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Finding The Happy

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discipline

I have a Two-Year-Old

Now that we’ve celebrated Arddun’s birthday 3 times in 6 weeks and she has well and truly turned 2, Tony and I are starting to realise that we now have a Two-Year-Old.

By that, I mean Arddun has turned into a Two-Year-Old.

In fact sometimes, she turns into that kind of Two-Year-Old.

I haven’t been blogging much at all, but I’ve been working on this post in my head for ages. The fact is, our child has – in a matter of weeks – turned into a souped-up version of her former self. She has sprouted lengthways. She has leaned up. She has a natural hairstyle most women have rather seriously informed me they’d spend good money to have. She has a sense of humour. Her vocabulary has exploded. The light in her eyes glint with more understanding.

She plays with other little girls. Not in parallel – with.

She laughs heartily. She giggles like a girl. She also chucks massive tantrums.

Yes. The latter is what’s annoying and concerning me muchly.

I think most mothers I know try their hardest, and each mother has specialties they hope they especially shine in. I can’t bake glorious birthday cakes, or summon the energy to make yoghurt from scratch, or crochet her winter wardrobe. But I can sing. And I have tried my darndest to discipline Arddun consistently and firmly from the beginning.

So it’s rather bewildering when my mummy standards, rules and boundaries – which I thought I had carefully put in place and reinforced with 80-95% consistency since day dot – suddenly flops on its proverbial belly like a beached whale on day 731… or what feels like The Day After My Girl Turned Two.

She is contrary. She asks for an apple, then says No when you give it to her. Then asks for a biscuit. Then says No when you give that to her. Then wails Noooooooo all the way to the bedroom where you give her a time out. Then looks at you, eyes wide and shining, mouth straight and obstinate when you swat her on her bum or her leg. Then refuses to cry.

Most days, I battle her at least once. On average, I battle her 4 to 5 times a day. There was one day she got 2 time-outs in her cot before breakfast. There are days when all it feels I do is march her into her cot, and/or swat her.

The swatting was my mother’s method with me. Actually, I’ve tried lots of my mother’s methods on me with Arddun. And you know what? I think we were 2 very different little girls. Because my mother claimed I tried certain things once and never tried it again after my mother took action, but with Arddun? She will try it again.

It gets even more aggravating when she seemingly regresses. She doesn’t want to play by herself anymore. Bad habits such as throwing food and toys on the floor now tries to make the occasional comeback – mostly because she’s watched her peers, and wonders if she can still try the same with me. Ditto throwing herself on the floor and wailing. Ditto running away when I call. Ditto not saying her pleases and thank-yous.

It is, frankly, both vexing and humbling when your daughter’s good behaviour turns so very not. Because it is such a tangible reminder of how incomplete and imperfect my parenting is, and how I really haven’t sorted it out.

In amidst all of this, I am second-guessing the root cause of her behaviour. Is she testing limits because she’s

  • two
  • not comfortable because her eczema has broken out in a major way since we returned from hot and humid Singapore to its antithesis in Canberra
  • tetchy, thanks to a cold and cough she hasn’t been able to shake for close to a month
  • still dealing with the constant changes to her environment and routine this year
  • feeling insecure because of these constant changes
  • all of the above
  • none of the above – I’ve just been a lousy parent.

In the midst of yet another yell-in-my-cot, the last option pops into the mind and heart more often than not.

We’ve all been warned about the Terrible Twos. I’ve heard some mothers refer to the Terrible Fives. I’ve been told by one mother that she didn’t like her daughters from the ages 12 to 23.

And yes, I’ve also been told  that the Terrible Twos is a myth, brought on mostly because the fundamentals had not been put in place. If you put in a firm foundation from the start, you won’t grow a Terrible Two, because Terrible Twos don’t grow overnight – they grow over the months and months before.

To that statement of parenting belief, I now vacillate between snorting in derision and cringing in guilt. Because guess what. My daughter has turned into a Two-Year-Old. And it feels like the changes are happening overnight.

The thing is, I don’t believe I’m a slack parent. And I don’t think Arddun is terrible. She’s testy. And right now, she’s testing. But I no longer buy into the concept that if you set up firm foundations from the start, it follows that your toddler will ALWAYS  transition seamlessly and obediently from babyhood into childhood. I think it still depends on the temperament and nature of the child, and how they manifest each behavioural milestone.

Crediting ALL bad behaviour to a child’s natural temperament is irresponsible… but crediting all good behaviour to parenting skills can be equally erroneous and prideful.

Or maybe I’m just being rather defensive in my delicate, hair-torn state.

