Journey to a Diagnosis: 2E (Twice-Exceptional)

Journey to a Diagnosis: 2E (Twice-Exceptional)

As many of our friends and family know, our 6 year old son, Bennett, has been struggling in a variety of ways since he was about 10 months old. Over the years, so many little issues have “set him off” – all resulting in epic, sometimes hours-long meltdowns and serious anger. Everything from not crawling as a baby and wanting so badly to move, certain triggering sounds such as crinkly paper and fireworks, the inability to self-soothe…

And even as a toddler and 3 year old – oh, the screaming. The loud noises, the socks not being just right, the crack in the bread (ruining the sandwich), misalignment of the bread slices while eating it (also ruining the sandwich), the bubbles spilling onto the driveway, never able to be put back again. Things not being perfect when he needed them to be. One morning, when he was 3, I was trying to pack for the beach, on my own with Ben, his twin sister, and a newborn. The screaming started over the waffle. The peanut butter wasn’t perfectly in each square. I took him down from the table – breakfast was over. The meltdown that ensued stays with me as one of my worst parenting moments ever. The newborn had to be nursed, the other twin forgotten. That’s the day I realized that Bennett had separation anxiety. That old trick I had often been told? “Go sit in that room by yourself. You can come out when you’re calm.” Yeah…he almost broke the door down. I shut it because he wouldn’t stay in the room and I didn’t know what else to do. At one point, I put him on the deck where I could watch him through the slider. I was at my wits end, I had no idea what I was doing…he panicked, screaming the whole time, and flipped all my deck furniture over. I was nursing a screaming newborn, pacing, and the neighbor came over to ask if we were okay. If only I could redo that entire meltdown, knowing what I know now.

These behaviors didn’t stop at 4. They simply became new issues. Refused to potty train (I blamed myself at the time for “missing the window”.) Melting ice cream – just forget it. He couldn’t stand praise for complying with directions – you might as well have lit him on fire for saying “Good job”. Lack of independence with tasks he could do himself, such as getting dressed, getting shoes on (those Velcro strips had to be perfectly in line)…name the task, he wouldn’t do it. He hated the feeling of water on his face or head. He was defiant. He refused to comply, no matter the consequence. Rules and a stern voice meant nothing.

By this time, I had many people trying to help. Maybe you need some strategies, I was told. Try stronger discipline. Make sure to be consistent. Make sure he knows who’s in charge. Try gentle parenting. Try reward charts. Try taking things away that mean a lot to him. Time outs. Time ins. He didn’t act like this at relative’s houses or at school. Only in our home. All of this brought a lot of anger within me that I still feel to this day. What was I doing wrong? Why was everyone else rocking at this parenting thing except me? What was wrong with me and what was wrong with my son? He was miserable, he hated life. I tried every single idea you could think of. Some felt right (gentle parenting, for example), and some didn’t. Either way – none of what I tried worked. Reward charts are great for students, but not for my son, who immediately became super anxious that he might not get a perfect score and therefore melted down before we even got it started.

What I needed weren’t people’s ideas for what to do with a “normal” kid. My son is different, despite what he shows the world outside of our home. He needed a diagnosis.

At 4, we had him tested – a full neuropsychological workup. The results came back surprising – something called 2E, or twice-exceptional. Gifted. Possible anxiety. Retest in a few years. None of what I read made much sense to me and I tucked the report away. Meanwhile at 4, we had a miracle occur in our home. Bennett was gifted a world map. He was, shockingly, thrilled. In a few weeks, he memorized and could locate 90% of all countries on the map. He learned every state in the U.S. and its location. He once colored in a United States map by memory at home, choosing colors that matched his preschool’s wooden puzzle map. The colors he chose matched exactly, 100%. It was so cool to see him with a map, but the best part was that it made him happy. He was thrilled, he was beside himself. I had never seen him like this. When learning and memorizing maps, his behavior improved. He wasn’t defiant. He was agreeable, easy-going. I couldn’t believe it.

Two years later, he remains “gifted”. The topics have shifted over time but are always math and science based. He went through an astronomy phase, now he’s into animal science and nature. Math comes easy – he’s dividing in his head when we snuggle at bedtime, he loves fractions and explaining complex patterns. He enjoys memory games. His math and reading levels are approximately at a 3rd grade level. He has a deep love of the outdoors. This is all pretty fun to watch, considering math and science aren’t exactly my specialties. However, the happiness learning brings for him is like none other. All his worries melt away when he’s being challenged. It’s like watching a different kid. His eyes brighten, he’s excited to share all that he knows.

