Stubborn Toddlers & Baby Sign Language

Thank you for the support in regards to my last post. B was throwing some mighty fits for a few days there and since then, it’s decreased a lot.

I figured out the problem. He was sick of his oatmeal. Yes, his oatmeal. Every day for breakfast, B and C were eating 5 scoops each of baby oatmeal, mixed with one ice cube of pureed pears and a few dashes of cinnamon. Apparently, B is done with it. Not only that, but he was starting to associate his orange bowl with the oatmeal.

Those breakfast meltdowns that occurred a few days in a row were because he didn’t want what he had been eating for months. I was confused, because he had insisted I hold him while I made the oatmeal – mixing in the water, stirring it up – and he would even let me give him a taste off the spoon with no complaints. But as soon as I put him in the chair, the meltdown began. I assumed it was the chair, and after my last post, we switched out the high chair tops to the booster seats…and now I know it wasn’t the chair at all. He just didn’t want oatmeal. (We know this because we tried serving it on a plate – no luck. Since then, he won’t touch a bite.)

On the day I couldn’t take it anymore, he also had a one hour meltdown at dinner. No, there was no oatmeal served. However, I put out his orange bowl to put his dinner in – and as soon as he saw it, he started screaming. He even said the word “bowl” a few times, and I thought it meant he wanted it. But he didn’t.

I hadn’t realized how “deep” the issue had gone – he didn’t want oatmeal and he didn’t want the orange bowl because it reminded him of the oatmeal. Now that I’ve figured it out (and B has taken a 2 hour nap for the last three days in a row) – he hasn’t had a single meltdown. The kid was trying to tell me something!

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That said – he’s still extremely stubborn. C would never have a meltdown over a bowl. She’s never had a meltdown, period. And that’s okay – they’re two different children. But man oh man – B knows what he wants. He’s independent and strong-willed: two good qualities that happen to be exhausting for parents.

I have to say that this was a learning experience for me. I learned to start parenting a toddler instead of a baby. I’m much more on my game. I’m trying my best not to be wishy-washy with what B can and can’t do, and my husband and I are on the same page about the little issues, where we weren’t before, which was giving the twins mixed messages. We’re actively parenting now, and I guess we weren’t doing that before. What do we feel comfortable letting B do and not do? Some things don’t bother my husband like they bother me, but he’s great about agreeing to them if he knows it’s something I don’t approve of, and vice versa.

For example – standing on the couch. The couch is pushed up against our big living room window, so sometimes we all look out the window together. But if the TV is on and the twins are looking out the window, they might turn around to watch TV, still standing. My husband and I weren’t being consistent enough with our couch rules – deciding if they could stand on a case-by-case basis. As long as they didn’t jump or move around. Or as long as they didn’t turn around to see the TV. B didn’t understand the rules, and I wasn’t thinking that he was of age to NEED to understand the rules. But he is old enough, so it’s time to be clear.

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The day after the double meltdown, we were looking out the window together, pointing out birds and the snow and cars. They sit up there with us behind them to see better. When we were done, I sat them on the couch. B immediately stood up and moved his foot to the side, staring at me. I said, “You need to sit down now or you’ll be off the couch.” He took another step; looked at me. I picked him up and put him on the ground. He stamped his feet for a second and decided it wasn’t worth it. That was it – he went to play with his toys. This seems so obvious – and we WERE doing this. We just weren’t doing it every time, so B was confused. Now I feel better, and with confidence- we’re on the right track.

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Where I’m going with this post is how we use Baby Sign Language. I can’t say enough good things about it, though I wish the twins knew more signs than they do. The fact is, B didn’t want his oatmeal anymore and he didn’t want his orange bowl, and the only way he could tell me was by saying “bowl” and screaming. I can’t imagine how many more fits he would have if he didn’t have any sign language to use. It has REALLY been handy for these 18 month olds.

We started when the babies were 8 months old. Well, I started. I knew they wouldn’t sign back for a long time, but since they were eating solids and they sat in their high chairs, I would say and sign “more”, “eat”, and “all done”. Again and again and again. As they got used to seeing me do this, they started to smile and laugh, thinking it was a game. I just wanted it to become ingrained in their brains. Those were the only three signs I used for a long time. It was around 12 months or so that B began using his hands to speak to us, and he started on his own. He was obsessed with our ceiling fan and he pointed to it, letting his arm go around and around. That just happens to be the sign for “fan”, so I went with it and incorporated it into the babies’ sign language vocabulary. If you are hoping to do baby sign language, as soon as they start signing just one sign to you, they’re ready for many more signs. They’re in learning mode.