To make it that much more complicated, I also ponder the concept of showing grace, forgiveness and mercy to my child. Have I been patient enough? Have I shown mercy and in so doing, translated Christ’s love? Has my punishment been disproportionate to the offence? Have I allowed enough grace?

Conversely, am I parenting strictly because I want my child to learn how to walk a straight path… or am I parenting to please others? To assuage guilt? To save my face?

Because perhaps, in the end, parenting righteously is to

Show justice
Love mercy, and
Walk humbly with my God.

Lord knows I’ve repeated this verse to myself for days because guess what… my daughter is a Two-Year-Old.

Note to self: Mobile phone contract for later

I’m still undecided about mobile phones and if we should ever get one for Arddun. And yes, it’s all theoretical right now anyway, seeing how none of her peers owns a mobile that isn’t made by Fisher Price.

But if and when we get one, I really ought to keep this contract in mind.

Minding her Ps and Qs

So as I’ve mentioned before, we’re trying to teach Arddun how to say Please and Thank You. Which has been surprisingly successful, I must say. I don’t expect a 1 year old to say much at all, which is why sign language is such a nice stand in. She’s starting to understand how to put her point across to me other than tugging at my drawstring PJs till I’m on the verge of indecent exposure. Or screaming.

I toggle between teaching Auslan and American Sign Langauge (ASL), especially when certain signs are so similar that it’d be hard for me to differentiate what Arddun’s signing. So instead of “please” in Auslan  – which looks a lot like “thank you” or a flying kiss when literally left in the hands of a 1 year old – I’ve chosen “please” in ASL.

(She said thank you off camera, after 2 bites. We’re still working on it.)

Bizarrely, she’ll sign “please”, but say Kang Koo. Which is Thank You. Which is where this blog post really begins.

The great thing about her newfound manners is that she sometimes uses them unprompted. After each dose of antibiotics administered through a syringe – hardly fun stuff – she’d solemnly say “Kaaaaang koo”. She kang koos you when you hand her the water bottle. She kang koos you when she hands you her prized baseball bat.

And she kang koos you when she makes off with forbidden items.

Remote controls
Temptus electronicus

Yes. In her small but mighty brain, she has somehow uncovered the public service principle of asking for forgiveness rather than permission. And like a consummate salesperson, she assumes a close of sale by thanking you upfront for the privilege of playing with your keys, your mobile, your cordless phone, your remote controls, and anything else you’d expressedly forbidden the last 12 months.

For instance, I’d enter the living room to find her walking around nonchalantly with my handbag like a professional flower girl, leaving a trail of its contents in her toddling wake. But then as soon as she sees me, she’ll speedily toddle over (“Kang koo! Kang koo!”), while proffering her newfound stash of contraband as if to say, “See what I’ve been keeping safe for you? I wasn’t playing with it!” And we’re not taken in by that charade one itty bit. But it’s pretty darn funny.

Still, a rule is a rule. And the handbag and the keys and remote controls and cordless phones and mobile are still off limits. Or so we’d like her to learn.

This morning, I was in the bathroom when I realised that the house was suddenly too quiet. (You know what I’m talking about.) And then I hear it – the sound of hard plastic tapping lightly together. Which, in our home, could only mean that the one-year-old is trying to nick off with as many remote controls as she can gather in her stubby baby bandit arms.

I enter the living room without a sound, and then boom behind her, “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, LITTLE GIRL?”

She literally jumps and all three remote controls clatter to the ground. She picks one up (the Universal Remote – one remote to rule them all!) and runs over as fast as her guilty baby legs can carry her.

“KANG KOO! KANG KOO! KANG KOO!”

“I told you not to touch the remotes!”

“KANG KOO! KANG KOO!”

She deposits the offending item at my feet quicksmart, and then runs off in a completely different direction to the scene of her crime and feigns sudden interest in shoe boxes.

And it takes quite a bit of effort not to laugh. God help me.

Hey baby… what’s your sign?

Had a chinwag with Leila’s Mommy, and both of us were relieved and bemused to find that our daughters – born 15 hours apart – have seemingly turned from cooing, amiable angels to tantrum throwing, foot-stomping little horrors. In as short a time as a week.

Did not see this coming at all.

Arddun isn’t into foot-stomping – mostly because her legs are too busy clocking up 10,000 steps. But her other marvelous crimes of late include collapsing into a crying heap on the floor if her head so much as grazes the wind, or passive-aggressively doing The Jelly.

The Jelly, for the uninitiated, is the complete relaxation of all body parts as soon as either parent reaches down to carry her to A Place Other Than Where She’d Like To Go. This means that as soon as you try to scoop her up under the arms, she goes so soft and boneless that she practically slips through your hands. It’s almost elegant because there’s a half-twist in there somewhere.

