18 September 2013
Theo’s had his first honest-to-goodness, kicking and screaming temper tantrums this week. It’s like a little developmental switch clicked: one moment, he was happily playing with the stack of silicone muffin cups that he managed to fish out of the kitchen drawer. The next moment, they were strewn across the floor, as he stood above them, red faced and shrieking, with a trembling index finger pointed at them: j’accuse!
It’s a gesture we’ve all quickly become familiar with. J’accuse, muffin cups! J’accuse, toy train that someone else is playing with! J’accuse, wobbly wooden mannequin! J’accuse, need to come inside for bed! J’accuse, mom’s inability to read books while making lunch!
Unlike a crying baby, though, it’s pretty damn easy to figure out what’s setting off a tantruming toddler: impatience with his perfectly serviceable fine motor skills; being forbidden from playing with something awesome, like the kitchen knives; and, most likely, sharing. So far, it seriously seems like your one major job as a parent is to teach your child how to moderate their instinctive desire to play with all the things that some other kid is playing with in a way that doesn’t involve yanking it away, declaring “mine!”, or a tantrum with the quivering figure of rage.
So, in a way, this week has been a pop quiz (more like a surprise exam) on recalling toddler parenting techniques that I read about back in the far-off dark ages when I was pregnant. Help them verbalize their feelings! (Admittedly tough, when the vocabulary at your disposal is a handful of nouns and prepositions, plus a sign for “more” that doubles as “please sing another round of Itsy Bitsy Spider,” itself also a source of constant frustration and disappointment.) Predict and rehearse transitions! (More successful; I need to pick up a magnetic oven timer for this the next time that I’m at Ikea, but frequent reminders of an imminent diaper change or naptime often reduce the Sturm und Drang.) Keep my cool! (Check, so far; one of the pleasantest side effects of parenthood is that I really could not care any less about what strangers might think of my screaming, snotting toddler, because he’s awesome.) Find books and media that help kids work through their feelings! (One of his perennial favorites from the library is Duck & Goose, How Are You Feeling?, which I need to just go ahead and get from Amazon, and we will be hitting the sharing episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood pretty hard the next time that I need to pin Theo down for some fingernail maintenance.)
Honestly, my biggest hope is that our days of inchoate rage continue to be interspersed with days like yesterday, when Theo spent a record two hours running joyfully around a steaming playground and playing entirely without conflict with a couple of his peers, while the other moms and I sat in the shade drinking water and talking like normal adults. I’ll take tantrums in exchange for conversation, for now.