Before having toddlers, my perception was that they were little people who ‘toddled’ along, smiling cutely as they went. Sure, I’d heard of the ‘Terrible Twos’ and witnessed the odd tantrum, but I thought they were the exception rather than the rule.
I never realised there was SO much more to it than that. Their autocratic and often teenage-like behaviour coupled with their Jekyll and Hyde mood swings, never ceases to amaze me. Their inability to understand what seems so logical and reasonable and absolute inflexibility, makes time spent in their company a little fraught at times.
I’m aware that we are not alone. I Have enough mummy friends going through similar challenging times and have now read enough articles, confirming our two toddlers are by no means unique in this respect. My simplistic and naive understanding of ‘toddlers’, has gone out the window now that I have 2 of them living under my roof.
My youngest is 15 months old. Having just started to walk independently, I can confirm she is 100% ‘toddling’. Often she does this smiling and laughing as she goes. Revelling in the attention she gets from us and other onlookers. Still a little unsteady on her feet, there are often moments when she falls. We hold our breath and wait…..she looks at us……still holding our breath, still waiting. She smiles, then drunkenly stumbles back to her feet and carries on her merry toddling way. Phew, we are relieved – exhale. Unfortunately there are also many occasions when she falls, looks at us, turns her bottom lip downwards and the tears come. Or, she doesn’t fall, the tears come and we have absolutely no idea why she is crying.
Having no idea why she is crying happens a lot. It’s got to the point where I am so often at a loss, I resort to asking her nearly 3 year old sister if she can shed any light on it. Her reply is consistent, ‘’she wants booby milk Mummy”. Hence why my youngest is a breast-aholic.
For the first year of her life she suffered severe reflux. It was heart-breaking. She struggled to self-settle, needy of me and my boobs and physical in the way she demonstrated her discontent. At first I put everything down to reflux. As she has grown older I’m learning that lots of her tears are because she’s just not getting what she wants. She literally throws her dummy out of the cot, her food off the high chair and toys out of the pram with such force she could compete in the next Olympic shotput rounds.
I have suffered many a bruised foot at the hands of a hurtling Sippy cup, flung onto the floor for the 10th time that sitting. I’m often left scrabbling around in the dark in her bedroom or under cars searching for her abandoned dummy. Luckily she is not of an age where she can repeat the swear words coming from my mouth!
We have a bedtime ritual. Forgive me, I know how ridiculous this must sound. I put her dummy in my mouth by the handle, carry her into her room and wait until she decides she’s ready to take the dummy from my mouth, before attempting to place her in the cot. If I try to put the dummy into her mouth before she’s ready, onto the floor it goes. If she won’t take the dummy from me, I know it’s time to retract back to the lounge and try again later. Often she teases me, taking it from me and then flinging it in disgust across the room.
When she decides she wants a breastfeed, she climbs on me, pulls my top/dress up or down and helps herself. She hates to be restrained, in the pram, cot, car seat or high chair. Sometimes food provides a distraction, but that’s short-lived and she soon starts wriggling and screaming leaving me no choice but to set her free.
Our eldest daughter (nearly 3) was relatively tantrum free until she reached 18 months. She’s making up for lost time now. This coincided with the arrival of her baby sister. I have heard that how she felt could be likened to how you would feel if your partner brought home a new lover, moved them in and had them attached to them the entire time – ouch!
Occasionally whilst at the playground, if she fell over, I’d go to comfort her – she’d scream and run away, turning up the volume the closer I got. Aware that each step nearer resulted in her becoming more upset, I stopped. Seeing her this way and feeling so helpless broke my heart. Gradually I’d begin moving towards her again, desperate to take her in my arms and console her. This made it worse. She’d run away screaming as though I was some crazy stranger attempting to abduct her.
I willed her words to come in the hope we would understand each other better and relieve her frustrations. At first her repertoire of words was limited; ‘dummy’, hot milk’, ‘mummy’, ‘daddy’ and ‘MORE’. Often she’d sit in her throne/ high chair and have me run ragged as she shouted her orders. As we chatted more I started to toughen up, realising that she did understand the meaning of the word ‘no’ perfectly well and it was ok for me to use it. With the implementation of ‘no’ came the arrival of the truly terrible twos.
I began seeking advice from parenting Facebook groups and reading more articles about how to deal with toddler behaviour.
- Get down to their level
- Remain calm
- Explain why you are saying no
- Be consistent
- Don’t raise your voice
Every time I read a new article, I felt inspired and hopeful.
The tantrum begins:
Deep breath, bend down, stay calm
“I’m sorry you are feeling upset sweetheart, I understand you want a whole biscuit but unfortunately it was broken when I took it out of the wrapper”
Following the advice to the letter, I’m ready for the current mood to change so we can continue with our day.
“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! I want a whole one, I want a whole one now. I want a whole apple biscuit NOW”
Be patient, I remind myself. Try again.
The screaming gets louder, leg kicking and lashing out begins. We are attracting the attention of passers-by who look at her with pity, like I’m the one being unreasonable.
“Poor thing, bless her”
Bless her? My patience fading and my frustration increasing. Often, against my better judgement and with a quick risk assessment, I give in.
“Fine- wear your shoes on the wrong feet”
Unfortunately, I have to confess, there are occasions when all my good intentions go out the window and I lose it. I raise my voice and get angry.
I have learnt, she’s not a morning person. Upon waking she rubs her eyes, grunting, refusing to look at me. I hold my arms out towards her but am met with,
“Meh”, whilst shaking her head vigorously from side to side. Consequently I’ve encouraged her to call for Daddy when she wakes (especially as it’s been getting earlier). He talked me through their morning ritual:
- She demands to be placed on a particular sofa
- He tries to take her sleeping bag off and is met a stern look, head shake and grunting
- She demands hot milk (usually sending it back saying it’s not hot enough)
- She demands he sits on the other sofa
- She demands to watch Peppa Pig on the IPad – when he says no to the iPad she starts to scream
- He gives in
The toddler timeframe is generally considered to be between age 1 and 3. Ironically whilst I’m willing an end to the tantrums I’m also wishing time would slow down. With our youngest I love seeing her drunkenly toddling along, stopping to examine everything in her path. Whilst her neediness of me can at times be exhausting, I’m also aware that it is not going to be forever and it is her unique connection with me that creates this need. With the eldest, whilst the ability for her to converse has at times resulted in a stroppy, demanding child, it’s also enabled a hilariously cute, slightly bonkers little girl who cracks us up daily with her commentary and constant questioning to emerge.
Our 2 toddlers have very different temperaments, therefore what worked at times for one hasn’t worked so well for the other. It has taught me that as a parent, I have to adapt my parenting style to suit that particular child and situation. There is no ‘one size fits all approach’. There are some similarities, they are both stubborn, strong willed and determined little people trying to find their way. They may be able to transform from darling to devil in the blink of any eye, but the darling bits are delicious and the devil bits – well we’ll put them down to a ‘developmental phase’.