This is an especially impressive move because the timing has to be perfect. A nanosecond later, and the parent would have found enough turgidity in her body to grasp and hoist. A nanosecond too early, and the parent would have anticipated it enough to change the angle of the scooping, so that the newly limp body would fall into waiting arms and all escape would be thwarted.

She is an Olympic champion at The Jelly. It has flummoxed both her parents the whole of this week – mostly because it’s her new thing we keep forgetting about. And the girl and I have had words (and a few firm taps on the thighs) about it. I’ve only just mastered an alternative grip to counter The Jelly. What I’d like to call the Reluctant Monkey, where you catch her by her hands and lift her off the ground, so she’s hanging there like a very put-out chimpanzee denied a free pass out of the zoo.

She hates it because it works and she can’t do anything about it. And that’s when she completely loses it.

That’s the other thing. In less than a fortnight, my usually stoic, nonplussed army-tank baby girl has turned into a complete sap. I’ve done the usual – not fussed when she’s bumped her head, kept my tone calm and my voice cheerful when I tell her nothing’s the matter, or pretend I didn’t see it. But now, it’s almost like the less fuss I make, the more Barbara Cartland her remonstrations. It’s like a Korean and Taiwanese drama right there on my living room floor, and I’m half expecting my neighbour to come around and check if I’m skinning a cat.

It is getting vexing, yes.

A chunk of it is boundary pushing, I’m sure of it. Especially now that she’s walking. Suddenly, she’s wearing Big Girl shoes and taking control of her destiny – or her destination, anyway. The Jelly is her way of retaining that control and newfound freedom, and I understand that too.

But the tantrum throwing… part of that is frustration. I see it in other scenarios – like how she can’t work a toy through the playpen grills, or how she wanted to get from the chair to the wall and missed, grazing her head on a nearby cushion instead. She’s wearing her Big Girl shoes… but she’s still mostly baby. And it’s frustrating for her. And I understand that too.

I’ve been trying to teach her sign language every since she started eating solids at 5+ months. She hasn’t always used it, but I’m fairly sure now that she understands at least one of the signs that means “all done” or “finished” – and sometimes, she signs it back to me. It’s funny how it’s so easy for her to give a flying kiss, wave good-bye and give strangers high-fives on cue, but it takes seemingly forever to teach signs that she understands enough to use on her own volition. And yet, I think it’ll be worth it. Especially now.

So some of the signs I’m starting to teach her more consistently include

  • please
  • thank you
  • all done (broadening its use)
  • drink
  • hungry
  • help (as in, “Please help me.”)

It sounds impressive, but I haven’t seen a consistent use of any of those signs yet. Mostly because my biggest problem is teaching consistently. Still, the game plan is to teach her that the tantrums are a big no-no, and that there are more pleasant and efficient alternatives. Carrot and stick, in a manner of speaking.

(Yes. I hear you old-timers laughing in the background. But I am still brimming with youthful optimism, so sue me.)

Also read a useful article about toddler tantrums, if you’re interested.

Her Mother’s Voice

So Arddun’s doing a splendiferous job of ignoring me. Already.

While pregnant, I had touched lightly on the concept of first-time obedience and how the perfect child would ideally respond to your every god-like command with a cherubic “Yes, Mommy.” It’s a Babywise thing, if you’re familiar with that parenting philosophy. Basically, Growing Kids God’s Way aka Babywise/Toddlerwise/Childwise advocates teaching children to obey from the start. No 1-2-3 strikes and you’re out. No counting from 1 to 10 before they do your will. You say, they do from the get-go.

And there’s a bunch of stuff in between about a child allowing to appeal or something. It’s not a dictatorship we’re trying to establish here. But basically, the ideal is this very French parenting thing of a quiet word and some very calm compliance.

Enter Arddun.

Now for months, I’ve been training Arddun to crawl to me when I ask her to Come Here. Like, I’ve been literally trying to train her. If she sees something shiny and asking to be gummed to death, and is about to make a beeline for it, I’ll choose that moment to call to her. And when she turns around – and she usually does – I’ll firmly yet gently ask her to Come Here. And then I’ll sit there and watch her make up her mind. And most of the time, she has turned around and come crawling back.

And it sounds ker-razy. It sounds like I’m turning Arddun into my poodle. And I’ll admit there are days when it even feels like it – particularly when compliance is rewarded with very enthusiastic clapping and breathless “GOOD GIRL!”s. And when the child swings around with a toy clenched in her teeth. But the way I see it, between a quiet “Arddun, come here” and the alternative – running through a shopping mall and screaming for her to come back to me while she dashes into the nearest supermarket and snorts contraband candy powder and red cordial… guess which scenario is preferable.

