half of the awful things JB and I joke about, because it’s really . . . well, we’re clearly going to straight to hell in an Astroglided handbasket.

Anyway, I’m posting again to move the creepy entry down the page a little and to ask you something that is driving me CRAZY lately: those of you with experience dealing with that mysterious creature that is the three-year-old, is it normal for a kid to refuse to say what’s wrong with them? Like when they’re whining and half-crying about something but they will NOT tell you what it is, even if you practically give yourself a hernia trying to sweetly and supportively cajole it out of them? And later it turns out they stubbed their toe or some shit? Because Riley has been doing this a lot lately, and it sort of makes me lose my damn mind — I spend X amount of time trying to get him to talk and trying to comfort him, then I try to distract him, and then if it goes on too long and I’m really having one of those oh-so-admirable Mommy Dearest moments, I bark at him to just STOP it already. Which, ugh. Smooth move, Ex-Lax.

It’s super frustrating, but it also just makes me feel bad, because I want to help. I’m not the most capable human being on earth but by god I can kiss a boo-boo and I can whip up a PB&J for a hungry belly, you know? But it’s like we’re the interrogators and he’s the stubborn prisoner refusing to give up his comrades’ location.

Are you familiar with this behavior? What course of action would you recommend when we’re dealing with it?

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b.
b.
14 years ago

My son turned three last April and this is exactly the sort of thing he does.

While I’ve had more than my fair share of Mommy Dearest moments, what I usually *try* to do is to hug him (if he’ll let me) and tell him that when he’s ready to tell me what’s wrong, I’ll be ready to listen. That seems to dial down whatever secret-keeping mode he’s in and after sadly snuffling for a while, he’ll eventually say something.

And sometimes that doesn’t work. When that happens, we usually need a break from each other so I just leave him alone until we are both calm again.

Michelle
Michelle
14 years ago

Three. Gah.

I think the problem with three is that they can talk but they still have trouble putting into words complicated stuff like emotions (especially if feeling more than one at one time). Imagine if you woke up cranky and then stubbed your toe on your way to the bathroom and it really, really hurt. And maybe you don’t even realize what you stubbed your toe on. So you’re tired, cranky, hurt, surprised, annoyed. Now you’re three and you totally don’t have a grasp on how to verbalize what you’re feeling so when someone asks you what is wrong it is the breakdown cherry on the frustration sundae.

Hang in there. I find it getting easier now that we are fully engaged in four.

Kristi
14 years ago

I’m so sorry to tell you this but my 6-yr old STILL does this!!!!! It’s drives me bat-shit crazy and I find myself, at times, with very little sympathy if he’s not even going to tell me what is wrong so I can fix it (obviously, no blood or broken bones are present, keeping him from forming words.)

Oddly, my 4-yr old daughter does not do that and never has.

Men – they start young.

Jenny
14 years ago

My daughter’s the same age as Riley, and she does this all the time, from incoherent whimpering on the subject of “What do you want for breakfast?” to stubborn muteness when asked what’s wrong when she’s lying in the middle of the floor crying. Argh. No idea how to fix it, but I’m there with you. Sometimes I think she just wants the attention of the cajolery. Um, in my more cynical moments.

Shana
Shana
14 years ago

My kid is turning 3 in January (he’s the 4th child). What I do, is ask if he would like a hug, and I tell him I’m sorry he’s sad/upset/mad/whatever. That works every time.

Sarah0
Sarah0
14 years ago

Yeah, when you figure that one out let me know. Because…sheesh.

You know what else gets me? The making stuff up. Oh, how I have heard about how so-and-so hit her in the head, and how Daddy did this, and I did something else. Stuff that never happened. What is THAT about? How am I supposed to take anything seriously?

Mama Ritchie
14 years ago

Ah, I know it well. C is almost 4 and he’s just now beginning to be able to tell me what’s wrong. Part of it, I think, is that their brains aren’t developed enough to put A and B together. Stubbed toe = hurt, so I cry. Especially boys. Girls are way different. Just talking to the 3 year old girls at C’s school blows me away. The detail and the need to connect verbally. Meanwhile the boys are dumping sand down the slide. Over. And over. And over.