Now that he’s in kindergarten, I have dug out that report and revisited his diagnosis of 2E. So what IS 2E? No one I know had ever heard of it, including his teacher. Twice-exceptional, in simple terms – is being both gifted/super intelligent (over-ability) and being “behind” in at least one area socially/emotionally/developmentally (disability). The “disability” is typically Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), ADHD, Dyslexia, and/or anxiety. We suspect Bennett has more than one of those.

I wish I hadn’t tucked the report away two years ago, because now I am absolutely, 100% sure that 2E describes my son. Yes, the other night he read a book to us on his own, with words like “muttered” and “muscles”. Yes, he fully understands the relationship between multiplication and division and we are working on division of multi-digit numbers in his head. Yes, he understands higher level science concepts. I often teach him what I am teaching my 5th graders. He wants to be an engineer, an astronaut, a scientist of any and all kinds.

But he gets off the bus and starts screaming before we step in the house every day, often taking it out on his siblings. He melts down when he first wakes up, before his eyes are fully open. He is anxious at bedtime and often calls us 5-10 times before his brain can settle. He worries non-stop, has separation anxiety from me specifically. He cannot stand to be alone in a room at all. He’s still super angry. He’s sensitive to exhaustion and hunger. The screaming continues to be…like nothing you’ve heard before. Not at school, not at other’s houses. Just at home. There’s still defiance every day. Refusal to dress himself often. Refusal to comply with directions. Refusal to try strategies or tools we provide him. Anger, so much anger.

Bennett is 2E. That is why I’m so happy that he’s in kindergarten and not first grade. Both way above his peers academically, and behind them socially/emotionally.  A year ago, he would flat out ignore a friend who called his name. Unable to speak to other kids. Now, he’s got friends and much better social confidence. We are starting the process of retesting him, so we can get a better handle on exactly what the other “E” is. (My guess is it’s more than one thing). His wonderful teacher was willing to read his report and find some ways to challenge him in the classroom. The day he starts acting out in school, we will work on getting him an IEP or a 504.

I find that I’m still angry, too. I go to counseling. I work on trying not to feel like a failure as a mom. I work on taking the blame off of myself. I work really hard on not becoming furious when my well-meaning friends and family offer another “suggestion”, as if I haven’t already thought it, read about it, or tried it. I work on focusing on my favorite parts of my son, and not internalizing those meltdowns which haunt me in my sleep.

Overall, watching him thrive academically has gotten me through. He’s also loving, affectionate, and sensitive. He’s got a bright future ahead of him, we just need professional help and guidance on that other “E.”

NEW BLOG!!

I have been taking my sweet time transferring old posts to my new blog and getting it to look how I wanted it to – but then I wrote a post on the new blog about trying a new parenting strategy (Positive Parenting) and it was very widely received, giving me the push I needed to make my new blog THE blog.

So it’s kind of a weird feeling – this blog changed its look many times over since 2011 when I started it. And I changed many times over – from infertility treatments in every form to the emotions I was feeling going through that, from a stressful twin pregnancy to the stressful infancy stage for two preemies, from baby issues to toddler issues – this blog has come a long way.

It’s still going to exist in this space for quite a while, because my DIY crafts posts (the bunnies, the pillows, the zipper board, and the alphabet letters) still pull in a lot of visitors from Pinterest.

But I’m not going to be writing anything new on it.

My new blog is already taking shape as more of a parenting blog, as I struggle with so many toddler issues that I imagine lots of others out there face as well. With a new baby coming this summer, I’m going to get to enjoy all kinds of new issues too 🙂

I hope that you stick around with me through this transition and follow me over to my new blog, www.parentinginmoments.com. It’s a scary, strange thing to start something over from scratch, and I’d love to have some familiar names join me! Thank you!!

 

5 Ways Our Toddlers Gained Independence

In the next few weeks, I’ll be switching permanently over to my new blog, www.parentinginmoments.com. If you haven’t done so already, come check it out and sign up to receive new posts! Thank you!

One of the things we’ve done this past week, besides implementing Positive Parenting strategies, is give our toddlers a stronger sense of independence by increasing the tasks they can do by themselves.

