In the last week, our ever-sweet Kaspar threw us a curve and acquired something of a split personality. I’ve heard two-year-olds described (only half-jokingly) by other parents as “in a nutshell, psychopathic,”  but the description never fit our kid, until now. Not that he didn’t have his moments, but this past week… he had many. He brought a whole new game, and honestly, we were kind of mystified and at a loss as to how to handle it.

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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I know his upsets usually aren’t really about the subject matter at hand (for instance, he doesn’t care if I give him paper to draw on when he's trying for the walls… he wants to try something he knows is not okay for some reason other than artistic expression), but I also don’t want him to ever perceive that I don’t honor what life’s event feel like for him, or what he has to say about them. So it’s been a bit of a balancing act, this past week, in addressing his needs while bearing these things in mind. As hard as I’ve tried to strike that balance, I’ve also spent a lot of the week sounding kind of… exasperated. The physical stuff pisses me off – Kaspar actually bit me, hard, when I was in conversation with our neighbor (that got a serious “Biting is NEVER okay. Walk away from me” talk), but he’s also just taken to going dead-weight – and he’s heavy! -- when he’s just asked us to lift him, kicking us as we lotion him up before bed, and other charming habits in the same vein. We’re human, and it sucks to get hurt, so I don’t beat myself up over showing I’m annoyed, but since this week’s been so high-intensity on the Kaspar-spaz-attack front, I’ve been sounding more aggravated than I’d like to, all told.

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?

05/19/2012 04:51

Lysander is also in a liminal phase-the world just got bigger and more beautiful but also more frustrating at times and "Mom fix it!" :) This has included impossible demands, such as wearing and NOT wearing the same pair of socks at the same time.

I don't build a wall about it-that doesn't work for us. I just talk through whatever it is, even if it's "It is hard for me to be yelled at like that. Biting hurts Wallace. He won't want to play if he's being hurt. I can't go anywhere until we're buckled in, so let me know when you're ready." Etc. As hard as it can be, I focus on the amazing developments (and the amazing PERSON) that all this signifies, and it makes me smile.

Love those smiles-what a cutie Kaspar is!

05/23/2012 20:48

Ha, yes, that's exactly the type of impossible-demand scenario I'm talking about! Like you, we don't build a wall. We're not really into the whole 'consequences' type of discussion or anything like that; it's more feelings-based (which I guess is also consequences, as in, if you hit me, I'm walking away, because it hurts me).

This week's been MUCH better-- we're back to having fun. As much as last week was tough, it was also an amazing developmental time in other respects; Kaspar's suddenly just grasping this world in a whole new way. I appreciate your perspective and focus on the people these kiddos are. Wow, what a treat watching them grow is... even when they're being toddler-crazy.


I am not expert, but I think you just made the best point. You obviously know what you are talking about, and I can really get behind that. Thanks for being so upfront and so honest.

05/19/2012 19:56

I could have written this word for word. My "darling" daughter will be 2 years old next week and I uttered these words to my husband a few days ago: "she has become a devil child". It's like she woke up one day and decided that 20 minute long temper tantrums about everything and nothing, where no distraction works, was the way to go. I've looked into "Parenting with Love and Logic" classes, I just hope that the class can teach me something new, or at least give me more patience in the meantime.

05/23/2012 20:50

Ah, patience... last week really showed me that I don't have as much as I think I do, or would like to have. It took daily self-reminders to summon it up. Too funny about your 'devil child' comment. I think it's good to be honest with ourselves (and each other... but, not our kids, haha) about how these types of phases really feel. Keep me posted as to any good takeaways from those classes!

05/21/2012 08:04

I am going through the same thing only my little boy is 21 mths. It seems like he has been like this sine he turned 18 mths. He has always liked to kick his toys and stuff like that, but now he kicks us, smacks us, then he will give kisses and start all over. LOL! He also hates to have his diaper changed or to have new clothes put on him. Sometimes it so much of a struggle that I give up and let him wear his PJs all day if we have nothing planned. Ugh! But, recently he has started the tantrums when he doesn't get his way. If we take a toy away because he is hitting the dog with it he will scream and then throw himself on the couch and pout! Thankfully he doesn't act like this in public...yet! I dread that day. And my biggest fear is that this is only going to get worse.

