This morning my two-year-old Max woke up early and started making cow sounds around 6:30 AM. My wife Kate and I were still sleepily in bed, as was our 2-week-old Dodge (who may be a Hobbit considering he was on his second or third breakfast at the time). In the months prior to Dodge joining our little family we tried to prepare Max as much as possible for “the new baby,” and we did quite well. Max has been fantastic with Dodge, is very careful with him, respects his space, and adorns him with hugs and kisses when appropriate…its really very sweet. What we were unprepared for was how quickly Max would spiral in toddler-hood and do everything to assert his opinion. I had expected him to regress and do things like cry more, suck his thumb, act like a baby, and give us hell during potty training. I misinterpreted everything I read and didn’t understand what would happen…it all makes sense. Max feels threatened that he is not the sole center of attention and so his regression is his expressing his frustration which is simultaneously happening as he hits his “terrible two’s” and tests the boundaries all around him.
He has launched a power struggle and we are at Defcon 2.
So like I was saying, Max woke up early. Dodge, who we sometime affectionately call “Chicken” because his legs are so skinny, started whimpering because he was hungry again. The cat jumped up on the bed and started howling because her food bowl downstairs is low…not out…but low. So now I have a 2-year-old mooing, a 2-week-old clucking, and a 14-year-old cat howling! It was like waking up to a nightmare petting zoo! This has been my morning routine for the past few days…moo, cluck, meow! However, being the brilliant man I am, I planned ahead last night and left both our door and Max’s door open. “Max, come crawl into bed with us!” I called out. The mooing stopped. Kate called out, “Come here sweetheart.” Silence. Then, instead of the pitter-patter of Max’s adorable feet as I had planned I heard his “mooooooo” switch to a “noooooo” instead. We figured he’d give it up and join us after a few minutes.
An hour later, the constant call of “nooooooo” from across the hall continued and it was evident Max would not be joining us in our bed for a little morning cuddle. Ah…that wonderful word, “no.” We taught it to him. He’s heard it plenty as he’s learned about touching the stove, throwing a ball inside, hitting, and so on. Those are all, “No, no, no.” Now he understands that “no” has power behind it and he wants to use it all the time…specifically at every meal, nap-time, and bed-time. Every meal we say, “Max its time to eat,” and the exaggerated over-the-top “no” comes right back at us. We ask nicely and the next response is the stomping of the feet and throwing things. One more time asking and we have the classic child temper tantrum on the floor complete with all limbs flailing and fake crying. If we try to pick him up we get hitting and kicking. So what can you do?
Kate and I each have our own different relationships with Max as any parents do with their kids. I emulate my parents as best I can but don’t have the patience they had…so I’m pretty much the bad guy or the enforcer This is not to say Kate does nothing. On the contrary, she spends the most time with him and therefore he has more time to wear her down and push her boundaries. I just walk in the door from work and put my foot down louder than Max can…which is sometimes okay but mostly I’m teaching him the bad habits we are trying to stop. So what’s the right call? I think we have to let him not eat and when he’s suddenly hungry later its a lesson that he should have joined us for dinner. That’s fine and all except the next thing you have to do is get him to sleep which involves two major battles: changing his diaper and getting him to sleep.
I can change his diaper fine because I can pick him up which is what he wants…he wants to be carried (like Dodge), but he’s a 30 pound beast and Kate is not allowed to lift anything for 4 more weeks because of the C-Section surgery. So during the day when I am at work he refuses to climb the stairs, he refuses to lay down and have his diaper changed, he refuses to just read two books, he refuses to get into bed, and eventually he skips his nap and pushes Kate over her breaking point. Then I come home and see how chaotic things are with my wife on the brink of tears, and instead of being patient with Max and letting him test his boundaries and have his power struggle I just overpower him, plunk him in the chair, make him eat dinner, toss him in the tub, change the diaper, read him two books, and shove his adorable and annoying booty in bed and get him to sleep. Thus, I have taught him tomorrow he should try resisting a little more and see if that works. Who loses? Kate.
I think it is clear we need to put Max back in day care even if Kate is home right now. He needs the structure, social elements, etc. and Kate needs a break, Kate and I need to be a unified front on how we deal with his tantrums and she has some great info she has been reading about. I keep thinking back to this family we knew in California that would mimic the tone of the kid’s tantrum when trying to reason with him so he would understand his emotions were understood. Max can reason…he negotiates everything. “How about…” and “You could…” are how he replies to everything. So maybe we need to give a little to get a little. I am open to suggestions and I would really love to hear from parents out there who have gone through this and know what worked for you (or what didn’t). I know there is no recipe for perfect success but I also know I’m cooking up a big batch of failure right now and teaching my son to solve his problems with temper tantrums.
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