Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tantrums and the terrible twos

I'm not to the terrible twos yet as commonly referenced, but Mikko is 22 months old. That's a lot of twos, right?

We've noticed lately an increase in his frustration levels and a corresponding increase in his dramatic responses to those frustrations. Are they tantrums? Maybe sorta. I don't feel like labeling them, particularly since I haven't yet seen the stereotypical movie kind where the kid flings himself on his stomach and kicks his legs about. Mikko flings himself on his back. Much different.

(Side note: When I was, I don't know, five or so, I decided to show my parents I meant business by having a Tantrum. So I matched what I'd seen on the screen or from other drama queens (who knows from whence my inspiration sprang) and tried the full-out prostrate kicking. And felt like a total faker fool. I wonder if my parents knew? I remember they weren't much impressed.)

Mikko has always been what we might delicately call "dramatic." Or intense. Or, as his Grandma so gently puts it, he has so much personality. Or, as parenting author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka titled her kindhearted book on the subject, he's spirited.

I've written before, a bit shamefacedly, about how we failed to live up to the Yequana ideal of baby as floppy rag doll as espoused in The Continuum Concept. We've equally failed to live up to the pinnacle of Attachment Parenting success, which often comes across as a formula: Wearing your baby + Cosleeping + Breastfeeding + Responding promptly = Happy, easygoing baby. I hear many a proud and happy AP mama claim that her baby is so low-key because of the way said baby was treated as an infant ("My baby never cries because I always respond," etc.). Maybe it's true — maybe those babies would have been perfect hellions if treated conventionally. Maybe my Mikko would have been more "dramatic" if we had done conventional parenting. Frankly, I think there's truth in both those statements.

But, a lot of it is just personality. And I'm cool with that.

So what does this have to do with tantrums?

I've become aware of parents starting to "discipline" their toddlers around this age, and I don't see the point (don't get me started on the Supernanny's naughty step), but I think I might understand the origins.

Because I've determined that Mikko's background as an intense baby and his current slower-than-average verbal development have turned out to be united blessings in disguise.

As he transitions more into the age where everything can spark off a flare of temper, Sam and I have the history of seeing him get angry about everything and anything in his short life so far. First it was birth — boy, was he mad about that! Then it was the colostrum — not flowing fast enough, thank you very much. The nurses were dismayed at how much he screamed his first night — and so was I! Then it was peeing, whether in a diaper or a potty. He hated the sensation of peeing; he hated being held over a potty; he hated being in a wet diaper; he hated having his diaper changed. We couldn't win! We did, however, get used to it, such that we had a reassure a friend that, no, he did not have a urinary tract infection; that was how he always reacted to a wet diaper.

When your little newborn gets angry, you can't attach blame to your baby for his reactions. You might blame yourself (I know I fell prey to that sometimes), but clearly your week-old infant isn't screaming just to get your goat. I think that's fairly well accepted now, even in mainstream circles, despite the continuing cry-it-out trend. Most parenting experts on all sides agree that babies that young don't have the developmental wherewithal to be manipulating you yet and that you should respond appropriately. Now, I'm not saying every parent follows this advice (still), but I think it's now a no-duh precept.

It's when the babies get older and start interacting that you start hearing parents ascribe adult motives to innocent behavior.

"He looked right at me while he put his finger on the outlet."

"She smiled after she knocked over my plant."

Looking right at you, of course = defiance. Smiling in this case = evil genius plotting world destruction with glee.

When, of course, looking right at you actually = checking for your reaction, and smiling = trying to connect by choosing a response to see if it's appropriate, while looking at you for your reaction!

But I think it gets even worse once babies can talk. Because, now, hoo boy, they must be all growed up and understand everything.

And so you get parents who interpret tantrums not as understandable frustration with not being able to make the world work the way these burgeoning young things want it to, but as intentional and adversarial misbehavior, of crossing a line that (I believe) they didn't know was there to be crossed.

So I'm glad Mikko's not that verbally adept yet. It keeps me humbly considering him still to be a baby and not a malicious mastermind. He must not know that taking all my makeup out of the drawer might be not just an exploration of color and texture but an inconvenience for me, or that pouring his drink on the sofa might not be just a fun experiment in liquids and gravity but an unholy mess for me to clean.

Here's hoping I'll keep that perspective once he can verbalize his intentions and motivations, even if they're at odds with mine.

Photo courtesy T. Rolf on stock.xchng


Hannah said...

I saw your nice post on doulamama, and thought I'd check out your blog. AMAZING timing, because my fifteen month old is very "spirited" right now. (nice word!) He's pretty mad about life, and dramatic to the nines. It's a challenging time for us, particularly for extended family and friends. They don't "get it," you know? He's such a pill, what happened to our sweet grandson, etc etc.

They're drama (and ability personalize a 15 month old's reactions...) is way more frustrating for me than my son's is!

