Monday, August 20, 2007

The Terrible ONES?

Although I read dozens of baby and parenting books and had quite a bit of experience with young children, I was still pretty unprepared for motherhood. I think parenting is just one of those things in life that you learn on the job. Kind of like marriage. For the past 15 months, life has been full of surprises and opportunities for problem solving. One thing that no one ever told us to expect? Babies can throw tantrums!

I was a legendarily hot tempered two year old. I was also the family's only redhead. My tantrums are still part of family lore. Why is it that our behavior for such a brief season is forever remembered? My cousin Cara? She had colic. Her brother Craig? Literally perfect. Emma was a biter. Tara went to the bathroom in the front yard (more than once!). Maggie was basically a nudist. Alicia tried to knock off her newborn brother. And I was the mayor of tantrum town.

So I was prepared for the fact that, if my son took after me in temperament as much as in looks, he would probably follow in my fiesty footsteps. For the first six months of his life he was an extremely easy going baby. But as soon as he started crawling his personality became more apparent. Now that he could get where and to what he wanted, it was clear that he was a lot like his mama. When things went his way, he was perfectly pleasant. But he wanted to do what he wanted to do. And he didn't want to do what he didn't want to do. And he wasn't shy about letting us know when he was displeased.

I didn't worry much about it because one of the little girls in the church nursery, about six weeks older than Nicknack, threw fullblown face-on-the-floor-kicking-and-screaming tantrums quite regularly. I figured it was normal and he would outgrow it, as he had other annoying phases. Like sticking his tongue out and blowing raspberries all. the. time. or the the month he decided to take up SHRIEKING as a hobby. Besides, for a few months at least, he was easily distracted from his fussfest.

Well, he hasn't outgrown any of it. His brief, amusing fits have turned into actual tantrums. Not of the truly terrible, award winning variety. Yet. But tantrums, nonetheless. They are often sparked by mama or daddy telling him "no" or taking something away. We try to avoid unnecessary conflict, but sometimes it can't be helped. Some days he just wakes up from a nap determined to be cranky and the least little thing will set him off. At times we don't even know what he's protesting. The most frequent source of frustration for him is the fact that there are gates preventing him from roaming the house. If a door is opened or a person steps over saids gates, the howlfest begins.

Big alligator tears. Mouth frozen open, mid-yell. A big inhale, then silence for several seconds. Followed by a piercing cross between crying and screaming. Face and body gently and oh-so-pathetically strewn on the floor. After a few moments the crying ceases and the angry babbling begins. Oh, how I wish I spoke Nicklish. Then he wanders around complaining for a while, stopping to cry again when he remembers the offense afresh. This goes on for several minutes. It's all very sad.

We try to be tough. Sort of. We ignore the tantrum part as much as possible while still encouraging him with our words or a hug. We try to distract him but that rarely has any real effect anymore.

If he was older, I would know just what to do. I was a nanny for a couple of years for children ranging from just barely two to nearly nine. In each of the two families I worked for the youngest child was a pretty accomplished tantrum thrower. Jock excelled at the basics. Hold breath, turn red, scream bloody murder, repeat. But Jilly had more flair for the dramatic. Like the time she threw herself into the deep end of the pool. Even though she couldn't swim. Oh, and she had an ace up her sleeve. Nosebleeds. I realize that she didn't will them to happen, but they were still effective and well timed. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I assumed that if I could handle those two (not to mention their older and sometimes equally rowdy brothers and sisters) I could deal with my own child's antics.

I just didn't expect it before his first birthday! Because, although I was known for being a difficult, my mother swears I was an easy baby. It wasn't until I reached about eighteen months that I became the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead.

So what is the deal? Is Nicknack just getting this tantrum stuff out of the way ahead of schedule or are we in for all this PLUS the actual full-meal-deal terrible twos next year at this time? Is this common behavior at his age?

And more importantly, what should we do about it? Should we be more strict? Should we be more diligent in ignoring the behavior completely? Should we lighten up? Is this a behavior problem, a bad habit, or just a natural and acceptable way for him to express himself? I just don't know what he is capable of grasping at 15 months. Of course, he understands "no." But beyond that.

