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3.5yo hiding

Dear Miss Faith, It seems whenever we need to get something done, my 3.5yo son either flops down and makes himself into a dead-weight, or runs away and makes himself physically impossible to get to. After bath he runs immediately and hides in the corner behind the rocking chair, which makes it nearly impossible for me to get to him. I am frustrated by this, and have even considered taking the rocking chair from his room – though that’s where we read stories and snuggle before nap. Should I do that? Should I just remove it so we don’t have this recurrent temptation for him? I wish I could keep better composure when this happens, but I get so frustrated in the moment because i need to accomplish something and he won’t come along or even help, or let me do it for him.

Dear Mama,

Yes, removing distractions can help if you’ve gotten into negative patterns, as can changing the routine. For example, try bringing pyjamas into the bathroom, turning out all the lights, and when he’s ready, holding his hand and say, “Shhh…” then turn out the bathroom light, and tiptoe together into his room and directly into his bed. As you go, whisper, “tiptoe-tiptoe-on-our-way.” You could then snuggle and read his story to him while he’s already in bed. This might be fun enough that it would change the pattern completely. Otherwise, if you only remove the rocking chair but don’t change anything else, chances are he’ll only find another place to hide.
The trouble is that he’s clearly enjoying this fun ‘you can’t get me’ game he’s currently playing, while you are not. One idea is that instead of getting rid of the rocking chair, you might try saying ‘yes’ to that impulse to play, in a way that you can enjoy too, without getting too off-track. “Where’s Toby? Where could he be? I know he was here a moment ago…is he under the bed? No…is he in the closet? No…” If you give that type of fun game three minutes, he might then be happy to come out. At 3.5 he may even be old enough that you could even get his pyjamas and put them on the bed while you saying this, and then say, “Well, I guess he’s not here ANYWHERE! It’s a shame…I really wanted to snuggle and read him a story once he has his pyjamas on…but he could NEVER get his pyjamas on by himself…that’s WAY too hard for him. Well, I’ll just go to the bathroom…” Then go to the bathroom, but stay with him with your voice: “I’m going to the bathroom…I wonder what Toby’s doing? How could he EVER manage to get his pyjamas on to be ready for his story? I’m sure he couldn’t do it…” etc. etc. You just might come back to a boy who has his pyjamas on and is ready for story and snuggles. Then again you might not, but chances are the dynamic will have shifted. If he sees you coming back in and runs back behind the chair again, wanting to play some more, then tell him, “That IS a fun game, isn’t it? Tell you what. Let’s get your pyjamas on lickety-split, and if we do it fast enough we’ll have time to play that game again before we read our story.” Then sit down on his bed and pick up his pyjama shirt, and wait quietly, without giving him any more attention until he comes out. I bet it will be less than a minute.
The thing to remember with these games is that they FEEL like they’re taking a lot of time, and they certainly take more time than it would to just do everything quickly with no delays, but the reality is that you’re NOT doing things quickly with no delays. If you count the time and energy that you spend convincing, cajoling, threatening, bribing, and generally being annoyed and trying to get back on track, then taking the time and effort to get him back on track in ways that you can BOTH enjoy, is time well-spent. I know it can take a lot of effort to be playful when you really just want to yell at him, and I don’t have any solution to that, except to say that it gets easier the more you do it. And the less you yell at him, the greater impact it will have when it does happen. Hang in there!

One more thought: It seems to me that he “makes himself physically impossible to get to” because that gets him lots of attention/energy from you. If you really don’t have the energy for playfulness, then change things up by putting absolutely NO energy into it. Instead, just ignore him and do something else: start folding the laundry, or sweeping the floor, or tidying up, or whatever it is. Then when he comes out, give him a big welcome and an infusion of positive energy. This may help diminish the struggle and minimize the time he spends running away.

Warmly, ~Miss Faith

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