I have always known that my kids love to do things by themselves. My daughter insists on velcroing her own shoes and putting on her own coat, which is fine by me. My son thrives on “work” tasks, such as putting groceries away, helping me vaccuum, and emptying the dishwasher. A fit is never thrown while he is independently completing a task. Not only that, but he’s not a fan of choices. Given the opportunity, he’ll make a good choice on his own without limits from me.

In addition to this, I’ve been reading up on Montessori for a while now. I’m a huge Montessori fan. I love it the way I love Positive Parenting – I believe the skills children learn in a Montessori environment are absolutely crucial to higher order thinking, problem solving, responsibility and more. I didn’t go to Montessori school and don’t know anyone who did, so this newfound love of this program is only recently developed. But I really, really love it. I could go on about it, but perhaps for a later post. Regardless, my toddlers aren’t in preschool yet. And with a new baby coming this summer, financially it made the most sense to keep them home another year with our nanny. So the twins will go to preschool when they’re four, not three. And when that day does come, I truly hope we can afford Montessori preschool, but you never know.

Because the twins are at home for another year and a half, I’ve decided to bring some basic Montessori concepts into my home. With B craving independence and responsibility, I turned to one of Montessori’s key aspects as a place to begin: Self-care. Montessori is big into children taking care of their bodies and recognizing the importance of doing so. As adults, if we can provide the opportunities, the children will learn all the necessary tasks of self-care, from getting dressed independently to going to the bathroom on their own.

Simple Ways to Increase Toddlers' Independence

Here are 5 simple ways we’ve implemented self-care (and independence) into our home:

This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase using these links, I will receive a percentage of the profits.

Picking Out Clothes

Simple Ways to Increase Toddlers' Independence

This was the first change I made, and it was a really easy one. I have to admit, I paused a moment on the fact that my children were guaranteed to pick out clothes that didn’t match, but that comes with the territory. When I buy them their spring/summer wardrobe, I’ll choose knowing that they’ll be mixing and matching.

Simple Ways to Increase Toddlers' Independence

I put their shirts in one drawer and their pants in another, and every morning since we’ve started, they are super excited to get out of their cribs and choose their clothes for the day. This has completely eliminated any fussing about clothes I’ve picked that they didn’t want.

Hand-Washing

The twins had been washing their hands for a while with help, and then B started fighting it and I gave in and used wipes instead, which looking back, was pretty ridiculous. I realized – not only do the twins need to wash their hands before meals, but they need to learn to do it on their own, including finding a comfortable water temperature.

Simple Ways to Increase Toddler's Independence

I purchased a few brightly colored washcloths and set them out on the bathroom counter. In addition, long ago I bought this fabulous faucet extender, which is crucial in allowing the twins to wash their own hands. C would never be able to reach the water otherwise!

Simple Ways to Increase Toddlers' Independence

C loves to scrub her hands, and we sing this hand-washing song (to the tune of “Are You Sleeping”):

“Top and bottom, top and bottom, in between, in between….rub them both together, rub them both together, ’til their clean, ’til their clean.”

Simple Ways to Increase Toddlers' Independence

A bit blurry, but B did very well with the “open” choice of four towels to dry his hands.

Teeth-Brushing Station

While neither of my twins minded having their teeth brushed, I was having issues with them. They were fidgety and not taking an active role in the process, which led to some meltdowns from B. Now, I have a teeth-brushing “station”, consisting of a makeup mirror, their toothbrushes, toothpaste, and another washcloth, so that they can not only see what they’re doing (and what I’m doing) but they can take more active role in the process. And wow – what a difference!

Simple Ways to Increase Toddlers' Independence

I suppose it’s crazy that I never thought of putting a mirror in front of them – fighting them to close their mouths so I can get all their teeth is long gone! And they’re doing it on their own!

Simple Ways to Increase Toddlers' Independence

The washcloth was a really nice addition – they always have sticky mouths and would fidget as I tried to wipe them. It’s all on them now to clean their own faces! And they do!

Simple Ways to Increase Toddlers' Independence

Coats and Shoes at Their Level

Another easy one. We’ve always had coats and sweatshirts on hooks up high on a wall, and shoes were previously in a bucket also out of the twins’ reach. Why not give these items a “home” and put them at the kids’ reach? That way they can gather their things themselves and learn to put them on themselves. And, they can put them back where they go when they’re done.