Well, whether there is a remedy or not, I suppose we'll just wing it. The reassuring thing is that whatever little quirks he has now, he's likely to outgrow in time. I still have a sassy temper and like things "just so." But I manage to keep my cool 99.9% of the time. I haven't had a tantrum in days. Just kidding. Jilly (now 16) is an accomplished swimmer and an aspiring thespian. Jock (10) is, from what I hear, quite a nice, mild mannered boy. Alicia (24) has accepted that her brother (22) is not going back to the hospital. Every time I see Maggie (27) she is always fully dressed. Tara (31) has successfully potty trained her own three children. Emma (32) hasn't bitten anyone since she was three. To my knowledge. Craig (38) is still wonderful, but even his mother (my favorite aunt) would have to admit he isn't perfect. And Cara (35), thankfully, no longer suffers from colic. Although she still has an attitude.

So, long-term, there is hope for my little terror. And in between the grumpy episodes, he is smiling ray of sunshine. And even when he's being decidely bratty? He's still our joy. And, praise the Lord, he still takes two two-hour naps and can now be counted on for 11 or 12 hours of sleep each night. During which time he is a perfect angel :) and I have the opportunity to recover and refortify for the next round.


Heather said...

I have two fiesty ones on my hands ... the 1 year old is much more fiesty than the 2 1/2 year old!

One thing we had to do with my 2 1/2 year old ... he was around 20 months when the tantrums started was a) ignore them and b) sometimes we had to use his crib as a time out sorce b/c it could have been destructive to himself and our stuff. We just made sure it didn't resemble night time when we put him in. Took out all toys, and lovies and turned on the lights and the music off. Time outs really worked to just let him get it out. we would tell him when he was happy we would come get him. We did this about a week and the tantrums subsided greatly. Not that it will work for you but it did for us. I'm sure there are a lot of other things out there that worked for others. My advice is to try it all ... something will work and it will be the right thing for you and your child. We also spent a lot of time on our knees praying during this time. :)

These are the days, eh?

Mary@notbefore7 said...

Oh yes, the tantrums! AHHHH! My first daughter was the "norm" when it came to tantrums. Our second child has thrown fits like I have never seen - WOAH! (She turns 3 this weekend) It began VERY EARLY and has yet to end.

I think your last paragraph where you listed the way everyone "turned out" just about sums it up. As we persist with our little ones, it will end. Most of it is a factor of age. I find that they best thing I can do is what is best to control ME, not them. Often, I did what Heather said and just removed them until they calmed down. I am sure T spent more than 20 mins in her crib back then when we started it. I would just say, "You are not punished, but you must calm down and then leave" (maybe she got it?) BUT, she learned that when she was calm, I came back. Now she just has to sit in her bed or on the stairs.

When she was really young, I would sit in the hallway and wait for the first calm instant and run in, so she would associate calmness with me. It seemed to help, but they didn't go away completely. I think age has helped too, but some kids are just more passionate than others - it'll take them far!

Teri said...

Well said Kitty. I have nary a solution for you...but can commiserate quite well.
One of my sons would cry so hard he would PASS OUT...he grew out of it!
Whenever people would mention why my kids weren't potty trained earlier, why they still had a pacifier/bottle/comfort item, I would shrug it off and tell them I didn't know when said thing would be accomplished, but I guaranteed them that he/she would not walk down the aisle with it. I know, not exactly the most conventional answer, but really, in the grand scheme of things do those things really matter?
You and Penn sound like wonderful, intelligent. God fearing parents...I am sure you will all get through this just fine!

Sunni at The Flying Mum said...

My little 17 mo. old is a perfect peach, also, when things go her way. But if you cross her...there will be heck to pay. And we pay it! I'm trying to find a good book to read...let me know if you know of one!

Teri said...

that is so funny Kitty...yes Romeo MICHIGAN! I'm a yankee.

Hey, I wanted to mention a book to you, the book that helped me through tantrums...The Strong Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson. I know it is an old book, but it is very good and helpful!

Susan said...

I can assure you Miss Kitty that, since my Darlings are 17, 16 & 11 and NONE of them are throwing tantrums (wait...I'm the one who throw the tantrums now! Well, that's for another blog entry!), sucking on a bottle or a fa-fa (pacifier), all I can say is this too, shall pass! But I do like the suggestions that have been made and also the wisdom that what works for one, may not work for an other!

Oh, and sometimes, Mommy had to take a time-out after making sure that the kid(s) was safe (like a crib). I LOVED Mommy time-outs!

jennyhope said...

your post on Debras blog was right is so hard being a woman and having all of our feelings. that really spoke to me today.

jennyhope said...

ps my child is one strong willed little chic! It makes it hard!

Jackie said...

oh, the joys of parenting. i spent a good part of my day arguing/trying to reason (to no avail) with my 2 yr old. Maybe I'll learn before she does. Hang in there.

Jenn said...

Ah yes - there is always hope!