I half-attachment parented myself, though got frustrated with all the rules. For me, it was all about loving on him and responding to him. But I have a hard time believing that co-sleeping longer would have kept him from being mad right now. An attached parent loves her child for who he/she is- even if that child is intense and dramatic! (Though I still carry him constantly- that does help!)

In any case, thanks for blogging about my life. :) It's hard to keep things in perspective sometimes...

Susana la Banana said...

I think this is a very wise post. It burns me up when it goes the other way too, when parents say my child is so "demanding" because I "let" him be...uh, WHAT?!? There's this little thing called personality differences that they seem to have completely forgotten about. And I hope someday James feels happy that we tried to honor his.

I think I do pretty well with remembering that tantrum-type behavior is really just frustration, and that adults throw tantrums too...=) It's the not-sleeping thing that drives me nuts...I KNOW he's not doing it to hurt me but IT DOES! And he's not malicious but MAN....I need some sleep! =/

Although, usually, when feel like blowing up I just remember that I have to throw my own tantrums sometimes, and then I go have a snack and my blood sugar goes up and I feel calmer...which if I can just convey that wisdom to James, life will go pretty smoothly...I hope...

Lisa C said...

My 9mo has just started to learn to crawl, and the fire in his red hair is starting to show. He gets so mad now. How come the Yequana babies didn't get mad when they learned to crawl? I guess in our world, babies get stressed and have to let it out. I hope by the time he is a toddler I will be in the right mindset to accept all his emotions.

By the way, your sarcasm about evil babies still cracks me up.

Jenny said...

Well, that puts it into perspective nicely :-) I try to remember to see things from Suzi's perspective, but sometimes it's hard. My last post was a whiny rant about one of her tantrums. I think the worst part for me is when she does the lay-down crying fit in public. It doesn't bother me that much, in itself. What bothers me is all the judgmental looks from people who either smacked their kids when they did that, or don't even have children.

And yeah, I have often pointed out to some of these parents who are all about punishing kids when they throw fits that adults DO throw fits too! I have never understood why it's okay (in our society) to slap a child who is behaving badly, but not an adult--particularly adults who advocate physical punishment of children. Assuming the adult was punished as a child, shouldn't he know better already?

Lauren Wayne said...

Oh, thank you all for responding so honestly and openly! You're adding such great perspectives to the conversation.

I had wanted to put a part in my post originally about how I am definitely not perfect at this -- the practice of letting him be a baby and not being frustrated by it -- but I couldn't fit it in somehow. So I'll just say it here for now, that there were so many instances where I felt like I was going to scream (or did) because he was doing total normal (but dramatic) baby things, like not wanting to sleep when I wanted him to, or -- well, yeah, usually that one. Just like with James! I even checked out anger-management resources to see if I could calm down already. I don't know if that helped or if I just grew some perspective, but it's been easier lately. Maybe I've just gotten more used to it! So I definitely know my own low-blood-sugar, low-on-sleep moments where what I need is a time-out (of the kindhearted sort you choose for yourself). I end up feeling very immature in those moments when I choose foot-stomping anger over being the adult in the situation, so I have to keep reminding myself of that to try to short-circuit the anger response and choose something better next time.

I think all of you have gotten it right that you respond to your kids and try to ignore the judgments of others, because I definitely feel that, too. It's hard to be respectful in a society that doesn't value respecting kids. As, Hannah & Jenny, you mentioned, the hardest part of dealing with a tantrum in public can be not taking it as a big sign advertising your failures as a parent! Ialways assume such people either don't remember or know what it's like to have a toddler if they can be that critical.

Oh, and Lisa -- I have no idea about the difference between those mild Yequana babies and ours! Mine's never not been angry about something, so maybe it's just personality (either individually or distributed across a people group), or maybe there were cultural influences at work that Liedloff didn't recognize. I don't know! I used to worry about it more, and now I just have to let Mikko be who he is and try to reduce his stress as I can. But, yeah, it's a mysterious difference to me.

Lisa C said...

Do you read Holistic Mama's blog? (http://holisticmum.blogspot.com)

She has been writing posts relating to Aware Parenting and the crying in arms/crying for healing philosophy. I've been so inspired by what she has shared that I have bought the book The Aware Baby by Aletha Solter.

The conclusion that I have come to is that unlike the idyllic tribal life of the Yequana, ours is so full of stress, and a baby's way of dealing with stress is crying. Attachment Parents often feel that they are not meeting their baby's needs if their baby is crying, but sometimes the baby's need IS to cry. I made the mistake of accidentally teaching my baby to suppress his feelings--now I am teaching him to get them out. Crying is seen as a bad thing in our culture, but it is important for relieving stress and healing from trauma. Even adults need to cry sometimes!

(BTW, the crying should always occur in a loving environment--just wanted to make it clear I wasn't advocating anything like "crying it out"!)

MrBrownThumb said...

When my first nephew was born I was prepared for the T2s but they never came. Imagine my surprise when the terrible 3s showed up out of nowhere. Lets just say I'm glad he's four now.

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