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Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Parenting a Passionate Toddler
We are having some difficulties with ST at the moment. Although we're fairly sure that his behavior of the past few weeks is part of one of many passing toddler phases, T and I are both feeling a bit deflated about it, so much so that we've had little mini-conferences about it every night after ST goes to bed.
I suppose you could call ST a "strong-willed" child. For about 90% of the time, he's the sweetest, most affectionate, and chattiest little 2.5 year old on the block. But for that other 10%, you have to watch him like a hawk or suffer the consequences (or, more accurately, watch as other kids suffer the consequences).
A bit of background:
We live in a very family-friendly area, and all the houses around us are homes to small children, right around ST's age. To the left of our house lives a little 3-year-old boy, who I'll call "Jack," and to the right of our house lives an almost-3-year-old girl who I'll call "Jill." ST is bigger than both of them -- he's always been tall for his age, and when all the neighborhood kids stand together, ST always looks like he's one of the oldest when in fact he's one of the youngest. ST, Jack, and Jill play together in the evenings, usually riding their Big Wheels, running through the sprinklers, or racing Matchbox cars down our sloping driveway. Sometimes other kids in the neighborhood come over to play, too, but generally it's just these three.
ST is a very physical child -- loves to be held, cuddled, loves to give hugs and to touch people. When he's talking to me, for example, he likes to have his hand on my arm or my leg (if I'm standing up). When T comes home from work, ST literally leaps into his arms and hugs him relentlessly. ST loves to hug other kids, too, and every day when I pick him up from daycare he has to hug all of his friends goodbye. He's just a very social child, and loves the company of adults or children. For ST, the ultimate punishment is being isolated, away from where other people are.
In the past few weeks, we've noticed some bizarre, uncontrollable aggression in ST. What's strange is that the aggression is not motivated by anger -- ST is rarely angry -- but it happens for some other reason we just can't pinpoint. It's like he suddenly becomes a raw bundle of emotion, and he can't get it out any other way than by being aggressive and hiting, chasing, or pushing. Jack and Jill are his usual victims, simply because he plays with them so often. Jack and Jill are very passive, quiet, compliant children -- basically at the opposite end of the temperment spectrum from ST.
I think the fact that Jack and Jill are so non-confrontational and quiet drives ST crazy. He wants someone to chase him, and they won't. He wants to hug them, but they cry and turn away from him. He wants to roll around in the grass, but Jack and Jill don't like to do that. He wants to show Jack and Jill a cricket, a ladybug, a beetle (things he finds fascinating), but Jack and Jill are afraid of bugs and won't go near them. He wants to practice his dinosaur roars, but Jack and Jill cry when he growls, pretending to be a T. Rex. When Jack and Jill refuse him or cry, ST gets frustrated. He hits them on the arm, chases them, or pushes them over (which is not difficult to do because ST is so big and Jack and Jill are quite small for their ages).
Last night, for example, ST was playing with Jack. Everything was fine until ST wanted to hit the baseball off of the tee, and Jack didn't want to do that. ST hit the baseball anyway, and Jack started to cry. ST laughed -- he laughs all the time, this crazy, funny cackle -- and then chased Jack with the oversized plastic baseball bat, and hit Jack over the head with it. Jack was stunned (as was I), but I think ST thought he was being funny. It's like he didn't understand that hitting someone on the head might hurt. When Jack told me and his mother what happened, ST felt bad and pushed Jack to the ground, which made Jack cry again. I made ST apologize, and then immediately sent him inside and put him to bed about a half an hour earlier than normal, and without a bedtime story.
I'm really not sure why he does things like this. We aren't aggressive with him at all, and we don't watch television very much. The only programs he watches are The Wiggles, Sesame Street, and Caillou, and not on a regular basis. He adores his friends, talks about them all the time, and knows that hitting and pushing is wrong. But when we get outside and we reach some unknown toddler threshold, all hell breaks loose and ST becomes the bully on the block. But he's NOT bullying the kids -- he's not angry with them. I think he just craves some physical attention, physical contact with them, and he knows that he has to initiate it because they won't. Unfortunately, he doesn't know how to do it gently. ST is an all-or-nothing kind of child.
T and are are sort of at wit's end with this, because now almost every evening ends up with Jack or Jill in tears and ST in a long timeout. After his timeouts, he's genuinely remorseful. Last night, for example, after the baseball bat incident, I made ST tell T what happened. ST started to sob uncontrollably, and said, "No, Mom, let's not talk about it." He was obviously sorry for what he had done, and was embarrassed having to tell his father (his favorite person in the world) about it. T was gentle to him, and held ST and told him it was OK and that he could try again tomorrow. ST recovered and fell asleep. This morning, after ST woke up, he came to me and said, "Mom, Jack's my friend. I like him."
Nothing would make me more sad than having to isolate ST from his friends. But I don't want him to hurt other children, even if he's doing it with the best intentions. I don't want other parents to worry about leaving their child with ST. I don't want other parents to think that ST is a wild child, or to think that we don't discipline him.
I found a book an Amazon last night, and I bought it. I hope that it will help me to discipline ST in an effective way that doesn't make him feel bad about himself. I think ST is just continually testing the boundaries to see if they're fixed, and he's so smart that he can find ways around them. Some days I feel like all I do is set boundaries. Some days I wonder what it would be like to have a child like Jack or Jill -- complacent, quiet, obedient. I'm not sure I would like that, though. I like that ST is fiery, that he always has an opinion ("Hey Mom! I have a GREAT idea!"), that he's never quiet (and I mean never - if he's not chatting he's singing), and that he does everything with a gusto for life that I've never witnessed in any other human. I like that he loves to dig in the dirt looking for bugs and worms (even if it's dirt from a houseplant), loves to roll on the grass and look at the clouds, and loves to run as fast as he can to beat me to the park. Everything ST does, he does with passion. I just wish that sometimes I knew how to keep that passion in check.