And so I’ve been practising. We’ve been practising. But lately, it’s gotten harder. And while I don’t believe in original sin or the idea that Babies are Secretly Manipulative, there is something to be said about the spark behind the eyes. That flash of cognition I’m starting to glimpse when I call her and she looks straight at me, before turning back and trotting off calmly in the direction she was headed.

What’s that saying again? “I’m not deaf. I’m just ignoring you.”

Bazinga.

It’s starting to get more interesting. Where once I wasn’t sure if she even understood my meaning to begin with, I now know she does. I now know she makes choices. Her movements, though still babyish and clumsy, are also more purposeful and controlled. She may not be yelling NO like a tatty two-year-old… but she is still saying no. Sometimes.

It’s fascinating to watch. It’s also transition time for both of us.

I come from a long line of smackers. Like, generations of people who believe in punitive punishment. Spare the rod, spoil the child, etc etc. It’s not the done thing nowadays, but lots of parents today still smack their children even if they’d never be willing to admit. It’s become very un-PC to do so but personally, I believe there is a time and place for it and I’m not going to write it off as something we’ll never do.

I’m just not convinced it actually works right now.

Because babies, I’m starting to realise, really DO need something to be repeated 200 times before it becomes understood and accepted as de rigueur. And while it’d be a lot quicker to smack the bottom or yell at the kid – and I’ve had words with her more than once, buh-lieve me – I’m finding that the really hard part is the consistency.

Modelling the same way. Enforcing the same consequence. Teaching the same lesson. Doing the same thing at least 200 times. And finding that you may still not get the message through, even then. Or worse, that you seem to be regressing.

And it’s in times like these that I find myself losing sight of the prize. So I call her to come here and she ignores me. So what. Big deal. She’s an 11-month-old. I have plenty of time. Maybe I’m trying to control her too much, I say. Maybe I’m being too unreasonable. Maybe I’m being too hard on the both of us.

Perhaps.

But in the long road ahead to instilling a healthy respect for her crazy mother and an inherent trust that my voice will bring her to safety, this is literally our first step together. And a crucial, fundamental one, at that.

Crack up

Caught this video on Mommy Shorts this evening, and just had to share the love.

I have to admit that I cried with silent laughter through most of the video because something akin to dread mingled with ironic mirth while whispering, this is my new life.

Because yes, Before Child, a video like this would have made me itch to smack the child, the parents, or both. Tantrums, I had decided in my BC days, were purely a reflection of pathetic parenting.

But now that I’m this much closer to growing a tanty tot of my own, there is – I’ll admit – some degree of foreboding.

And it’s not that I condone tantrums, or think that histrionics and disobedience are cute. But the pursuit of self-control ain’t exactly peaches, is it. Adults crack up all the time. And I am absolutely masterful at throwing tanties. I am an eyeball-roller. A scowler. A raise-my-voice-and-blame-someone-else-er. Take it up a notch, and I turn into door-slammer and use-hot-words-to-tear-off-flesh-from-back-er.

Not quite the embodiment of self-control, no.

The truth is that everyone reaches a tipping point, and toddlers are no exception. Arddun is all smiles, bouncy-bouncy-bouncy… and then she falls off some invisible cliff at about 6.00pm and suddenly, she’s inconsolable when she bumps into cotton wool. Arches her back, screams blue murder, all of it.

She’s tired, she’s grumpy, and she doesn’t have a vocabulary beyond “Boo” and “Daddeeee” to communicate her troubles effectively. I know it doesn’t give her license to turn into a banshee, and we’re still drawing the boundaries on what acceptable tired behaviour is and isn’t. But the road to attaining self-control is looooong… and until she reaches sainthood, I’m thinking there will be days ahead when putting away a dinner bowl at day’s end becomes my child’s metaphor for, “My eyelids are heavy and I just can’t take this day anymore. Please carry me to bed.”

Deep breath.

The penny that dropped

Now that Arddun’s crawling around the house quite a bit, and attempting to climb anything that looks remotely stable (say, the tablecloth), I find myself repeating the same words over and over during her waking hours.

“No, Arddun.”

“Uh uh! No, Arddun.”

“Arddun, I said ‘No’!”

Thing is, Tony and I haven’t been sure if she actually understands ‘no’. Right now, all things seem fair game right now, and Mommy and Daddy pulling her or her new toy away is just another game to master. You can tell me all about tone of voice and how I should sound firm and use a lower tone etc etc. Yes, yes. Except right now, I’m not sure she’s that good at reading tone of voice. Sometimes she seems to get it. But then I could use the exact same words and tone of voice other times, and I might as well be the wind blowing.

