Babies and Emotional Experimentation

I'm just going to
“I’m just going to put these glasses on my head backwards and stomp off. Take that!”

Brontë has made up some kind of kiss-and-run game where she sneaks up, kisses you, and runs away giggling. Then I kiss her back and run away in an apparent game of Love Tag. This may be the cutest thing that’s ever happened to me.

Having a toddler can regularly bring on emotional whiplash, though. Some days, they are total sweethearts who love you to pieces. Other times, they crush you with rejection. You think… I feed this kid, clean them up, wake up all hours of the night, clean up poop and vomit, buy toys, and get treated like this!?  

Don’t despair, it’s temporary and normal! Here are five common toddler behaviors that can occasionally crush your spirits:

1.  They shove you away.

Toddlers, like the rest of us, can be cranky when tired, hungry, or bored. They also get frustrated because they can’t do a lot things they want to do and have a limited ability to communicate. It’s probably a lot like you or I would feel in a foreign country, struggling with a transaction using a language and cultural customs we aren’t very familiar with.  Kids can also get overstimulated–there is just too much going on and they need some breathing space, but don’t know how to tell you.

2.  They play favorites.

Sometimes John gives Brontë a hug, and she pushes him away, screaming, “NO, I WANT MOMMY!” I can tell he is hurt, but since I am the one staying home with her, it’s natural that she is used to mommy providing a sense of comfort and security.

On the other hand, after a day of fighting with Brontë about why she shouldn’t paint the cat with her poop, John will come home and my previously angry toddler will light up and run squealing to her father with happy hugs and kisses. While it’s frustrating to have your spouse suddenly become Superman after you’ve been in the trenches for hours, it’s natural that your kid will be bitter after you stop them from doing whatever they wanted to do. You still have to stop them. It’s your job, and they will get over it.

3.  They give you the silent treatment.

For the longest time, whenever my husband and I would leave Brontë at her grandparents so we could have a date night, Brontë would give me the cold shoulder. We would come to pick her up and she wouldn’t seem happy to see us, wouldn’t hug me, and usually wouldn’t look at or answer me when I talked to her. She could keep this up for hours, even until the next day. I was hurt and wondered if I could ever take any time for myself without causing a fight.

Well, I can and you should. Parenting is hard work and every parent needs a break to prevent complete burnout. The child may feel rejected and abandoned, but it’s important for kids to learn that their parents can go away temporarily but will come back. Lately, I have been telling Brontë that we will come back later, and upon returning, I take her into a room where I tell her I missed her and we hug. She has started saying, “I missed you, mommy” and doesn’t feel the need to punish me anymore, since she is better able to express her feelings.

Somehow, John escapes her anger. I think it’s because he goes to work every day and she is used to that, but mommy is supposed to be available at all times.

4.  They don’t want to come home.

Occasionally, after spending some time at her grandparents’ house, Brontë will yell that she doesn’t want to come back home. She has even told us to “go away!” It breaks our hearts, of course… it’s tough to feel like you do all the heavy lifting of childcare just to be tossed aside.

But it’s also completely understandable. Grandparents are a novelty, since your child doesn’t see them as often as you, and they have a whole new environment full of different toys to play with. Grandparents spoil you rotten, hardly ever get mad at you, give you candy and ice cream between meals, and let you get away with all kinds of crap your parents won’t.

Staying with your grandparents is like being on vacation: all play, no responsibilities. A child will always love his parents, however, and in time, they do get homesick. When Brontë has been with her grandparents long enough, she always starts asking where mommy and daddy are. Eventually, she wants to come home again, rules and all.

Children are also taking their first steps into what it means to be a person. They want to bond, but also want to test out independence. They want help, but also want to figure things out themselves. They want to please you, but also want to prove that they have their own identities. Sometimes they just need to experiment with drawing you close then pushing you away. It can be confusing, but if you remain calm and remind yourself that this is all normal, they will feel more secure.

5.  They say “NO!” to absolutely everything.

There is a particularly frustrating stage of development, generally around age two, when children tend to scream, “NO!” at absolutely anything you put in front of them. They ask for water, you bring them water, and they scream “NO WATER!”

You want to watch “My Little Pony?” NO! You want some dinner? NO! You want some chocolate? NO NO NO!!!

It seems irrational and can drive you up a wall. From the child’s perspective, however, they are experimenting with boundaries. They came into this world utterly powerless: someone had to feed them, change them, lift them into bed. Their entire world is decided for them, from what they will be eating to where they will be sitting. They want to figure out what power, if any, they have over their world. The first power they figure out is the Power of Refusal, and they will use it again and again until the novelty wears off. Hang in there.

These behaviors, though frustrating, are universal. So keep calm, mom and dad, breathe, and know that this too shall pass.

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