Monday, May 19, 2014

Toddler assertiveness

Otherwise known as "tantrums," I believe.

And I think we experienced our very first one a few days ago. It was basically not very awesome, which is not really very surprising. But in the end, it was a good lesson in how (not?) to set toddlers, and children in general, up for failure.

Children in general, but toddlers especially, thrive on routine, in an environment where they know what to expect and when to expect it. This is a bit of a challenge for The Barbarian and me because we are not creatures of routine and habit. We sort of just do whatever, whenever it suits us. And while many would argue that babies also need rituals and routines they can recognize and feel secure in, I find they're much more go with the flow than toddlers. But once children reach the age where they are truly exploring who they are and where they fit in their world, and most importantly, how they can affect that world and the people who populate it, the need for a recognizable day to day existence becomes very important. At this stage, then, it's all about preempting meltdowns and tantrums, as that's exactly what said routine helps mitigate. Making sure they eat, drink, and sleep regularly, and making sure they know what to expect--and what's expected of them-- and are given the chance to transition from one thing to the next in a manner and time-frame that's agreeable to them (within reason) is key. Because of the importance of this, we've really been making an effort to create a more constant, predictable environment for them where and when we can.

One area in which I really feel my children in particular benefit from regularity is naptime. Now that we've gone back to someone lying down with them for nap, it's easier to schedule it and know about when they'll actually sleep (instead of crossing our fingers and waiting...and waiting...and waiting). But some days, like tantrum day last week, I am overwhelmed with a house that quite literally looked like a toy, laundry, and dishes-filled bomb went off, and was struggling with the exhaustion and general stress that comes after a few days solo with the children. So I made the decision to drive the wee folk to my mama's just so I could come home, clean my ass off like a madwoman for a bit, and then drive back and pick them up to bring them home for nap. At the time, it seemed totally worth it. They got to have a fun outing to Nana Banana's and I got to indulge myself in the glory that is cleaning the house without the ever-present "help" of tiny humans. Definite win, right?

Well, not really when the drive home is during the start of nap and one tiny human falls asleep on the way and then both refuse to actually nap once home. I could have just let it go, but a no-nap day is generally not a great day, and The Barbarian was due home that night, a bit later than their typical bedtime of late, but we had talked about pushing bedtime later anyway to see if we couldn't convince King Toad Agooga to sleep in a bit. If they didn't nap at all, they'd be down long before he got home, but if they got a late nap, they would still be up when he got home and that was an exciting prospect (it's exciting when The Barbarian gets home, people!). Later that afternoon, I decided to try again and they slept for two hours solid, meaning they really needed that nap. However, this put them waking up close to dinner time, and they were confused and still a bit sleepy, and that's when all hell broke loose.

All things considered, I don't truly miss nursing. I mean, I do, yes, of course. But I don't, no, not at all. Except, that is, when I suddenly find myself with two wholly inconsolable toddlers. And when I say "wholly inconsolable," I mean that in every sense of the phrase. Nothing I offered was anywhere near the realm of what they wanted. They didn't want to eat, they didn't want water, they didn't want a show, they didn't want to go outside, they didn't want a tubby, they didn't want to be picked up, they didn't want to be put down. Apparently they just wanted to scream and sob and not be made to feel better. And it got old pretty fast. I often have a wealth of patience for my children. Sometimes, I most definitely do not. This was one of those times. So not knowing how else to help them, I just let them cry. Occasionally that's all you can do. It sucks and it's hard, but after letting them know a dozen times I was there for them when they were ready, there wasn't much else to do. 

I had dragged the glider out from the bedroom to the main room during the initial phase of trying to find something to soothe them, and eventually, after nearly half an hour, The Goblin Queen allowed me to rock her until she stopped crying. She also ate a few bites of a snack, which I think especially helped, as I have a suspicion low blood sugar was at play. The Barbarian was extremely sensitive to low blood sugar as a child and I think these two are as well, making this drama even more my fault, as I hadn't made sure they had a protein-heavy snack before their nap. The freakout begins to make more sense, no? 

During this time, King Toad Agooga was standing in the corner of the kitchen screaming. He was really, really, really pissed off. Occasionally he would come into the main room to scream at me, but if I tried to touch him or talk to him, he would flail and throw himself on the floor and then run back to his corner. Once or twice he let me pick him up, but when I then also tried to pick TGQ back up, he would lose it and kick and shove her and fling himself around until I had to put him back down. Finally I was able to soothe TGQ to the point where I was able to put her down without her crying again, and only then was I able to pick KTA up and hold him one-on-one until he calmed down. That was about an hour after the whole affair had begun. And once I was able to get a real meal into them, all was right with their world again, as if the entire terribly disruptive episode had never even occurred. Toddlers, man. They are nothing if not resilient. 

Sometime later that evening, I was reflecting on the fact that even though they both started out equally upset, TGQ was mostly sad and wanted to be comforted, but just didn't know how to allow herself to be, or what form she wanted that comfort to take. KTA, however, was angry. Very, very angry. And that's why his behaviour seemed more like a typical tantrum to me. And that made me realize that perhaps this is something we need to be extra careful of in our efforts at preempting, as I think he may be a bit more prone to them.

Why do I think that? Well, there is this man, you see. His name is Uncle Duder. He is my brother. My little brother. And once upon a time, he tantrummed. Hard. Definitely expert level. And KTA is like my brother reincarnated in so, so many ways. He has his eyes, his hairline, his butt chin (everyone calls it that, right?), his body type, his propensity to "point and grunt," as my father terms it, instead of talk when he clearly has the intelligence and ability to talk if he chose to, his love of anything with wheels, his "mouth noises," his sweetness... The list goes on. Some of these traits were also shared by The Barbarian when he was a boy, and KTA is very much his father's little barbarian. But there is no denying the many common traits he shares with my brother, and this inkling into possible future tantrum behaviour may yet result in another to add to the list. 

As an aside, one day I will go into some detail about my relationship with my brother. We are the very best of friends now, and, in fact, I married his best friend, so you can imagine the closeness. But once upon a time, we hated each other. With a vengeance. Like, for reals. The complete turnaround for us is nothing short of amazing. Siblings, man. Craziness abounds, I tell you. 

Anyway. Toddler assertiveness. It can be the dickens. But I will end with something that helps me in those moments, when I remember to allow it, of course. It's one the absolute best quotes I have ever heard in regards to those stressful moments of parenting:

My child is not giving me a hard time--my child is having a hard time. 

Working from a place with that perspective in mind can make all the difference in the world, especially with toddlers. 

So here's to regularly scheduled naps and snacks. And happy toddlers.


No comments:

Post a Comment