After that, I taught them a few signs that were important to me, such as “water”, “milk”, and “again”, but I also let the twins show me what they wanted signs for, based on their interests. They went through a dog phase, so we taught them the sign for “dog”. We recently taught them the sign for “snow”, because we now have a ton of it and the twins are paying attention. They also learned “please” and “thank you” and use them appropriately all the time.

Before I started this, I was worried about how long it would take them to learn the signs. Honestly, once they start signing, they pick up new ones so quickly. I would show the twins twice, maybe three times and then say, “You do it!” and they would. When they forget (like tonight, they forgot “again”), I just did it two times and they were back on.

One worry that people who have never tried Baby Sign Language have is that it might slow down a child’s verbal vocabulary – as in, they’ll sign instead of talk. That is absolutely NOT the case at all – in fact, it’s the opposite. As long as you are modeling by saying the word with the sign, they’ll do the same. The twins have a great verbal vocabulary of at least 40 words and Baby Sign Language has only enhanced it. I find it amazing when one of them wants something. If their mouths are full, they’ll just sign “please” by itself. If they can talk, they’ll sometimes just say “please”, or sign and say it together. The signs are just another tool in their toolbox to use when they want to express themselves.

Like I said, my only regret is that we (my nanny, my husband and I) haven’t taught them more. Next up on the list (especially for B): “Feeling” signs – “mad”, “happy”, “hungry”, “tired”…etc.

If you’re just starting out, I get all my signs from one source: www.babysignlanguage.com. I would definitely recommend it to anyone!

Parenting a strong-willed child

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while now and have made mention to B’s somewhat challenging nature. Tonight is the right night to write it.

B changed from a calm, easy baby to a challenging toddler almost overnight. I started writing about it in May of 2014, when he was only 10 months old. And when I haven’t been writing about sensory activities and DIY toys, I’ve made mention of B’s strong-willed personality.

Through multiple sleep regressions, learning to walk, down to one nap – you name it – his new personality hasn’t wavered. It’s only gotten stronger. And I have to admit that I feel unequipped to handle him, because the tools I have in my toolbox don’t always work.

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He loves going outside because he has the freedom to go and do what he wants – he gets to make all his own decisions. Unfortunately we have a few feet of snow on the ground at the moment!

He is passionate. That’s the best way to put it. He is bored with his toys, even when I rotate them (this is why I love sensory bins!). He doesn’t want to sit and watch TV. His body is calm, that I do have to say. He’s not hyper, doesn’t climb on things, etc. It’s his brain that wants to go 50 miles an hour. He wants to hold what we’re holding, press every button, grab every sharp knife, cook, clean, flush toilets, use our pots and pans (but only the ones we don’t offer him). And when we’re able to, we let him help. We believe in the importance of toddler independence and my husband has been building “learning towers” for the twins. They aren’t done but here’s what it looked like before my husband had to take it apart to make some adjustments:

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He was helping to make smoothies, and he loved it. But sometimes when we do let him help, he doesn’t want to do what we ask him to. He wants to play with adult items that are dangerous, in the way he wants to play with them. He doesn’t really want to help at all – he wants to do it alone, his way. And when we can’t allow him to do that, or when we’re not able to let him help, he melts down. We have to creep in the basement so he doesn’t see us go, or he will have a meltdown. When we take him down there, he wants to spin the fan blade and press the dryer button. If he can’t, or we don’t do it long enough – meltdown.  If he’s eating a meal and someone goes into the basement and he sees, he’ll meltdown and refuse to eat any more. If he chooses the purple spoon and I give C the blue one (I always give him the first choice), he’ll immediately want to switch. After they switch, he’ll want the purple one back. (Yes, I have multiple blue and purple spoons but he’d want both of the same colored spoon regardless.) He’ll grab toys out of C’s hands, he’ll hit the dogs when he’s upset. He wants to walk around with his water and when I won’t let him – meltdown. He wants to jump on the couch and when I won’t let him – meltdown. He wants more smoothie because his sister is still drinking hers but he finished his – meltdown. He wants what he wants and he won’t let it go. When he does have a meltdown, he has a traditional temper tantrum – he rolls around the on the ground, kicks his legs, slams his head into the ground (only twice, and then he realizes it hurts and stops). If I leave him in another room to cry alone and ignore him he chases after me, pulling at my shirt and then melting down more when I offer to hold him. During a meltdown, he’ll throw things, hit, and bite (though biting is MUCH less in the past few months, thankfully). The worst part of all is that it lasts forever.

