If you’re sitting there wondering what it’s like to live with a toddler, just imagine a never ending game of Opposite Day.
Opposite Day is a fun little game where you ask someone a question and they give you an answer, often a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and then they scream out “Opposite Day!” which means their ‘yes’ just became a ‘no’, and vice-versa. And you both laugh and everyone is having a jolly time.
It’s exactly like that with a toddler. Except their ‘yes’ becomes a ‘no’ but they don’t tell you it’s Opposite Day and they just scream. And no one is laughing or having a jolly time. And the next 10 minutes are spent trying to get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer that isn’t actually a ‘no’ or ‘yes’. And it usually ends with someone threatening to flush something down the toilet.
Quin: Can I have some milk please?
Me: sure, here you go.
Quin: *suddenly hysterical* I don’t want milk!!!
Me: Ok.. don’t have milk.
Quin: *pleading desperately* Please! I want my milk!
Me: Fine, here you go.
Quin: *takes a sip* I don’t want milk!
Me: Ok, I’ll pour it down the toilet then.
Quin: *cool, calm and collected* No, it’s ok. I will just sit on the couch and drink my milk. Thank you mama.
Me: *wipes sweat from brow and staggers away*
The first few months of toddlerhood hit us like a truck. Our normally placid, darling daughter was suddenly replaced by an argumentative and completely irrational mini-human and we’d be standing there staring at our future teen daughter wondering if she’s still too young for military school.
We stressed. We got frustrated. We swore under our breathe and struggled to maintain our composure until it was just the two of us and then we’d try to comprehend what the heck was happening. Not able to find the words to accurately capture the insanity, our conversations were mostly just a lot of wide-eyed hand waving shoulder shrugging that ended with a long sigh.
Then, after yet another what-the-hell-do-we-do chat we made a conscious decision to just chill out. I mean, chill right out. We wouldn’t get frustrated or angry or try to find reason in an unreasonable situation. We’d lead with love – what we’d always tried to do – and see if that helped. Even if Miss I’m-17-and-old-enough-to-drive didn’t change, we’d be able to get through each day with all our hair, and it might not even turn grey.
We did our research (read: Shan researched and told me about it) and we learnt all about the biology of toddlers. The hormone changes, the brain leaps, the why’s to our ‘why do I suddenly want to banish my kid?’ It helped us to realise this is actually all normal. She’s not acting out, she’s just reacting the only way she knows how. She’s not being difficult, she just doesn’t know how to process her thoughts and feelings yet in a way that makes sense to us.
After sharing another Life With A Toddler story at work, my boss asked how we cope. My answer was this – we figure the way we react to her in these situations is how she is learning to react in these situations. If we yell and scream, that will be her normal response. She’d be learning “If I don’t like what that person does I am going to yell at them!” And we don’t want that to be her response. Our future adult is taking her lead from us so need to be better leaders. We’re cool. We’re calm. We ask her what’s going on, help her articulate an answer and we explain how things need to happen in the future.
So no more toddler tantrums? Hell no. But they seem to be getting shorter and we’re getting better at avoiding them by understanding why they happen. We let her have her feelings, even the irrational ones. Then we show her a better response to those feelings that doesn’t involve hurling her fork across the room.
Is it working? Well, Quin is having fewer meltdowns and we still have all our hair.