Simple Ways to Increase Toddlers' Independence

Just some lowered hooks and a mat in our mudroom, and this self-care concept took off. When it’s time to go outside, they grab their sweatshirts off the hook, get their shoes and work on the process of putting them on. It’s not there yet, but with shoes at their reach, they’ll get in a lot more practice.

Simple Ways to Increase Toddlers' Independence

Tissue Station

Finally, my daughter is going through a tissue stage. With every tear, she fusses, “I need a tissue!!!” and we’d have to bring her the box, where she’d pick one herself, dry her eyes (or not) and throw the tissue to the ground or leave it on the couch. Now, we have a simple system.

Simple Ways to Increase Toddlers' Independence

I slapped some clip art on the side of a cheap trash can and it’s working wonderfully. No more tissues lying around the house, and I’m not blowing their nose for them (unless they miss a spot!).

Letting my two year olds become more independent has worked wonders for both of them. I have a few more ideas, thanks to some Montessori self-care posts I found, that I hope to implement soon!

For more on raising young children, activities and crafts for kids, and easy recipes, please visit my Facebook and Pinterest pages! Thank you!

I’ve switched to positive parenting, and I’m not looking back.

This post was written on my new blog, www.parentinginmoments.com. I will only be blogging here at Twin Talk for a little while longer, so please switch over to the new site and sign up to receive new posts via email! Thank you!

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.

Positive parenting.

How positive parenting led to the best week ever

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:

http://www.creativechild.com/articles/view/how-and-why-to-discipline-without-punishment#page_title

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:

http://www.positiveparentingconnection.net/teach-child-say-sorry/

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:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/03/03/distinguishing-defiance-from-anxiety-what-to-do-with-a-child-who-worries/

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:

http://picklebums.com/hug-your-kids-when-they-are-being-horrible/

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.

There’s actually so much good.

Parenting is hard and unpredictable. Throw in some pregnancy hormones and sheer exhaustion and parenting become unbearable. And we are struggling with our son right now. HOWEVER. There’s some hope. There’s a lot of good in this house.

When something’s not going right in my life, I’m unable to sit back and let things unfold. For better or worse, I seek answers to my issues, and I like to get to the root of the cause. I needed to vent the other day, and I did, and what followed was – how can I fix this? Sure, I could treat the “symptoms” of B’s behavior, with time-outs and “I’m going to count to 3” and all that stuff that has NEVER worked with him before, not to mention now. But I don’t want to treat the symptoms. I want to get to the cause.

So today I read two articles that were exactly what I needed to read. Too often with parenting issues, there’s a nagging feeling in one’s head about how we should handle the situation as parents, because of what society’s norm is. Or perhaps there’s a nagging feeling – given to you from someone else, a relative, friends. There’s the “typical” way to handle things – and then there’s the way that works for your kid.

http://macnamara.ca/portfolio/reclaiming-the-lead-with-an-alpha-children-in-the-lead/

This article is really, really good. Because it’s us. We are currently living with an alpha toddler. He’s not an extrovert, as one might assume. In fact, he’s actually quite introverted and extremely sensitive, both physically and emotionally. But he’s an alpha toddler. Sure, it might be somewhat normal for all toddlers to demonstrate some alpha behaviors, especially around 3 years of age. I guess we’re just getting that party started early. But B’s alpha-ness is so frequent. The article talks about attachment, desperation, and vulnerability. B’s around-the-clock need for control is not because he’s being bossy, bratty, or in need of a time out. It’s because there’s a piece missing in his puzzle – he’s not feeling the dependency on us that comes with healthy attachment. His need for control is actually desperation.

I did think it odd that he wanted control over EVERYTHING – things that didn’t even involve him. Things I was saying out loud, like, I’m going to turn the music on, or I’m going to get dressed. He’d argue with me because I made a decision about my own life, not him. The desire for control on his control-o-meter was off the charts. But my new outlook today is that this isn’t something to be mad at. Even more, this is definitely NOT something to grab control back from, because it’s not that easy. There will be times when I need to make a snap parenting decision and B’s just going to have to deal with it. But when I can, I need to work on re-attaching him to me, as I’m the primary person he argues with. I need to make him feel safe, not in the typical way (because we already provide that) but in a different way. In a way that lets him know, if I make a decision and he doesn’t, he’s still safe, things will be okay. If I take control over a situation (calmly, not like a dictator), he needs to feel that he can trust the decisions I’ve made. That takes time, and some major patience from this pregnant mama. I’ll be working on that. The article gives specifics on how to rebuild that trust.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/on-parenting/what-to-do-about-a-defiant-3-year-old/2016/02/09/2559047c-c90f-11e5-a7b2-5a2f824b02c9_story.html