This is something that I’m afraid you have to wait out until his brain can transform his feelings into words. In the meantime, C likes it when I generally sympathize with him, like, “Well, something’s got you upset, I can see that – it must be pretty bad.” I’m not sure why, but when he senses I’m on his side he calms down a bit. And some down time is good too – alone time – different from a time out. He’s not being punished, he just needs to decompress.

I’m glad your into the dark humor phase with the cord incident. Jason and I still talk about how close we are to Tijuana and we wonder how much we can get for a well-trained white baby on certain, trying days.

Margaret
Margaret
14 years ago

My daughter’s 4 and she also did the “I’m upset but I’m NOT TELLING YOU” song-and-dance. Still does it a little now, though it’s getting better as she develops better vocabulary and/or realizes that everyone does silly things like drop their favorite book behind the bed, even Mommy. Especially Mommy. *cough*

But I think it’s also a matter of, “… oh, well, while I have your attention, I’m going to see if I can draw this out for a few more minutes…” I’ll try to get her to tell me, but then I walk away and either she’ll tell me in a few minutes, especially if she needs help with something, or she’ll solve the issue herself, and I usually hear about that, too.

Another lovely phase, yes.

Annie Bananie
Annie Bananie
14 years ago

I have a 2 1/2 year old (AND a 1 1/2 year old) that is in the whiney stage as well. Whenever I get past my limit, which is like after 2.3 seconds of the whining, I picture myself on Nanny 911 watching the little DVD of myself screaming at my child while all the world watches with me saying, “What a horrible mother…”

Angelynn
Angelynn
14 years ago

My 3 year old son did that just tonight. I’m his mom, and I’m supposed to be able to help. Sometimes I can’t. I feel like once in a while (if he’s anything like me) he just needs to fuss, get some extra hugs and kisses, and be upset. Sometimes about nothing at all. I think kids get stressed out like we do and once in a while it builds up to a point where something ridiculous sets them off.

I feel you on the frustration. It sucks when both my boys (his brother is 1) do it at the same time. Then they get over it and are all cute and sweet so we forget about it. “Wuv you too mommy” *sigh*

Ms. Hodge
14 years ago

No advice for you, but that was exactly the MO of me ex-fiance. I just realized that instead of telling him to quit acting like a goddamned baby, I should have told him to quit acting like a goddamned toddler. Maybe that’s why the relationship failed!

biscuit
biscuit
14 years ago

omfg the astroglided hand basket had me peeing my pants!

SJ
SJ
14 years ago

I have a 3 year old, I think he’s actually a day or two older than Riley who does the same exact shit. I’ll try maybe once or twice to get it out of him as to what’s so darn upsetting, and if he remains tight lipped? I ignore him. Believe it or not this usually works and we swiftly move on to some other odd and random behavior.

Age three just sucks. But oh it can be so much fun at times!

Jenn
14 years ago

I can’t give you any advice as a parent, only as a preschool teacher. But yes, it’s common for all of the reasons mentioned above. And here is what I say:

“Is your body hurting or your feelings?” “Can I help you?” “What might help?” “Do you want me to hold you/hug you/rub your back?” (Sometimes I offer solutions like finding a story, getting a blanket, having some water, ice, band-aids, or water. After one or two times, they will totally have it down and offer solutions like, “Candy.”) If they continue to shake their heads/cry/whine, I say, “Okay, if you don’t need me to help you, I am going to walk over there to do xyz, but if you think of what will help, you come and tell me and I will get it for you right away. I will be right there if you need me.” It keeps you from snapping at them, it lets them know clearly and simply what they need to do. You have given them some words that will work (“I need such-and-such”). If they really need something, they will let you know. If they don’t, they generally settle down when you move off to do something.

Keep giving him the words and soon you will have forgotten this was ever a stage he went through. I promise.

Beth
Beth
14 years ago

Not only does my 3 year old do this, but there’s a Sandra Boynton book about it! I feel so lame knowing this. It’s called “What’s Wrong, Little Pookie?”

iidly
14 years ago

Three year olds are kind of creepy to begin with. Two was a breeze, my son turned into a demon at three and stayed that way an entire year.

The pediatrician tells me that at three kids especially boys want to exert their authority and not telling you or not communicating with you is a way for them to be in control of the few things in their lives.