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In the past week or so, he’s melted down in this way once a day. Today it was TWICE, and all the meltdowns have been over him not wanting to sit in his chair for meals. Being strapped in was an issue many months ago but had been getting better. Today it was breakfast and dinner and probably would’ve been lunch too but we weren’t home. He doesn’t want to sit in his chair. And me, feeling unequipped without the confidence I need to parent him correctly, I’ve allowed him to meltdown, I’ve ignored him and walked away, and then after 20 minutes or so, I start to doubt myself. This is crazy, he’s in hysterics. I’m his mother, he needs to know I understand he’s frustrated and doesn’t have the words to tell me why. So after these 20 minutes, I’ve gone into a panic, feeling like the meltdown needs to stop, and I’ve either turned on the TV or …twice…fed him his oatmeal on the couch. Bad Mommy! The meltdown wouldn’t have had an end and I felt trapped. Because he wouldn’t sit at the table, and so it was either feed him when he’s in a cried-out zombie state on the couch or he doesn’t eat. And then tonight, I decided I can’t keep being wishy-washy. That’s not good at all – I know how bad it is, and that it’ll only make things harder for me in the long run. Not to mention it’s not fair to C. I used to let him take toys from her as long as it didn’t make her upset, but now that she’s getting older, she does get mad. And even if she doesn’t – I can’t allow him to grab things from other’s hands at this age. I allowed it , and now I’m not. So tonight, as soon as it was time for dinner and C went to her chair, the meltdown began.

It lasted over an hour.

He screamed, he hit, he threw things, he rolled around, he temporarily was distracted by playing cars and trucks and then in the middle of it he burst into hysterics all over again. He wanted to take his plate from the table and throw it. He wanted to shove whole cucumber slices in his mouth. We stood our ground. He wasn’t eating unless he sat in his chair. He stood his ground, and continued to meltdown through bathtime. I then realized that maybe dinner wasn’t the right meal to begin holding firm. That what if he goes to bed starving, because he’s a 30 pound beast who needs to eat? That it might cause night wake ups, or an early wake up, and that in the morning when he realizes it’s time for breakfast, this would start over again. What if he misses both dinner and breakfast?

Well by the time I thought of all that, it was too late. He was past the point, he was exhausted, he was still screaming. I offered all types of food, he said yes to a few but wouldn’t sit in his chair. Because C hadn’t finished her milk as dinner was hectic and rushed, we decided to allow both toddlers to drink their milk in the bathtub. And they did. He had his cup of milk.

But that’s it – he went to bed hungry, refusing to touch a single piece. We held strong. And was it worth it?

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He is full of love. The flip side of the coin is that his passions also extend to what he likes. And one thing he likes is his lovey!

I’m now full of doubt – this is the hard part of parenting, obviously. I don’t think I made the right choice, sending my 18 month old to bed without any food. But after 45 minutes went by, it was clear he wouldn’t be eating anything. He was beyond hysterical.

My nanny doesn’t see these meltdowns like we do, which is good. And when we’re out of our house, he’s Mr. Shy. Hiding from new experiences. Taking forever to warm up. Super quiet. Completely opposite of how he is at home. I did mention this at the twins’ 18 month appointment and the P.A. said some toddlers do start this behavior early (um, yes.) and that when he has a bigger vocabulary and can say why he’s upset, it’ll be better. I hope so? But I’m doubtful.

I just wish I knew what the “right” way to handle him was. If this is the personality he’s going to have, I’m going to accept it. I want to learn how to channel it productively as he gets older. I want to give him the independence and the decision making skills he craves, but yet I want him to know where I draw the line. And a few months ago, I felt like he was still a baby, doing what many kids do. And now I’m not so sure. Now my husband and I need more tricks up our sleeves and the confidence behind it to know what we’re doing is the right thing.

Or maybe there’s nothing we can do and we just have to ride it out. It’s frustrating and emotionally draining. Maybe it’s a sign of genius? All kidding aside, can anything good come from this personality he has?

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A good mood – maybe forgetting he was in his chair!

Rewarding and exhausting.