And this article let me know that what I’m experiencing is a taste of what being 3 is like (yippee), but there a few things that we’re doing that, in B’s case, are not working. One being – WAY, WAY too much talking. I’m quite guilty of it, and my husband is as well. We are constantly trying to explain to him – explain why he can’t do something, why it’s not his turn, whatever. He is not in a place right now where he can handle an explanation. He’s too young. It doesn’t make him feel better, and typically he starts arguing right after an explanation. When the fit is thrown, if his body needs to be moved, we need to pick him up without talking. Trying to reason with him is impossible, and we need to stop trying because it makes him more upset.

This article also touched upon the attachment issue – so I think there’s some real merit in this. It’s not that we’re not attached to him, or that he’s not attached to us. He is very attached in that way – but he doesn’t trust a situation in which he can’t control. And that’s something to work on.

These articles helped today. I feel as if I know more now what the root cause of this issue is, and I’m not about to just treat the symptoms of a temper tantrum. It won’t work – it hasn’t been working all along.

There's actually a lot of good.

There’s a lot of good in this house. B and C are absolute best friends. They insist on playing together at every moment. If one isn’t around, the other one is bored, or, I imagine, missing his/her other half. They play together quite nicely, with roles established by them (though we’ll be working on that…). They have their own silly games, and B will run over to C and say, “C, do you want to play the ____ game?” After they eat, I can clean up and do a few chores, because they play together wonderfully.

There's actually a lot of good.

How lucky they are to have each other – never, ever asking us to play with them or keep them company (though I wouldn’t mind if they did!). They are each other’s best friend.

There's actually a lot of good.

I’ve lost my parenting mojo.

These past few weeks have been filled with exhaustion. Besides being 21 weeks pregnant, my son is – so challenging. He really, really is.

I wrote this post right after he had a massive meltdown when my husband wasn’t here to help me. That was weeks ago. He’s thrown that same fit many times since. It’s not worth writing about. It’s the same thing.

These meltdowns are multiple times a week – the big ones that last 30 minutes to an hour. The ones where he’s rolling on the floor, screaming his head off, unable to talk or comprehend or do anything.

In between those meltdowns, he’s either happy or grumpy. And when he’s happy, he’s so happy. He’s telling me how much he loves me, and “I’m your best friend”, and “I want to kiss the baby in your belly” and he’s talking about the phases of the moon and the stop lights and, and, and. He loves to learn. He loves his transportation. He loves calendars and clocks. He LOVES being outside. And he loves me.

And he’s in that mood, sometimes. Daily, usually. In between the massive meltdowns and the super happy boy, he’s grumpy. And it wears me down.

I don’t always know if I’m doing the right thing. If someone else walked into my house, would they think I’m not being strict enough? Would they have the willpower to pick every single battle, knowing that EACH battle is enough to ruin half a day? Sometimes I do pick the battles.

I picked it this morning. He wanted his pear snack and he couldn’t have it until he cleaned up his playdough. It wasn’t naptime or bedtime – I had all the time in the world to wait for him. And he screamed and he threw his body down – but it wasn’t a full blown tantrum. He yelled, “I’m not picking it up! YOU pick it up!” and “I’m too big to clean this up!” and on and on. I felt patient and I continued to say, “Let me know when you’re ready to clean it up and have your pear.” 30 minutes later – he did it. On his own terms.

But as the day went on – let’s see, he bumped a toy into a chair and lost his s*, not knowing I was watching him. I’d be holding the wrong toy at the wrong time, his sister started to play with something that he deemed his – these are “normal” toddler issues, but he can’t handle them. He can’t just say, “That’s mine!” and move on. He doesn’t have coping strategies. If it’s not in his control, he can’t handle it.

