“Don’t want it! No! It’s mine! I want it…!!!” and my favourite shriek, “Daa-deeeee.” Whether it’s getting his shoes on, eating his tea, or his latest source of upset – listening to music in the car – my two year old knows how to get his point across. Meltdowns are scheduled into our routine on a daily basis and today’s excursion to the trampoline park was no exception; ah, the ups and downs of living with a toddler.
Children are superb mirrors, causing us to reflect on who we are and how we come across to others. Since Little O started talking back to us – parroting our words and phrases – I’ve put a lot more thought into the flippant chatter that exits my mouth. (The day he screamed. “Don’t hit me!” whilst laying by himself on the sofa, suddenly made me think twice about how I remind him to “have better control over his hands.”) As a teacher, I am constantly aware of how I am speaking to children in the classroom, so why was I not talking to my own child with as much caution at home?
Since I’ve become a parent, I think it’s fair to say I’ve become a better teacher; and I’m pretty certain that I’m a better parent than I would have been if I hadn’t worked in a school first. Sure, I’ve worked in leafy-lane schools, I’ve also worked in ‘the ghetto’, with only my voice and the notorious teacher glare to tame the beasts in both.
And Little O can be a beast too. Let me tell you. He can be a monster – Daddy would say he gets it from me. (Daddy can be a monster too.)
A War of Wills – Super Strong Wills
So, what do you do when your child is being shadowed by a monster all day? What do you say to the monster who accompanies you out of the house? You understand. You’ve planned a day out; you’ve booked the tickets; you’ve ensured child is well-fed, watered and has slept (as much as we can control that one) and perhaps you even dare to start to looking forward to your day out together… Only, no matter how much you think you’ve prepared, it’s never enough. You may not remember strapping a monster into the car, but he’s certainly there when you get him out.
This is what happened to us this morning: Having navigated the journey from the car-park, through as few puddles as possible, up the big step, down the big step and finally to the back of a very long queue of toddlers and their overtired parents, the monster had had just about enough of staying hidden.
“Puuuuddless! Puddles!” it screamed. I managed to convince the monster that jumping on the trampoline would be more fun. We just had to get to the front of the queue, sign the waiver, watch the safety video and stuff my mum-bag, boots and our oversized winter coats into the world’s tiniest locker first… and none of that was particularly fun for either of us. The monster didn’t want to wait. “I want to go traaaampoliiineess!” he shrieked. (I was having locker issues, having left out Little O’s shoes, and was now having to rummage back through my purse as the world’s smallest locker seemed to have developed a big appetite for my pound coins.) Little O had finished tugging on me and was now squeezing his way up the stairs hollering, “Traaaampoliiineess!” I just needed a second longer to shut the darn locker… so, I called on my favourite must-have phrase:
“You have a choice.”
I must say this phrase multiple times a day. To save me from getting hoarse, I’m thinking about making a voice recording and just putting it on repeat. It is one of the most powerful phrases I use and it works it almost ever scenario as it allows him to believe the ball is back in his court.
The Battle For Control
Little O fits into the category of ‘strong-willed toddlers’, which is just a polite way of saying stubborn – Daddy would say he gets it from me. (Daddy can be an ass too.) You can’t distract a strong-willed child and they never forget things. They know what they want and are adamant about getting it. They want to eat, they want to run, they want to climb, they never want to go to bed, they want that toy, that cup, that spoon… they want whatever it is you don’t want them to want.
Ultimately, what they want – what we all want – is a sense of control. They are striving towards behavioural autonomy, learning to become independent. Newborns are reliant on their parents for everything; once our children grow up, we hope they are more able to stand on their own two feet. Childhood and adolescence is the journey towards independence and being able to make wise decisions freely and with confidence. (A skill I’m still yet to master.)
“You have a choice.”
I said. “Either you sit on this step and watch the trampolines, or you put this coin into the locker. The step or the coin? What’s it going to be?”
Little O stops crying. He thinks he has control again.
It’s a loaded choice – I don’t mind which option he chooses, either would mean he stays safe and in my sight. I face him and repeat the question simply, “The step or the coin?”
With a little help from Little O, we finally close the locker door – with the monster inside – and turn our backs on the meltdowns of the morning.
Teaching has taught me that whilst I can’t control the actions or words of the children around me, I can control mine. I’ve learnt that I have a choice at home too, over what I do and perhaps more frightfully, the flippant chatter aimed at my two year old. I choose to give him choices, to make him feel empowered and to help manage our daily schedule of tantrums and strops. Maybe by the time he’s fully grown, Little O will master decision making much better than I can. (At this rate he’ll be a master by age three!) And maybe, if I keep choosing my words carefully, the ups and downs of parenting will be as fun as the time we spent together, bouncing up and down on the trampolines.