As of about a week ago, these three started pushing buttons and boundaries. Hard.
We thought we were doing all the things the parenting books said. Limiting the number of times we said “no.” Having a safe enough environment that they could explore without getting hurt or having us have to tell them “don’t.” Lots of praise for positive behavior.
Until they started breaking rules we didn’t know we had.
All of a sudden, one meal or another involved one baby or another refusing to have the tray attached to his or her high chair. Which means we feed them their food on the table. Which means they can push back from the table and put their feet on it. So we say, “No feet on the table.” Which we wouldn’t have to do if they hadn’t pitched a fit about their tray in the first place.
Also, they are testing rules. Constantly. It’s exhausting. When one stops testing, another starts, and I feel like I am a broken record (a metaphor my babies may only partially understand someday) of “don’ts” and “let’s try this insteads.”
Earlier this week at the park, Theresa walked to the edge of the play structure where there was a rope ladder, no slide. I reacted by sharply calling her name, going swiftly to that side and trying to redirect her to go down the slide. I am learning that the more they sense that I don’t want them to do something, the more they want to do it. She went back and leaned over the edge. I whisked her off the play structure, saying sternly, “No, that’s dangerous. It’s a long way to fall and you will get hurt.”
Then Audrey lay on her tummy with her nose hanging over the edge. I tried to breathe deeply and ignore her. Then she sat up and scootched to sitting at the edge. “You are done,” I said as I whisked her off the structure and set her firmly on the ground. She started sobbing hysterically.
I read somewhere that toddlers’ “misbehavior” is just a series of checking in to see if the rule still applies. “You don’t want me to put my hand in the cat water? Okay. Still no? Just checking. What about now? [5 seconds later] Now? Okay. Still mean it?” My patience at not being listened to only lasts so long, and sometimes I feel like they need it to be infinite.
Strategies we have implemented that seem to be working:
- removing sources of conflict (i.e. the cat water bowl on the other side of the gate–sorry, Callie, you’re eating in the hallway for a while)
- positive instead of negative direction (“show me gentle touches” instead of “don’t hit”)
- ignoring things that they may be doing just for attention (we put valves back in their sippy cups, so I just look away when they attempt to pour milk on their tray)
- not showing my frustration at their rule-breaking.
And I have learned that this is so much more about me than it is them.
My buttons are being pushed: my impatience when my directions or corrections are ignored, my fear at their hurting themselves, my fear that they will somehow become elementary school hooligans because I didn’t train them well enough not to hit when they get frustrated. These fears and frustrations raise my blood pressure, make me react probably more strongly than I need to, which is purely entertaining to them, since they have no framework for wishing to avoid parental discipline.
So I am learning to be less fearful, less frustrated, calmer and more patient. I succeed sometimes and not others. I am working on being kinder to myself when I don’t succeed, because God knows they will provide me with another opportunity very soon. And I am hoping that in the long run, regardless of whatever typical toddler behavior we encounter, they will grow into confident, kind, resilient, polite people.
- Jamie pointed at the night sky earlier this week and said, “Star!” There was the north star, where I had pointed it out to them a week before. He also remembers “thermometer” which is by the back door where he looks at his tree.
- He is also seriously working on memorizing every book we have. He brings me a book; I read it and pause at key words. He fills them in almost every time. We still need him to work on putting books back on the shelf instead of leaving a trail of 25 books around the living room like a bibliophile Hansel.
- Theresa’s pronunciation of sweet potato: “swee-toe-toe.” She also likes the artichoke (“ar-show”) from the play food box. She walks around with different pieces of food in her hands, making them “weega-weega-weega!” (wiggle).
- Frequent conversation with Theresa: TK: “Kitty! (or doggy or runner or something we might see on a walk)” Me: “Do you see a kitty?” TK, softly, regretfully: “Nooooo.”
- Audrey is super thoughtful and eager to help her peers and siblings. She brought Maria and Sophia their sippy cups while we were at their house. When Theresa and Jamie woke up from nap today, she brought each of them a bowl.
- Audrey’s other new favorite pastime is to get a “foon” (spoon) and bowl or strainer, and “stir” or “cook” to make “oatmeal.” She loves watching what I do in the kitchen, standing on a stepstool while Jillian spots her. She helped me make fish cakes by putting the discarded root ends of green onions and the center seedy part of a red pepper into the mix. Now I watch more carefully what she can reach.
- All three high-fived each other during a reading of Hands Are Not for Hurting where the little boy teaches his friend to high-five instead of hurting with his hands.
- They talk all the time, and I can mostly interpret what they say. When I can’t and guess at their meaning, sometimes the expression on their faces makes me want to laugh: the “I can’t believe you’re so dense, Mom” look. Usually after a few guesses, I figure it out. Sometimes I just nod and smile.
- They love to dance. I love dancing with them and watching them dance. Baby booty wiggles are hilarious.