Here & there: A graduation speech – on biting and an angry 3-year-old

Stock image, St. George News

FEATURE — My youngest boy went through an “angry period” when he was little. Even he characterizes it that way. We’re talking the truly terrible threes.

Back then, he’d curse Jesus for not moving the sun out of his eyes while we were driving in the car, dryly tell me that I’d look prettier if I wore pink lipstick (while I was wiping his bottom) and finish most conflicts with a punch – or three.

My husband’s reigning favorite family photo is from this era.

It shows this 3-year-old glaring fiercely, head tilted down like a bull, at his older brother across a stretch of Cambodian beach. His older brother is facing away from the camera, but the taut muscles rippling down his back and the hands on his hips suggest he isn’t very happy either.

That and the gnarly bite mark still dripping with saliva on the back of his left triceps.

It took several hours before the conflict completely blew over. That’s what being together nonstop for a month will do to brothers who normally punch it out and get over it. But more than that, it’s what happens when one brother is struggling with managing his big feelings.

It would take six months of therapy with “Dr. Doug” later that year for our little boy to learn how to express himself more constructively. For him, it was a matter of getting his emotional IQ up to where his brain was. I mean, what 3-year-old has an existential crisis because the sun is in his eyes?

I admit that initially I didn’t love that picture of the bite mark stand off on the beach like my husband did. I was honest to myself and others about my little boy’s anger issues, but I didn’t want to frame a picture showcasing them.

He was only 3 and I hoped he would – and we would – work through them. And he did. We did. Pretty successfully, I might add.

He’s generally a kind and respectful kid these days. He’s sweet with our 2-year-old neighbor who follows him around the yard on long Saturdays. I regularly find notes in his backpack from little girls in his class telling him they like him because he “is nice and so funne [sic].” And he recently gave me a standing ovation after I sung him an old lullaby at bedtime (which is very generous because I’m not musical).

So what is the point of highlighting an incident from back when we was still in the thick of it, of that time when he’d rather spit in your eye than give you a hug? Especially when he isn’t that boy anymore.

That’s exactly the point: it shows his progress.

My husband and I have had several conversations lately about how we can raise resilient children, what we can do as parents now to help our boys launch when it’s time. To succeed, not crumble, in their lives.

We read to our boys about and admire the resiliency of people like Louis Zamperini and The Boys in the Boat but know that our kids likely (and thankfully) aren’t going to be challenged by POW camps and the Great Depression.

Reading about these case studies won’t make our boys resilient in their own rights. Recognizing failure in their own lives and seeing personal growth from it might though.

General George S. Patton Jr. famously said, “I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.”

My boy knows today that he had an extremely difficult time managing his angry feelings when he was 3. He knows he kicked his mom, he hit his friends and he even bit his brother – until the skin broke – on a beach for reasons he can’t remember.

But he also knows that he worked to overcome his failings. He knows he is different – better – today because of that work.

We now have an 8-by-10 of the bite-on-the-beach photograph hanging in our family room. Anyone who comes in our home can see my 3-year-old in the height of his anger issues. Hopefully they can also see the rest of the story like we do: what it looks like to bounce back after hitting bottom.

That’s what we’re trying to help them replicate – now and always.

Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News, any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.

Email: katdayton@gmail.com | news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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4 Comments

  • Sapphire May 14, 2017 at 9:00 am

    So this kid who worked so hard to overcome his bad behavior has to see a picture of it every time he goes into the family room? Pardon the pun, but that might come back to bite you.

  • Proud Rebel May 14, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Six months of therapy with Dr. Doug?? I had a child psychologist tell me years ago, “there is more psychology in the palm of the hand, applied appropriately to the seat of the pants, than in all the psychology books combined.”
    I believed him then, and I believe it today.
    One of the major problems with the people in this country, is that they’ve never been taught to take responsibility for their own actions. They’ve never been taught, that there is a price to pay, for antisocial actions.
    Talk with people who have been in prison. Most of them will either tell you that they had the crap beaten out of them at home, when they angered their parent, or that they were allowed to do anything, with no repercussions. In both instances, the parents just didn’t care about the kid.
    Appropriate discipline, administered with love and caring has NEVER been a “bad” thing. And yet, for the past several generations, it has been taught that physical correction, is wrong. It is “child abuse.”
    That is horse crap, pure and simple. Just look at how far we’ve come as a country, in the wrong direction.
    The twos and threes are a rough time, for both parents and children. But this is the time when it is imperative to set limits, and stick to them.
    A kid throws a temper tantrum in the living room – he is confined to his room. He throws the tantrum at the table – he misses the rest of the meal.
    He does something that hurts someone, such as biting, he gets his butt spanked. He does something that is dangerous to himself, such as running out into the street, he gets his butt spanked. Right there and then. That is how you teach them about consequences. At two or three, you have to take immediate action, or the kid is likely to forget why he is being punished.
    At six or so, you can tell him what is going to happen, “when we get home.” But you have to follow through with it.
    This is NOT child abuse. This IS teaching about consequences.

    • comments May 14, 2017 at 9:31 pm

      Really got to agree 100% here. Now I’m curious enough to read the article, lol.

  • utahdiablo May 15, 2017 at 7:59 am

    Yes Sir, the Hand understands….what most people are afraid to use today

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