I’ve always loved mucking about in the kitchen. As a kid I’d bake and make lollies with the neighbours kids, and there were A LOT of failed experiments. Both sets of parents were fairly tolerant on wasted ingredients, though my mother was very firm on cleaning up our own mess.
Once we decided to make meringues. We got out the Edmonds and started making the mixture, then, when it was time to put it in the oven, we were dismayed. Bake forever at a low gentle heat. That did not meet our requirements for instant gratification. We did what any logical group of primary school aged bakers would do: put the heat up high, and hoped they’d be ready quicker.
It didn’t work at all. They were completely ruined, we’d ended up with a baking tray of sticky sludgy singed mess. Insult to injury, as well as inedible, it was a bloody mission to clean.
The little dude has been driving me up the wall emptying the dehumidifier. ARGHHGHH. This week it’s happened four times, FOUR FLOODS, four loads of washing the towels needed to clean it up. I’m trying to remember that experimentation is just a thing kids do, that the specific annoying behaviours are almost always things they grow out of. I’m trying to see the big picture of behavioural development, that I need to role model patience rather than go down the route of imposing ever more severe consequences or ever more lengthy explanations attempting to convey the lesson.
I’m trying to remember that he needs a long time with a gentle heat, there are no shortcuts, that yelling might be an outlet for my anger but it’s not going to extinguish the unwanted behaviour any faster and it’s going to have spin off effects I wanna avoid.
He emptied the dehumidifier yesterday, and it was a total failure of parenting response on my part. First, I yelled. Not great. FOR FUCKSAKE NOT AGAIN! WHY?! Then, as he was still holding the canister, I went to take it off him, and, well, I’m a lot taller than he is and the upshot was the remaining water tipped onto him when he held firm as I pulled it up and away. I came so close to saying “serves you right” or something, but he burst into tears “Mummy it got on my head! It on my head Mummy! It went in my eyes! WIPE IT UP MUMMY”.
Cleaned him up, calmed him down, hoped that maybe the silver lining would be lesson learnt from this consequence, mopped up the water everywhere, another load of washing.
Today, he went to go and empty it again but I caught him just in time.
BUT WHY WOULD HE TRY AGAIN WHEN IT GOT HIM WET AND HE WAS SO UPSET?!
Because that’s what kids do. They keep trying things. Over and over again.
And that’s what we want them to do, really, we don’t want them to be deterred from a single bad consequence. We wouldn’t want them to stop running because of one grazed knee.
We’ve had another behavioural challenge with biting. It crops up every so often, he’ll go through a biting patch and then eventually with consistent messages and explanations he’ll stop, then a few months later he tries it again.
Last week, he bit me while we were walking home from the library, and I snapped. Yelled in the street “THAT HURT MUMMY! WE DON’T BITE PEOPLE”, then “I DON’T WANT TO CARRY YOU WHEN YOU BITE ME. YOU CAN WALK HOME”, and I didn’t relent and pick him up, even when he started to cry.
I later felt like I’d handled that situation poorly; it’s so hard to control the anger/pain response, the bite really really hurt, and I wanted him to see that he hurt me. Ugh.
At the end of the walk home, something happened that softened my heart completely. We got to our house, I went in the gate with the buggy and he was just behind me, I went round the path to the back, and then realised he wasn’t behind me anymore. Panicked, rushed back, called out, and saw him – carefully closing the gate. Closing the gate is his little job.
He remembered to close the gate, even as he was crying, he remembered to close the gate.
A little habit I’d imparted without a thought. Whenever he comes in after me as I’m pushing the buggy I say “can you close the gate behind you?”, and he does. And he remembered to close the gate this time, despite being upset, he still remembered. Even when I’d gone out of sight.
A month or so ago we visited a friend and when we arrived he stood in the doorway and looked confused.
“Where da wack Mummy? Where da wack for my shoes?”
At home, creche, and my parents’ place, we take shoes off at the door and put them in the shoe rack. I had barely registered he’d started doing this independently at home, and here he was, unsure of how to proceed in this house that didn’t have a shoe rack by the door.