The other part is at three they can talk but still have problems expressing themselves and putting their words together correctly.

Nicole
14 years ago

Iidly got the same advice as I got- don’t interrogate them over feelings, what they did in school, etc because it turns into a power struggle. Imagine if JB harassed you when you got home from work to tell him every detail of your day when all you wanted to do was space out and watch cartoons. You would want to kill him. We basically do the same thing with our kids when we INSIST they tell us what is wrong.

I also think it is an exercise in validating their feelings. Sometimes you just feel mad or bad or sad and thats cool. By insisting that he tell you Why? its like he has to justify it. I think its good to let them know that they can talk or not, but its not necessarily your business so its up to him to talk about it.

Zoot
Zoot
14 years ago

I know that behavior all too well. My daughter actually gets frustrated at ME though, when I keep asking. Like, “Jeez, Mom. Leave me alone already.” I already have a teenager, thank you, I don’t need another one.

If you find the solution, share it with the class please.

Alli
14 years ago

Vocabulary helps with that, but now we are stuck on “My tummy hurts.” Which could mean “I have to go potty” or “I’m hungry” or “I’m stalling from doing anything you just told me to do.” Usually, it is the latter. Very, very, annoying. (Fuller is 4.)

Eric's Mommy
Eric's Mommy
14 years ago

Wow, it is really sad that my son is 6 and I cannot even remember what he was like when he was 3.

Moderndayhermit
Moderndayhermit
14 years ago

My son turned three in October and does the same thing. I just ask him if he needs a hug and if he says no I give him his space. He’ll usually come around a bit later to ask for his hug and will tell me what is wrong.

Karl
Karl
14 years ago

Not only is it normal, you can expect it to continue on and off right until they move out.

We usually would respond cheerily “gee, glad everything is fine”, and if they were really really cranky, we’d start singing the “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms” song. It usually didn’t help them much, but it sure made us feel better!

Swistle
14 years ago

YES. NORMAL. I mean, clearly NOT normal. But typical for the age. And also: my 7-year-old is STILL doing it.

Dr. Maureen
14 years ago

I am not an expert as my only son is 2, but I have a plethora of nieces and nephews and it is my understanding that three-year-olds are subhuman. So I think Riley is pretty much on target. The good news is that soon he will be four!

warcrygirl
14 years ago

I don’t remember if either of my kids did that sort of thing, right now their favorite thing to do is to howl about being hungry but not telling me what they want to eat (and everything I fix them is woefully substandard). My kids were pretty much free whiners at the age of 3.

Kelly
14 years ago

I tend to “ferberize” the inexplicable whining by ignoring it. I might say something clever like I don’t speak whine, or I don’t negotiate with terrorists. She doesn’t get the joke, but it makes me feel better. In the end, I walk away chanting USE YOUR WORDS and usually she complies.

Susan
Susan
14 years ago

My daughter is almost 4.5, so she’s a tad older than Riley. But, in general, humor works best with her. I have noticed that her daycare teacher this year uses humor, too–with great success. It’s usually something silly like, “Oh no! You hurt your arm?! We’d better cut it off! Quick, Daddy, grab the chain saw…” The absurdity will put her into a fit of laughter. Of course, if Riley won’t even TELL YOU it’s his arm that’s injured, you have more creative latitude to get really silly with your “guesses.”

Somehow I think you (and your hubby) would be quite adept at this technique. ;-)

Krista
14 years ago

Yes, the 3 year old inconsolable melt down is both normal and unavoidable. Four is better. Suddenly, right around their 4th birthday they turn into people who actually talk to you. I had forgotten that until my youngest turned 3. Somehow the horror had been put out of my mind. The only thing saving my ass now is the fact that I know that it will be over in, oh about six more months. I’m not counting down or anything. Much.

Krissa
Krissa
14 years ago

Yeah, “No Whining” should be a standard rule. He can be upset all he wants, but he gets to verbalize what is wrong, or he can go mope about (Quietly and without additional hystrionics) in his room or whereever.
If he’s doing it as a power struggle, that deflates the situation. If he’s frustrated himself that he can’t really put into words what is wrong, he gets the time/space he needs to work it out without working himself into a blathering emotional mess.
Bonus, you get to actually know when something is wrong vs. just a bad mood.
I *love* the preschool teacher’s suggestions from up thread.