After nap, his sister ran in to say “good afternoon” and he promptly stood up and smacked her in the head. I said, “Do NOT hit. That’s not nice!” knowing that this is actually the second time he hit her today, and he said, “It IS nice to hit. I WANT to hit C so I will hit C.” And I said, “You need to say ‘I’m sorry for hitting you, C'” and he said, “I’m NOT saying that, YOU say that.”  Do you think he said he was sorry to her? No. He didn’t. Should I have picked that battle? Yes,  I should have. I know I should have. C deserved an apology, even though she moved on right away. C needs to know I support her. And it was the second time he hit her today. But – I didn’t know how to get him to apologize. He won’t do it. I could’ve fought him on it, if I didn’t mind a two hour meltdown over it, when I’m tired and there are things to be done. How do I make him say he’s sorry? Better yet – how do I make him feel sorry?

It’s time to run an errand. My husband goes to start his car. “Where’s Daddy going?” he asks. “He’s starting his car to make it warm inside.”

“I don’t WANT it warm. Daddy’s NOT turning on his car.” He wants me, and only me, to put his shoes on. But I put one on (letting him pull his velcro, because lord help me if I forget), and the strap is too far sticking out, he wants less to pull. In fact, he’s pissed that I put on that shoe in the first place, when it’s the other shoe he wanted on first. Do I pick this battle? Do I say – “No, we already put that shoe on, and it’s staying on”?  No. I don’t pick it. If I pick it, he’s going to scream and kick and roll around and the errand won’t be run and everyone in the house will be affected because of this. Instead I say, “If you want it off, then take it off.” “YOU take it off.”

Finally, he gets his sweatshirt on, and 9 times out of 10 (including this time), I zip up his zipper too high for him. But he can’t just say, calmly, “My zipper is too high!” He screams over it, loses his s*. I’ve frequently decided my son will be chilly outside, rather than pick certain battles. Zipper isn’t all the way up? Oh well. Hat’s not on? I’ve come to the conclusion that if he’s truly cold, he’ll tell me. Mom of the year – I just don’t have it in me and I don’t know how to do it.

I have to mention that my son has excellent manners. “May I have ______, please?” “Will you take off my diaper, Mommy, please?” He knows how to be polite. When he’s happy, he’s the most polite child ever. I praise him up and down for it. When he’s upset, grumpy, melting down – all his strategies go out the window.

I feel like I’m losing control. And I feel both ashamed at my lack of parenting, my inability to hold strong (as our family members have seen this in action and think god knows what) and worried about my son, who is acting two but at the same time, is he acting two? Is this two? Two year olds disagree with every single thing you say, because they are mad at life? They throw their bodies around for an hour multiple times a week, if not daily?

I have another two year old, and she’s not like this. I know, I can’t really compare them. But I’m struck by her ability to be upset over something – and it happens all the time, it’s normal – and her willingness to move on, after just a minute or two. Things didn’t go her way, and she accepts it and moves on. I ask her to pick something up for me and she stops what she’s doing and happily says, “Okay, Mommy!” vs. my son who acts like a tyrant. I can only ask him for help when he’s in a good mood.  My daughter gets significantly less attention from me.

Do you know how badly I want to give her attention? I want to soak up her happiness, play with her without repercussions – shower her with the love she deserves, because she’s so damn sweet and helpful. And kind. She does whatever her brother demands of her, “changing her mind” to make him happy, and when he’s upset, asking him every two minutes if he’s happy now. She always goes second – in everything. If I allow her to go first and force B to go second, she won’t do it. She fights me on it, because she seems to agree that B always gets to go first.

And my dogs – my dogs are a trigger for my anger, because they so easily anger my son. And if my son is angry, everything stops. They want the food in his chair, they want to look out the window, sitting on the back of the couch, on “B’s cushion” – they get in his space, they are normal – they are dogs. And yet I’m yelling at them, making them get out of B’s space, because they’re going to set him off. Be careful what you do, what you say – it might set off my son.

I feel like I’m afraid of my son. I’m handling every meltdown and every backtalk and every argument he gets into, but I’m afraid to set him off. I don’t know which battles to pick – which ones are worth my sanity? Because if I picked every one, it would be screaming all day, every day. He’s still a toddler. I can certainly put him in a different room until he’s ready to be nice and come out and play. I mean, he’s not going to actually stay in that room, that’s some wishful thinking. I can’t take his toys away, I can’t ground him for being rude, I try – and fail – to explain why he can’t talk to me the way he does. Or to Daddy, or the nanny, or anyone. It’s not just to me. He’s SO rude, so argumentative because everything that happens in his life needs to be under his rule, his decision, his control. How do I teach him to handle these constant situations that make him so upset?

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