I was reading Momastery a few days ago, and really enjoyed this particular post about The Tantrum. You can read it for yourself (SO well written, so funny!) but the abridged version is this: basically, both her children chucked a huge wobbly at Target. The infamous, legendary kind you might have seen or heard about, where the kid has essentially given up all self-respect and is on the floor, screaming and crying. The stuff that inspires television commercials.

The stuff that terrifies every new and would-be parent.

For a few weeks now, Tony and I have been wondering if it’s too early to discipline Arddun. Let me rephrase – if it’s too early to smack her for being naughty. Shock horror, huh. Let me be very plain here: I don’t advocate smacking as the first, knee-jerk form of discipline. I don’t advocate smacking as the last resort either. But I think smacking a child has its place, if administered wisely and not out of malice, anger or spite. And certainly at this age, when you cannot reason with a baby who only hears, “Arddun… blah blah blah blah!”… how do you train a wilful child that there are boundaries that need to be adhered to, for her safety?

(That was a rhetorical question. The answer that we’ve chosen, kind reader, is that sometimes we’ll need to love her by smacking her.)

Arddun throws the most terrifying tantrums sometimes. Arched back fury, bright red indignation, full throttle screaming – all of it. I wish I caught it on video, but as young as 5 months, she was seen lying on her front in the cot, pounding her fists and legs into the mattress and just howling. She was 5 months going on Terrible Two. It made me want to laugh. It also made me want to run and hide. Because I think I got me a feisty one.

Anyway. This afternoon, while I was feeding her, she decided to bite me. It wasn’t the first time – she used to accidentally nick me with her teeth, and I’d pull away and tell her that it hurt, and not to do it again (firm voice), but it was always accidental.

Today, it was deliberate. And let me tell you, it hurt. Baby teeth are small, jagged, and therefore very sharp.

“No,” I said in my firm voice while pulling her away quickly. “Don’t bite me. It hurts.”

She looked at me. I looked back at her. She quietly went back to feeding. And then with eyes never leaving mine, she stopped… and then I felt her sloooowly – and ever so deliberately – sinking her teeth into me. The little rascal.

I pulled her away. And this time, I tapped her firmly on the cheek with two fingers.

“NO!” I said again, in my very firm voice. “Don’t. Bite. Mommy!”

She stared at me. I stared at her. I made sure my face was set in disapproval, my eyes narrowed and glaring. You could almost see her brain piecing things together.

One thousandtwo thousandthree thousand

Her eyes widened a fraction. She opened her mouth, turned bright red, and burst into tears.

And I knew I’d finally gotten through to her!

It was the weirdest feeling. A mixture of relief, residual annoyance, the slight twinge for making her cry, and the bizarre urge to laugh. She had finally understood “no”! Perhaps for the first time, she’d come to understand that her actions have consequences that Do Not Please Mommy. That all things are NOT permissible. That there is a link between what she’s done, and the words and actions that follow which disapprove.

Breakthrough. I’ve communicated to my baby.

But… now what? Tony and I remember a parenting class that spoke about the need to restore the relationship. But how do you convey forgiveness, without undermining the lesson just taught? Hugging her immediately felt like I was telling her to overlook the scolding, and that I was sorry for calling her to obedience. Yet, sitting there mutely felt callous. There was a distinct sense of needing closure.

And how does a baby seek restitution, anyway? By now, Arddun was frantically feeding for two seconds (“nom nom nom nom!” – exact sounds), then pulling away and yell-crying at me accusingly, then throwing herself back to feeding frantically. And here I was, racking my brains on how to communicate that the lesson has been taught, and that it’s time to move on.

So I sat her on my knee, made eye contact, and told her quietly but firmly that “that’s enough” and we can move on to the next thing. I knew she was still hearing, “Arddun… blah blah blah blah,” but eventually she quietened down enough to look me in the eyes calmly. When we resumed feeding, she didn’t bite me anymore and then we moved on.

Look. Maybe I had imagined the whole thing about breaking through to her. And I’m not convinced that she understood the forgiveness bit, even if she understood that our relationship had been restored once more. And many of you may choose never to smack your own children, and might be completely appalled that Tony and I are even asking the question.

All I’m saying is, it’s one of the many “first steps” we’re now making to teach Arddun that there is right and wrong, good and bad, permissible and out of bounds. And learning what “no” means is the most crucial first step to protecting her from all the Ugly.

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