Joanne
14 years ago

I think a book like What’s Wrong, Little Pookie? is a good idea. We are big into Signing Time around here, so we usually quote from a familiar song or line. We’ll say, I’m sorry you got an owie, or sing from a song about When you cry, you always become better, when you fall down, you always get back up. When you’re hurt, it never lasts forever, I’ll help you feel better, we help each other out.

Somebody stop me! Maybe you and your husband could model some behavior to help Riley see how it works. Sometimes when I stub my toe I swallow it because what I want to do is swear or scream, and maybe my son mimics that?

Apparently, it’s VERY hard to be a three year old. At least that’s what I glean from mine!

Jamie
14 years ago

yes, my three year old does the same thing. I’m beginning to realize that just about everything about the age 3 drives me nuts

babelbabe
14 years ago

totally standard behavior and the only thing that works for both him and my sanity is to ignore him. truly. nice mom eh? : )

Christina
14 years ago

Heh, the whole post and many of the comments (esp. Michelle’s #2 comment) made me laugh out loud. Also I sent the link to my husband who as a rule does not do the BLOG thing but it made me laugh because we are SO there and it makes me feel a little like I am dealing with an insane person. LIKE JUST F***ing tell me what is wrong and once my ire (IRE? where are we anyway?!) is up I cannot get it down. I generally walk away when then happens (which just pisses the little guy off even more) but man walking away helps me a whole lot. After I cool down I try to give him the words to explain the issue. But I have a feeling this will be an going issue say till he like 30?!

Also, we are right there with you in that “Astroglided handbasket” on the way to hell ;)

Kristin H
Kristin H
14 years ago

My mantra is, “Honey, if you don’t TALK to me, I can’t HELP you.” I am hoping this will finally cement in her mind by the time she’s a teenager, and maybe (maybe?) come in handy then too.

Amy
Amy
14 years ago

Totally normal, as everyone has said. I’ll second Jenn’s recommendation–with Jacob, most of the time I just try to offer support if he needs it as soon as I realize I’m losing my patience. Then he’s in control of the situation again. I think at 3 they still have a lot of trouble even identifying their emotions, let alone communicating them. Frustrating, but there it is.

And here’s a link to that Boynton book:

http://www.amazon.com/Whats-Little-Pookie-Sandra-Boynton/dp/0375845526/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1228487409&sr=8-1

We love that book, and sometimes a “Did a tiny green hippo try to borrow your shoes?” will pull him out of whatever funk he’s in.

Claudia
14 years ago

Yes, normal. Yes, intensely frustrating. I think part of the problem is that sometimes they DON’T EVEN KNOW what’s wrong and/or can’t put it into words. They don’t have the vocabulary to express their feelings in words grownups understand. I simply kiss my kid, hug her and when she doesn’t stop whining, I often (if I’m in the right frame of mind) just put her on my lap and let her finish her fit. Sometimes opening one of her books and thumbing through it helps. She’ll calm down enough to tell me to read it to her.

Kat
Kat
14 years ago

My son didn’t start that behavior until after his sister was born, and moving around. He was almost 4 at the time.
I would just give him a hug, tell him I love him and allow him to tell me what he needed/wanted in his own time. I’d either sit beside him and just hold him, or I’d leave the room and allow him some private time if that’s what he seemed to want or need.
When he finally told me I let him know how happy and proud I was the he let me know, took care of what was wrong and then either snuggled on the sofa with him, got him a treat for us to share at the table or just held him after. It was just a phase that passed quickly.

Christine
Christine
14 years ago

Heh. GD kids can drive you crazy if you let them.

Here is how (and why) I handle this: I ask why she’s crying (she’s going on 5 now) and if after 30 seconds I don’t get an answer my response is “You can feel anyway you like, it’s ok. I love you. What is not ok is whining/crying/hitting/screaming (take your pick). Tell me what’s wrong or go to your room and work it out.” If she keeps crying/whining (again with the 30 second rule) then I just pick her up and put her in her room. That usually ends it within two minutes.