Well, the twins are a week or so away from being a year and a half old. And they are certainly acting like it! So many amazing things are happening with this age group, and yet the challenges are just as numerous. I was under the impression initially that having twins gets easier. The management of having two babies does get easier, in a sense. I strap them both in at the table and put food on both their plates and they (sometimes) eat. I scoop them both up and bring them up or down the stairs together, or if I’m feeling extra patient, will let them take a few stairs (which takes about 17 hours). They bathe together, they play fight together. And they understand so much more – in fact, I’d say they understand almost everything we say to them. Even if they don’t have all the words to express what they want to say, I can say, “Go find Daddy in the bathroom; it’s time for your bath.” A few steps will be taken until they realize what they’re going in the bathroom for, and then the chorus of “no, no, no, NO” will begin. Or I’ll say, “Please pick up the dog bone. It’s over there, behind you. It goes in the basket. Put it in the basket please!” One toddler, in my opinion, would be challenging. Especially a toddler like B. Therefore, two toddlers is doubly as challenging.

I’m admitting here that I’ve recently googled “18 month old temper tantrums”. C does not throw them. B throws them. Granted, being hungry, tired, or sick has only made it worse, but that boy really knows how to be upset. And that for me is sometimes a challenge. Meals right now are a shot in the dark – it’s anyone’s guess whether either baby will eat what I make for them. Tonight they had a simple turkey “quesadilla” and a sweet potato for dinner. Surprisingly, C refused the sweet potato but ate almost the whole quesadilla, and B refused the quesadilla and yes, ate the whole sweet potato. I really just never know. They’re stuck in a food rut of rotating between rice, pasta and quinoa and whatever I put on them – their favorites are tacos, minestrone soup, or “fried” rice flavors (soy and sesame sauce, etc). But heaven forbid they eat a piece of meatloaf or chicken! The constants that I can count on them always eating however are their veggies (peas and green beans…so hot right now) and their afternoon smoothie (with fruit and spinach). So if they drink their milk, drink the smoothie, and eat their veggies, I at least feel good about them getting a little nutrition. But it’s frustrating sometimes. And now, at this age, if the food isn’t what they want, they cry and pull at their straps and say “NO”, and “DOWN”, and “ALL DONE” and the meal is over. They’re very headstrong to say the least.

B has seemed to enter another Wonder Week – which I never would’ve bought into if it weren’t true EVERY TIME. He seems to be more sensitive to his growing brain than C is. He continues to want everything he can’t have. He is passionate about everything, so a million times a day, he’s either super excited and happy or super devastated that he can’t have/do what he wants. His meltdowns have been a daily event. His sleep hasn’t been good either – he is taking one nap, but it’s only 30-60 minutes long. All day. That just won’t do – he’s not rested and he’s crying and fussy. So I’m chalking it up to a Wonder “Week” plus a bout with roseola that lasted a week and now a nasty cold.

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C doesn’t have meltdowns and she doesn’t bite or hit, thankfully. But she’s no shy, gentle little thing. She’s got sass, she’s feisty, she’s super opinionated. “No” is definitely her favorite word and at this point, it’s still cute to watch her little lips form the word. I know it won’t always be cute when she’s screaming it at me.

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Independence is something the twins are craving and my husband and I are very supportive of. It’s hard, with twins, to give them more independence because it’s hard to keep an eye on both of them at the same time. It’s easier for ME to have them do and play with what I want them to, because I can keep them in one space together. But when we are able to give them more independence, we do. C is starting to tell me she’s wet in her cloth diapers, which seems like a step in the right direction. B wants to have his diaper put on while he’s standing up. They want to feed the dogs, which is challenging with two toddlers. They want to turn the TV on, climb the stairs, turn on the lights, pick out their clothes empty out their drawers, etc. And that’s great and wonderful because that’s what toddlers are SUPPOSED to do – it’s just SO extremely exhausting for me. But oh well, that’s just how it’s going to be. I’ve got future blog posts in the works regarding a few “crafts” to help with independence, including buckle pillows, zipper boards, and my amazing husband is in the process of building two “learning towers”. Big things are happening in this house!

And with all the challenges and the absolutely knock-you-down exhaustion comes so many rewarding things. Their language is absolutely taking off. What was a “mo-mo” (monkey), is now “muckey”. C put two words together for the first time the other day – “Hat OFF”. They know almost the whole alphabet and can count to 10. They do “ring around the rosie”, “If you’re happy and you know it” and they know all the body parts that get washed in a tub. I know these are things all children do and so in one sense, it’s just the next step. But it’s just so cool to watch the change happen, because it happens REALLY quickly. Much faster than I would’ve thought.

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