Kaspar would be behaving in his usual happy-go-lucky way, chirping about this or that, when he’d suddenly do something he knows he shouldn’t: mess with Aaron’s computer, throw toys, hit us, you name it. We’d calmly explain that the behavior wasn’t okay, and ask him to stop. He’d ignore us. We’d give it another go, with our communication again falling on deaf ears. Then we’d tell him we were about to remove the object in question (or remove him from its proximity), and he’d FLIP out. Full-on howler monkey style. This happened at seemingly random times, and over seemingly inconsequential happenings (one such episode erupted when he decided he wanted the food I’d just put in my own mouth and swallowed. Another strawberry simply wouldn’t suffice… he wanted mine, although he knew as well as I did that it was gone). It’s all been rather confusing to the logical adult mind. Kaspar is extremely articulate for his age, too, which can be misleading in these types of interactions; he may scream something that sounds like a negotiation, but it’s not. He can’t be reasoned with when under the influence of toddlerhood. In fact, he’s tended to get upset while saying he wants to do one thing, and it’s opposite, all in the same breath.
We used distraction throughout the week as our main method for coping with his outbursts, and that worked when distraction was plausible. But in the case of refusing to settle down at bedtime, for example, we just ended up saying, in so many words, that we had the upper hand, and this –going to bed – was what was happening. (Because we said so… though we didn’t say that. Too cliché!).
Kaspar kept it more reined in at school, as I learned upon inquiring with his teacher as to whether anything had happened there (some upsetting event? I was worried) that might have led to this shift. Nothing had. His teacher told me this kind of experience is totally, 100% normal and predictable behavior with kids at around 2 and a half. So we’re early… sweet. He’s testing us, obviously. He’s also exploring and asserting his independence. I’m actually glad he is, as he’s been such an all-out sweetheart since day one that other, more aggressive kids his age have tended to overwhelm (or straight up plow over) him. I have only ever wanted to nurture him and love him for who he is, so I never set out to toughen him up or anything like that (I love his sweetheart self), but it’s good, no doubt, that he’s now starting to try the words “NO!” and “That’s MINE. Walk AWAY!” on for size. Since this has also amounted to some challenges, lately, at home, though, I’ve wanted to handle his freakouts here in the best way possible. I don’t want to discourage his burgeoning independence, and I also want to help him handle tough emotions constructively, and to know where the boundaries are. (On the emotions front, he moves on from the drama pretty quickly, which I appreciate. I also bear this in mind when he acts like the world is about to end because he’s not allowed to draw all over the walls).
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Even so, I think we’re responding to Kaspar's behavior pretty effectively, and compassionately (I’m going to speak more with his teacher next week, and consult some trusted books and such in the meantime, for some additional ideas). Kaspar did have one outburst during some water-play activity at school; his teacher told me she addressed the immediate situation (I don’t recall the specifics—I’m guessing Kaspar was asked not to do something and ignored that request, then got upset when the water was taken away… or whatever) but then helped Kaspar talk about it later. We’re doing that, too. We’re under-reacting, mostly, to screeching and yelling. We're talking about taking deep breaths, and we're showing Kaspar that we care that he's upset, and want to hear what's up... we just don't want him to yell it (also, no biting). If he’s unable to shift gears, I’ll sit on the floor, down on his level, and hold him while he yells. He likes this, and it usually works well, but it isn’t always the solution, unfortunately.
When not going spastic, Kaspar’s been his normal buoyant self, so it’s a strange little dance we’re doing now. It’s nice to know that it’s normal, but it’s still a challenge, and Aaron and I are both focusing on keeping our calm. (Kaspar’s even been peeing on the floor and furniture – and he’s fully potty trained, has been for months and months – right in front of us… Apparently this goes with the territory, too, but wow, it’s pretty aggravating).