The lesson for me is that he picks up the social norms really effectively when they’re simply part of the fabric of his life, things he sees us do. In terms of a two year old’s psychological development, they have their urges and some are fine while some are not so fine, some can be encouraged while others need to be discouraged. My first reaction was to assume that strong discouragement would be more effective, but I think maybe that’s not the case. The message needs to be consistent and unambiguous, but a high heat for a short time isn’t going to work no matter how high the heat. That’s just not how this child works. And that path is strewn with things that’ll trip us up anyway, upping the ante all the time, where does it end?! A stern word, a sterner word, an explanation that turns into a long confusing lecture that goes over his head, he’s two, it’s not going to work. There have been several occasions where a particularly negative consequence has resulted and yet he’s gone straight back again to the preceding behaviour. Like when Freddie scratched his face and it didn’t make ANY DIFFERENCE to his enthusiasm for tackling him. And thanks to Anika Moa, now he just proudly tells me “I dewwowizing da cat, yike in da song!”.
It’s such a game of trial and error, figuring out how to manage behaviours that need to be discouraged. I’ve swung back and forth – sometimes wondering if I my attempts to not be punitive has made the message unclear, sometimes wondering if my attempts to make the message clear have been too punitive. I think I find it hardest when I’m hoping for a quick fix. Need to remember there’s not a quick fix: they will eventually be older, and in the meantime, we have to be patient. Talking to other parents, it seems like all the two year olds have exactly the same set of infuriating desires and none of us have cracked it. Kids are just like that huh.
I was recently rereading Thalia’s excellent hard days with little kids post, she writes:
I’m a pretty moral person. I don’t mean that I necessarily behave in a moral way, but that I readily ascribe moral intent to behaviour. I don’t find it easy to separate good behaviour from good moral character – whether that’s appropriate or not. I’m not saying this is the right way to be, it’s just how I am, instinctively.
But it’s also true that I don’t believe, even at three or four years old, that little kids have much in the way of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to their character or even actions. When a kid this age does something ‘naughty’ it is rarely connected to an unkind or wicked intention.
Intellectually, I know that when he’s upset and does something inappropriate, he’s not doing it to hurt me – even if he is sometimes trying to raise a reaction from me. And if the thing he hiffs a toy at ends up breaking, it’s not because he was trying to cause maximum inconvenient (and, erm, rented house) damage.
But my inner moral compass is horrified, and I instinctively want to show him how bad this behaviour is. Especially when he knows it’s not the way we do things (you might recognise that gleeful look on a small person’s face as they check to see if you’re watching them do something destructive).
I’m generally not a yeller, but as often as some parents shout, I very easily sound dreadfully disappointed or disapproving. Instinctively I want to show the moral turpitude in the behaviour on show. Yes – even though I know that the winding-up behaviour of a three-year-old has very little moral content.
I know exactly what she means here, I’m very much the same. When he bites the baby I instinctively feel like I need to make him understand the wrongness. And my first impulse is also to think, why is he doing this thing that is annoying me so much? WHY MUST HE ALWAYS THROW THINGS IN THE GAP BETWEEN THE OVEN AND THE BENCH, WHY IS THAT NOW A GRAVEYARD FOR WOODEN SPOONS?!
But this thinking doesn’t make sense in toddler terms, there isn’t always a why, they’re a bit more random than that. Why did he thrown the thing? It seemed like a good idea at the time, it was a thing, it can be thrown!
The grownup view is to see a stark distinction between the various categories of behaviour, the neutral, the harmful, the positive, we quickly know what goes where. For kids, it is fairly complex, especially with the subtle categories like “you can throw stones in the sea at the beach but not in the toilet at home”, and “yes I know you love jam but you’re not having any right now because there’s such a thing as too much sugar”, and “that is a nice cuddle, ok, gentle now, I think you’re squashing your brother a little bit can we try make our arms looser, ooops, he’s crying I don’t think he likes that.”
My goal is to remind myself that all the irritating little behaviours pass, my focus needs to be on the big behaviours – helping him manage intense emotions, helping him learn how to make space for other people’s needs… and helping him survive til adulthood because apparently now he can drag a chair to the cupboard and climb the shelves and that was where I found him when I returned from getting bub out of bed and he just laughed and said “Me went on a dhocdate hunt but there NO dhocdate in da dupboard! Mummy maybe we go dupermardet right now and GET some dhocdate”.