I try not to let it go on for too long because my patience is short (and I accept this about myself) so I figure the faster I cut to the chase the calmer I am while the whole incident is happening. If I allow it to draw out there is yelling and tears and lots of regret on my part.

mojavi at simple things

stop asking… if he is breathing he will survive, just hug him and say you know something is wrong but mommy is here. pretend he told you, what he wants most is your attention… you can’t really prevent or really fix an already stubbed toe anyway

Tela
Tela
14 years ago

Yep, that’s a 3 year old for you. Unfortunately I handled it exactly as you are so I can’t offer any awesome advice on how to make it STOP! But it does seem to go away on its own. It seemed to me that it was an attention seeking thing. The more worked up I got the more it intensified. At 3 they are beginnning to realize their powers, isn’t it lovely?!

Nichole
14 years ago

Oh, gracious, and I familiar with that. My 3-year-old does exactly the same thing, and I think it’s just what Michelle said: They can talk, but they can’t explain all that well. I try to be patient and gentle when she’s having those moments. When I can’t muster up the patience of gentleness, though, I try to distract her. Or I walk away for a bit.

Tammy
Tammy
14 years ago

Not helpful, but all you can do is rock in the corner and murmur to yourself over and over “this too shall pass”. Sorry.

Lindy
13 years ago

because I’m a hard a$$ and my 2.5 y/o knows it I will ask her what is wrong and if she continues to whine and not tell me then I take something away- toy, tv, crayon. I explain *snort* to her that I need to know what is wrong if there is NOTHING wrong she NEEDS TO STOP WITH THE FRECKING WHINING. It appears to work- although now that I have actually written it down the gods will spite me and it will stop working. Hmmm maybe I shouldn’t click on submit comment!

ElizabethZ
ElizabethZ
13 years ago

I don’t have time to read all the other comments right now so I don’t know if this has been mentioned but when our 3 y/o twin boys get this way or are saying no to whatever, we just do the reverse psychology thing on them. It works 80-90% of the time. Something along the lines of “don’t you dare tell me what is wrong, I don’t even want to know”…..when all else fails it might be worth a shot.

Sara
13 years ago

Oh, thank goodness. I thought I was alone with the whining thing.

My son? He only does it at night. He wakes up after an hour or so of sleep, crying and snuffling and sometimes hiccuping, and yet! He will not tell me why. He can drag it out for HOURS, too — the booing and hooing and general patheticness.

I do not handle it well. I mean, the first fifteen minutes or so I am SuperMom, but after that I get increasingly snippy and sarcastic until I remember that oh yeah, he’s three. So maybe I should have a time-out and he will either fall asleep or come tell me what’s wrong, even though my brain insists that dear God, he will be making that noise FOREVER.

He hasn’t made that noise forever, as of yet. That’s something, right?

Yet Another Jenny
13 years ago

Gulp. I do this round of questioning, on an alarmingly regular basis, with my SPOUSE. As much as it sucks to watch your loved one suffering, I think we really are supposed to leave them alone. But it’s so freaking hard to do that.

jenn
jenn
13 years ago

Yeah, my four-year-old is still doing that. The way I think of it is, you know how sometimes you’ll get really busy running from place to place and like, forget to eat? (Am I the only one who does that?) And all of a sudden you find yourself feeling extremely crabby, and then you smack your forehead and go “Oh shit, I forgot to eat… my blood sugar is crashing, I need some protein.” Well, that’s probably what’s happening, but a 3 or 4 yr. old has no idea how to articulate that… all they know is they feel awful. And so they lose their shit. Or maybe he’s thirsty. Could really be any number of things, but when you’re little you just don’t have the experience to know what’s going on in your body, or the words to communicate “Hey, I need help.”

Penny
Penny
13 years ago

I now have a 3 year old granddaughter that I am legal guardian for. When she does that I remind her that we need to use our words. If she continues, I remind her I cannot help her without her using her words to tell me the problem. If she continues still, I inquire if this means she is tired and wants a nap? So far she’s fessed up!

MelV
MelV
13 years ago

I have no advise to offer (but more than open to some). Its just such a relief to know that I am not alone in this. My 3 y.o. does that ALL the time. He will follow me around and wail but refuses to speak. And havent we all had the Mommy Dearest moments!

Monica
13 years ago

My husband is 32 and hasn’t grown out of this behavior.