In an initially unrelated twist, Kaspar developed a deep, wet cough a couple of nights ago. His teacher said he didn’t cough much at school the next day, but last night he was up for hours, really hackin’ it; we listened closely for labored breathing (he hasn’t had another asthma attack since his first one, but we listen for it when anything respiratory’s out of whack), and decided in the morning that he should probably stay home for the day. Aaron had a work gig lined up, and although I always have a long to-do list, I wasn’t on immediate deadline. I was able to take the day mostly-off for Kaspar-care (here’s to flexibility). I started him on raw honey and turmeric (equal parts, mixed, in hourly teaspoon doses) first thing; this is an Ayurvedic remedy that, initiated early enough, can stave off the need for inhaled asthma medication (albuterol’s great when you need it, but it slowly loses its effectiveness over time, so I try to avoid going there when possible). Kaspar was obviously feeling much better within a few hours of waking up, and would in fact have been fine to go to school. He was no longer coughing, at all. But he was also very happy, and very much himself (his pre-developmental-mayhem self).
I took this as a cue that Kaspar was needing some mommy love. He gets lots of it on the regular, and he isn’t lacking for attention, but he’s also been acting out for it. Whether he’s testing boundaries or not, he’s doing things that are designed to elicit a reaction from us. I decided that I’d give him a huge dose of positive, one-on-one attention today, all day. We didn’t have anything else planned, because we hadn’t planned to spend the day with him home, so errands, chores and other distractions didn’t threaten to get in the way.
Kaspar had a ball.
We ran around the living room hitting a balloon into the air above our heads, then ran around outside kicking a soccer ball. We snuggled together on the couch, reading. We watered, and sang to, our garden (and applauded emerging cucumber and zinnia sprouts). We ate lunch, and I got Kaspar to nap for an hour; I did a few work things then. When he woke up, he was still in a good mood, and spent a long stretch of time hanging out in a bucket of water by our back fence. Before Aaron got home, Kaspar and I both sensed he was beginning to wind down; he asked to watch a show, but when I declined to turn on the TV, he didn’t yell; he kept himself occupied with some toys while I did a few things in the kitchen. He started to teeter around bath time; I just played it casual and kept things moving. Aaron put him to bed with books and a back rub, and the boy is now sleeping soundly.
I haven’t questioned whether Kaspar’s usual routine is working for him; I know it is. I don’t think he’s lacking any kind of attuned, loving attention to his experience and needs. I’m sure his recent craziness is, in fact, the normal ‘terrible’ 2.5 thing (his teacher assured me his version isn’t nearly as bad as some others she’s seen), and I have no doubt he’ll evolve out of it as quickly as he dove in. Meanwhile, we’re having to stretch our parenting wings in new ways, and that’s good. I think we’ve been handling Kaspar’s freak-outs pretty well, and I also think that switching things up on him today was a helpful move (even if it was mostly accidental). Breaking out of the usual routine to play, all day, shifted the energy a bit, and infused some freshness into our collective emotional space, which I hope will help Kaspar chill out.
A few adaptations I’ve made as a result of his recent developmental, uh, “step” have also helped keep the tantrums more at bay here at the end of our first week of ‘wtf?!’ behavioral goings-on. I noticed that Kaspar tends to get crazy – jumping around, kicking, literally bouncing off the walls – at bedtime, which leads to frustrated parents, since we’re by then ready to call it done for the day. Instead of battling with Kaspar, asking him repeatedly to sit down, help with his pajamas, etc., I’ve started singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ while getting him suited up, meanwhile patiently ignoring all shenanigans. Kaspar has begun singing along with me, and doing the hand-motions that accompany the lyrics, instead of getting rowdy; in fact, the song signals for him that it’s time to settle down, and singing along gives him some agency in that process. Another useful strategy, and one that pairs best with some kind of distraction or diversion, has been to employ humor. We normally laugh a lot with Kaspar, anyway, but I’ve stepped that up and used laughter more skillfully in recent days. He’s into being silly – and often, it’s that silliness that spirals into the crazies we’re forced to contain – so if I can give him an opportunity to laugh and get appropriately crazy instead of getting upset, this often gives him a way out of that mode (which I sense he sometimes just can’t find once he’s gotten started down upset-lane). Again, it doesn’t always work, but it often does. It’s always worth trying.
Have your kids gone through similar screech-tastic phases? How did you deal? What new parenting powers did you develop? Have you ever given your toddler a mental health day, just to unwind?