As a parent, once you have finally stopped obsessing about sleep, your sleep crusted eyes often switch their focus to your child’s behaviour. Basically you have to start parenting. As in, creating a healthy child who will one day be a semi-normal adult. So my almost 23 month old (I only know she’s 23 months because I got the BabyCentre email today, thank God)- sleeps beautifully from 7pm-6:30am (except when she takes all her clothes off at 5:30am), but is now independent, has words, and has a helluva personality. I have written before about my spirited child. Most days I think she is spirited, rather than just stubborn,/naughty/has tyranical tendencies. The fact is, all children are born with a temperament. Some kids listen. Some kids don’t need baby gates, or to be told not to jump from the windowsill to the couch. We need the gates, and we need eyes on the prize at all times. If not, the prize lies on top of her baby sister in the bouncy chair. This post is not meant to be negative. Though A. sometimes has me at my knees, I love her fiercely. I also feel reassured that she will not get pushed around in the playground one day. Mostly because she will be doing the pushing. Crap. But also because she is strong-willed, athletic, smart and determined. Yes, she pushes when she doesn’t want to share, and she has tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. The past few weeks have been challenging to say the least, and there will more weeks like this to come. However, as with all spirited children, when she’s on, she’s on. She’s amazing, delightful, a little ray of sunshine.
I really I am cute, but may need braces one day!
However when she’s off, she’s off. If this sounds familiar at all, buy the book Raising Your Spirited Child. I have only had time to read 60 pages of it, but it made me feel like a better parent already. Apparently, I am not the only one doing serious wrestling moves to get a diaper on my kids butt EVERY SINGLE DIAPER CHANGE. We had a honeymooning period with the new baby, and now it’s over. My toddler is definitely showing me she’s mad at me, and she does it by sitting on the floor in the grocery store, taking off her boots and saying “no do it”. Or by pushing at daycare. Or by colouring all over herself. Sidebar: A. still goes to daycare three days a week. I felt some initial guilt about this, but now admit I look forward to quiet days with the baby. It allows me the time to conduct research on toddler discipline. Read on.
I have a good friend who is a parent-child therapist, working with children ages 0-6 and she’s been such a great support. Mostly, because she tells me I’m doing a good job , and that tantrums are 100% normal:) No but really, when they are under three, they really can’t be “disciplined” in the traditional sense. They really can’t be spoiled or loved “too much”. They also just don’t really get 1-2-3 Magic or time-outs. Child development research really backs this up. The basics right now for the little ‘uns are to distract and re-direct. Of course when your child hits or bites, you have to say “we don’t hit”. Not because they “get” this concept but because really, it’s socially unacceptable and you do want to be invited back to the play group right? Then you remove them for a short time and it’s over. I recently read a great article that describes toddlers as cavemen/women. One of the experts said “Toddlers are uncivilized and primitive. Hitting and biting are just primitive ways to communicate”. So, my job as a parent is to help A. with her big feelings, so she can eventually communicate them more effectively (because biting her boss one day just won’t fly). When she tantrums, I will now picture her with a leather tattered get-up on and a club in her hand.
The article, and my smart friend, talked about how toddlers feel very strong feelings. My friend said “when A. is mad/sad, picture the angriest/most upset you have ever been, and that’s how she’s feeling”. She really encouraged me to sit with her during tantrums, and if she will let me touch her, to do so, if not, sit close and be with her. I have noticed A. will initially be really angry, and then after about a minute she just crumbles and wants a hug. It must be exhausting to be that upset 20 times a day. No wonder she clocks 12 hours at night. This is all about emotion regulation. When children are really young, the best thing you can help them to do is to regulate their emotions in a healthy way. The feeling part of their brain is mega overactive, and parents ideally would teach them how to balance this out. As a social worker, so many of my adult clients struggle with emotion regulation, a lack of which leads to so many of life’s struggles, socially, in relationships, at work etc. Emotionally intelligent people are successful too! This is what I tell myself, because I suck at math. But really, when children are little they need love and guidance around their big cave-person feelings.
Obviously this approach takes great self-control. Today when I had to carry A. home on my hip while L. screamed in the Bjorn (I carried total of 42 lbs for six blocks) it took everything I had not to throw my child. She would not walk. She will never walk home when I go and get her. She either arches her back and kicks me so I cannot get her into the stroller (double stroller=waste of money) or she sits on the pavement and will not get up, or she walks the opposite way to which I am going. It is so f*$cking frustrating. It makes me question everything I have done as parent. I mainly feel guilty and blame myself. How did I create this behaviour? AHHHH! I also feel sad because I want to hold her hand and look at the flowers and give her my attention. I love walking with her when she will walk, nothing beats a toddler looking at the world. Instead (some weeks) it feels like it’s always negative and I am left thinking: save me from this life. Why did I have children? Needless to say we were all sitting on the carpet crying by 5pm tonight. So, no, I did not regulate my emotions and I did not handle A’s tantrum very well.
However, when I am rested and calm, I feel in control and in turn can help her soothe herself or distract her easily. I try not to bribe, threaten, give-in, raise my voice… and the list goes on. I use my words. Mostly I can do this because I am lucky, I am an educated and experienced social worker, I have a supportive partner and many more things on my side. I do know that everyone has different circumstances, some of which can make for less patience and more desperation. Parenting is not easy, no matter what life you have. To make myself better tonight, I read a bunch of other Mommy blogs about parents having crappy days and using humour to make it seem bearable. This one titled Anyone want a 3 yr old boy made me really happy, and this one titled The Bedtime Ritual made me high five myself. Finally I felt a warm hug with Why you should use condoms because I know this too will pass, parenting gets easier, and mostly that I am normal – well kind of