Ask Teacher Lisa: In Trouble

Dear Teacher Lisa,

I’ve noticed a pattern lately with my son and wanted to get your advice. Recently when he does something my partner or I don’t want him to, and he feels he is “in trouble,” he has a pattern of a few things he does. It’s always the same–throwing all the shoes off the shoe shelf, dumping the dirty laundry, slamming doors or opening and closing the oven door. It’s driving us crazy. I’ve set up a little regulation basket with him (which he has yet to use) but he does respond well to spaghetti arms, deep breaths and reading books to regulate. He is incredibly resistant to talking about the behavior I want to shift and what he can do next time. 

Today, for example, he threw one of my partner’s tools on the floor of the kitchen. It was pointy, metal, and just not for throwing. When I told him that we cannot throw the speed square he went through his routine. He slammed his bedroom door and stayed in there for a while. When he came out I tried to talk to him and he just kept asking me to stop talking.

I’m feeling like we are both stuck in a pattern and aren’t making progress. I really would like things to stay positive for him right now, but I am worried he feels like he’s in trouble every time I try and talk to him. He just gets dysregulated so quickly and over seemingly unimportant things.

If you don’t mind giving me your thoughts or advice, we would appreciate it. I need a new perspective. 


In Trouble

Dear In Trouble,

I have some questions/thoughts…

– Is there a common theme in the things you don’t want him to do that he does? (type of activity, time of day–if so, troubleshoot…for example, if he wants to play with tools, find a way to include him in a building project safely…if he gets more angry at a certain time of day, maybe a snack just beforehand would help…)

– Do you have a fairly regular routine to your day? Does he have choices within the daily plan?

– Can you prevent some of the behaviors that he does in his regular expression of anger and lean into others? I.e. Keep most of the shoes (except the 3 pairs you wear regularly) and the laundry some place out of reach, and set something up that he can slam or throw instead–what is in your regulation basket? Or a special hideout in his room or the yard for when he has mad feelings? Can you plan ahead with him in the morning when he is calm about what he might do later in the day if he gets a mad feeling? Share what you do when you get a mad feeling. You could even act it out.

– Maybe talking about it immediately afterward is not going to work during this phase. Do you think if there was less talking, like you just started drawing a book for example, “Billy’s throwing the speed square book,” and showing it through the pictures, he might be interested in watching or re-reading it later? Externalizing it from him is sometimes easier so it doesn’t feel like a lecture or “trouble,” just a story and some facts.  

p.1 Billy found Papa’s speed square. (By the way, I have no idea what that is. Haha.) 

p. 2 Billy got an idea. 

p.3 Billy threw the speed square on the floor in the kitchen. 

p. 4 Mama said we can’t throw it–it’s sharp. 

p. 5 Billy was mad. 

p. 6 Billy slammed the door and went in his room. 

p. 7 After a little while, Billy felt better. 

– Your calming techniques sound nice. But it sounds like he needs a way to express his anger. I am noticing 3 year olds seem to have more anger than usual right now during this pandemic. They just aren’t venting the same amount of physical energy they usually do, and there are even more limits being placed on them than in typical parent-controlled life which is frustrating. Even if they don’t overtly feel the extra layer of limits the virus is causing, they are still in the same environment and the same world of parent limits all the time, so everything gets heightened. So if you can help him know what to expect from the daily routine, but give choices within that, and find ways for him to have power and express anger, I think all of that will help.


Teacher Lisa

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