05/23/2012 20:55

I can't tell ypu how reassuring it is to hear that others are also experiencing these phases! (Even though K's teacher did tell me it's TOTALLY normal! Necessary, even...). I have a friend who's 14-month-old is getting pretty wiley; he's hitting, pulling hair, pushing kids down. She's distraught over it, but he's been pretty advanced, physically, from the get-go so I'm not surprised it's set in early (whereas Kaspar's always been SUPER mellow, so this is the first we've seen of rebellion/toddler-storms). I bet by the time you hit two you guys'll have your strategies down pat, though, so... that's an upside! And as I wrote in response to Sarah's comment, Kaspar's already chilled back out again; while I have no doubt he'll rev it back up in the near future, it's a good reminder of how quickly these little ones change (and how these phases don't last forever... Even if it feels like they do).

05/24/2012 15:11

I think you may be right about being advanced physically. Jackson has been pretty advanced on that end as well. He was crawling at 5 mths, took his first step at 9 mths, and was kicking and throwing a ball at 11 mths. When we went home for Christmas to visit family he was 16 mths and everyone told us he already acted like a 2 yr old. Lol! Good to know your friend is going through the same thing at an earlier stage like us.

05/22/2012 20:02

M has had his moments like all toddlers do. He hasn't done anything as extreme as the peeing thing though. His entry into this toddler period was more of a ramp up.I know we are where we need to be though for this phase. A couple of weeks ago his teacher hosted a parenting class. It was so helpful! Another parent has called her the toddler whisperer. I like knowing we are on the same page at home and at school. For the most part we have been able to contain the situations that seem especially trying and they pass quickly. We are all about choices. Do you want to take a bath or brush your teeth? I don't care which comes first, both are happening, etc. It empowers them and we still get stuff done. Tonight Mason refused to clean up. That's fine. He didn't get to watch his show he had asked for and instead had the world's fastest bath with no toy allowed(he loves to linger in the bath). His toys are waiting for him tomorrow to be cleaned up. I think it is important to be consistent, be clear with their expectations, and follow through on any consequences without getting upset. I also think every child is an individual and I am thankful M's teacher was able to give us individual tips on how best to work with each child at our class. That approach is what took us to the completed potty training phase and has worked so well over the past year. Hopefully K's teacher can offer some individual suggestions for you. Good luck! We will all make it through this phase. No telling what is waiting for us up ahead!

05/23/2012 21:00

Ah, yes, LOVE the strategy of presenting choices -- definitely helps the kids feel empowered while also accomplishing whatever needs to be accomplished. We did get some good ideas from K's teacher this week, which he's responding well to. He likes to talk, so if he's starting to get ramped up, we explain that we're going to deal with whatever the issue at hand is (in some cases taking an item away or whatever... something he's not too happy about) but that we'll talk about it when he feels calm. This usually calms him almost immediately, I guess just because he considers the possibility of being calm! Then, a few minutes later, we follow through and talk about it. I hope for your sake that M doesn't start peeing on the furniture! That's been a real pain for us, but I guess regression is a part of the toddler deal. Damn.

05/24/2012 10:50

Our regression has happened in other areas. Like now that Reed has started solid foods and wears a bib, Mason has decided life is better with a bib also and certain bibs are HIS. I try to pick my battles but sometimes you just want to say, "really?? are you kidding me??".

05/23/2012 18:29

My son is in this phase right now! I was nodding my head along with this post because it sounds so familiar. We have been trying to curb the behavior when we sense it coming with distraction. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Here's hoping three is a bit more calm. Somehow, I doubt it. :)

05/23/2012 21:03

Distraction is our big strategy, too, and we get the same results-- it works, sometimes! Sorry you guys are in the toddler storm, too, but again, it's nice to know we're in good company! And yeah, I have no idea what three is like... I should probably get some books on toddler developmental stuff so I'm not totally blindsided again! Any recommendations?

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