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The difference between last week and this week has named this change “the best week ever”. My son has been so much easier to parent. He’s full of hugs, and his manners are on point. He starts every request with “May I…” and he constantly tells me he wants to snuggle me, or give my baby belly a kiss. Simply put, he’s happy. And when he’s happy, I’m happy.
So what changed? My 2.5 year old still gets upset easily over little things; he still has big emotions. He hasn’t changed.
I have. After a bit of parenting soul-searching, I realized I was feeling pressured by – I don’t even know, societal norms. What “typical” two year olds do and how “typical” parents act. I found myself stressed by my desire to let some battles go or to handle meltdowns a certain way, overshadowed by a thought that I should probably “punish” him somehow, or make sure he knows I’m in charge. In trying those techniques, I was fighting a losing battle. He wasn’t responding positively to any of it, and I wasn’t sincere in my approach because I never bought into it anyway. And now, I’ve come to realize my true parenting style – not knowing it had a name and a face, but it’s exactly ME and everything I believe.
I found it by accident, stumbling upon articles and posts about alternatives to time-out, and toddlers with frequent meltdowns. I learned a lot. Everything I read had me nodding my head, yes, that’s my kid, yes, that’s how he’s responding. So here’s where I’m at, and yes, these are just my opinions of course:
1)Time-outs and other forms of punishment that don’t really fit the crime, don’t fit me as a parent. They never did, but I gave it a go with B anyway when he started hitting, and it only escalated his meltdowns (and his hitting). I know our society loves time-outs, and maybe I’ll try it again someday, but I don’t agree with it now. It harbors resentment instead of building a connection and relationship, and that won’t help B and I in any way. Time-outs also don’t teach a true lesson – they harbor fear (in anxious kids like my own). Discipline should be natural, it should be firm but calm, loving, and supportive. And in B’s case, it needs to be LATER, after the meltdown or the incident, because he gets too upset to process anything I’m saying anyway. Here’s a fabulous article about the difference between punishment and discipline:
2) My toddlers don’t apologize. They were apologizing, at one point. In fact, you may remember a time when B melted down and hit the dog, and I put him in a time-out that led to him hitting his sister, and eventually me – and I kept him in there for hours until he finally cracked and apologized. I felt proud at the time that I didn’t back down, and now I’m ashamed that I handled that situation in that way. The escalation was caused by the choices I made. B has very big emotions – most toddlers do. And when he gets upset, they come pouring out, as if I was squeezing a sponge. What I want B to learn, in time, is empathy and remorse. Apologizing does not teach empathy. As I said earlier, B also needs processing time – in the moment he’s upset and completely unable to see how the person who got hit might feel. Apologizing right after a hit or taking a toy means absolutely nothing, other than following a societal norm. Here’s a good article about empathy and apologies:
3) B is anxious. Not extremely by any means, but he’s jumpy, he’s a worrier. I get it, I
was am too. All through elementary school I recited a list of worries I had at bedtime, looking for my parents to quiet my simple fears and make me feel better. I wouldn’t be surprised if B does this when he’s older. For now, he has fears ( of windshield wipers, for example) and he’s not afraid to double check with me that I don’t plan on turning my wipers on, or that he wants to be sure the fan won’t make a noise. Anxiety can sometimes look like defiance. I didn’t realize that a few weeks ago, but now it seems obvious.
When B was younger and the dogs would suddenly jump on the couch and bark loudly out the window, his whole body would shake for a second and he’d scream so loud. Just for a second. Even now, without the scream, he runs to the other side of the room if this happens and sometimes gets angry, yelling or lashing out at the dogs for being on the couch. This isn’t defiance against the dogs – this is anxiety, nerves with loud noises. It’s a touch of sensory processing issues. No wonder he’s not a dog lover. When B screams out or lashes out, I need to consider whether something has happened that has caused anxiety. Many times, that’s exactly what it was. Here’s a great read on telling the difference between defiance and anxiety:
4) Finally, B has, himself, started de-escalating his meltdowns by asking for a hug. If he didn’t start doing this, I would’ve offered one myself, but it’s lovely to see him do it. To start screaming, to get really mad, and ask for a hug. And decompress. And sigh. I love it – what a simple fix. Here’s an easy read about doing just that:
Now, in addition to these 4 concepts that I really believe in, I’ve also altered the things I say, the way I carry myself when I’m handling him in a situation – and that has made a huge difference.
Take the hugging, for example. Today he was upset that we were leaving the grocery store, because he was riding in one of those steering wheel carts and loved every second of it. A normal toddler problem. He has those big emotions and he’s not afraid to show them. So as he was screaming and I loaded him into his car seat, I simply responded with, “I know you’re sad. It’s frustrating when we have to leave the grocery store.” I used a warm, supportive tone – and I didn’t tell him to stop flailing his body, or stop screaming. After saying that once or twice, instead of arguing with me (I gave him nothing to argue), instead of me reaching for a timer or giving him two choices or telling him I’m going to “count to 3” (all strategies I’ve used, and failed with, the past few months)….I just acknowledged his feelings and that’s it. I said nothing more. Within a minute or two – he asked for a hug. And a tissue. And his water cup. No meltdowns here – woohoo! One we avoided.
Lastly, I’ve increased the things he can do independently. More on that in another post, but he’s capable of making more choices on his own. He never did well with two choices, because it still put the control in my hands, as I picked the two options. It would cause him to argue (“Nobody! Those are NOT the options!”) and get mad. Giving him free reign of a choice (with my guidance, of course) has changed everything. And when, once in a while, he’s unable to make any choice at all, I’ve simply responded with, “Let me know when you’re ready to make a choice.” Most times, he’s ready within a minute or less. The control is completely in his hands.
For all of these reasons, with the changes I’ve made and the articles I’ve read, I’ve been able to give my son a good week. A happy week. I’m starting to parent the way I want to, the way that feels right. It’s hard to ignore the nagging feeling that I “should” be doing something in a way that society expects, but the fact is, I’ve tried these things and they don’t work. Positive parenting feels good for me, for him, and it does work.