Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Toddler Taming

Tantrums in public... we've all seen them. I used to pity the poor parents trying to wrangle a screaming child out of a shop without getting themselves worked up. I've also seen parents make threats, leave the screaming child in the shop and walk away, and more often than not, give in to the child's demands in an attempt to end the tantrum. There have been times when I've been a bit judgemental and wondered what the parent had done to let things get to that point in the first place. I wondered how much of it was out of the parent's control and how much was the result of bad habits and poor parenting. I'm learning to be less judgemental these days, now that that parent is me.

My little guy is far too young to be considered naughty. He's definitely asserting his independence and testing the boundaries, but he doesn't yet know right from wrong, so when he does have a public meltdown there's generally a good reason for it. Yesterday was the first time he had a proper meltdown, witnessed by others, and my futile attempts to calm him down will ensure I am much more sympathetic towards others in the future. Yesterday morning we were at playgroup and J had been a bit cranky on and off throughout the morning. He has no less than four teeth trying to break through and is clearly uncomfortable, so I don't blame him really. He was playing quite happily with a toy when he suddenly decided he wanted to do something different. He started to make a fuss and I made the mistake of picking him up to take him to a different part of the room. Well, he thrashed about kicking and screaming and smacking me in the face, and I had no idea what to do and just stood there stunned, shushing him. The teacher was so concerned that she stepped in and took him off me, and the change of scene stopped him in his tracks. Suddenly mummy wasn't looking so bad and he reached out for me again. The whole incident lasted less than a minute but it was playing on my mind for quite a while. I realised I need a strategy for future tantrums; less "deer in the headlights" and more "grabbing the bull by the horns," so to speak, so other adults don't feel the need to intervene.

I'm afraid that tantrums will soon become a regular occurance, and that will be entirely my fault. Not because I'm a bad parent but because, thanks to the magic of genetics, J takes after me when it comes to tantrums. He has inherited a combination of looks and personality traits from both of us, some of them good and others less so. He looks like my husband but he has my family's stocky build and muscular legs. Great if you're a boy wanting to play football, but less appealing if you're a girl trying to find a pair of knee high boots to fit over your enormous calves! J has my husband's enthusiasm for life and boundless energy. They both find it impossible to sit down. I'm quite pleased about that, even if it can be exhausting at times. Holidays on tropical islands with my husband generally involve one day of lying on the beach and followed by a week of kayaking, snorkelling, shopping, motorbike riding, hiking etc. In future my husband and son can go off and do those things together while I lie on the beach with a book, it's perfect! Our little guy is a sensitive soul, he's sweet and funny and is quite the chatterbox, but one of the traits, the worst trait, he has inherited from me is a short fuse.

I've always been terribly impatient and when J was born I made a deliberate attempt to control that. I didn't want him to see me getting cross and easily frustrated, and "pick it up." As it turns out the temper gene seems to be in his DNA; he's not imitating his mum, he's been impatient from day one. When I was breastfeeding he'd scream and bite me if the milk didn't come out quick enough! Now, if things don't go his way he snaps, and if he doesn't get what he wants, when he wants it, watch out! Last night when he didn't want to go to bed he let out a scream that sounded an awful lot like "nononononono NO!" I have a feeling we'll be hearing that a lot! He's generally a really happy baby, but he's also what I would call "fiery". This trait has served me well at times, it means I get things done quickly and I know how to stand up for myself, but in a place like Hong Kong it can be a liability. My mum tells me I was a terrible toddler, and she'll probably say that I'm only getting back everything I gave her, so I'm hoping to tap into that when J starts melting down more often. I've realised that's my strategy; there's no one better to tame my toddler than one who knows how to throw a decent tantrum themselves. There are interesting times ahead, stay tuned.

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