As an eldest child myself with three younger sisters, I often noticed the frustrating unfairness that sometimes came with being the eldest. Often getting blamed for stuff just because I was older ‘and should know better’, and often finding that rules that had once applied to me, suddenly no longer applied to the youngest child. The bonus of course was that I was always the first owner of new things… on balance, probably worth the trade!
Now that I’m a parent myself of course I finally understand that in lots of ways I was the guinea pig as they practiced their parenting skills, so by the time their fourth child came along, they had a fairly good idea of what was what. (You’re welcome, Katie!)
Every child is different of course, but thanks to Rian, I think Alex is going to benefit a lot from what I’ve learned the first time around. He is firmly in the ‘terrible two’ territory, really making his feelings very clear on what he likes – jumping off things, being independent – and what he doesn’t like – impossible to give examples here as they change on a day to day basis, half the time he doesn’t know himself.
When Rian turned two, I didn’t know the first thing about toddlers and their emotions. It wasn’t like I could remember my own experience of it. What I hadn’t yet learned of course, was that Rian himself hadn’t a clue about emotions either. We’re all familiar with the random meltdowns over seemingly silly reasons, like peeling a banana or cutting toast the wrong way. So with that in mind I thought I’d do a little review of What I’ve Figured Out So Far….
First up, the meltdowns.
Where I went wrong: saying things like ‘Stop Crying!’
What I learned: It only makes them cry more. When tiny humans display these random seemingly pointless displays of emotions – to me it seemed like they were ‘acting up’ when really they were simply trying to communicate, the only way they knew how to.
What I now do differently: stay close by and offer a hug. I say things like ‘It’s ok to feel annoyed/sad/angry…’ and just wait it out. I’ll follow up with things like ‘I’m here’, or ‘I’m listening’. Almost 100% of the time, when I manage to keep my calm, it ends with them cuddling into me, and you can feel the tension leave their little bodies.
“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”
― Catherine M. Wallace
Tantrums are so hard to deal with when they come, and it is something I think I will always be trying to work on! Show me the perfect parent who nails it every single time – I doubt they exist. But what I’ve learned too is that it’s important for me to be honest about when I’ve done things wrong. I could list for days the amount of times I have shouted back mid-meltdown, telling him to stop what he’s doing, or to demand he listens to me, or to pick that toy up that he just flung across the room.
What I learned: In the moments where I don’t do it right, I tell him so.
What I will say to Alex, and still have to say to Rian sometimes: ‘I’m sorry I shouted at you – it’s not nice to shout at people and I was wrong to do that.’ I’ve seen this one work out with my own eyes – a handful of times if Rian has not had things his own way, after shouting at either me or his Dad, he has sometimes said afterwards, ‘I’m sorry I shouted’. It definitely works. It’s a great opportunity to go over again with him how it’s ok to feel angry or to feel like shouting – but it’s about how we control the emotions and what is considered appropriate behaviour while we’re feeling them. I’m 38 and STILL learning how to do this, so how on earth can I expect a two, three, four year old to be able to do it? A fantastic book we got a couple of years ago is called The Colour Monster – see a post I wrote about this book here.
Another area I know I have gone wrong in is with regard to discipline. Yes, even when they’re this young! Rian went through a tricky phase for a few months where he slapped other kids for no apparent reason. It was a pretty stressful phase, I couldn’t understand what was triggering it. I would see it myself if we were at the playground or at a playcentre – much easier in this instance because I can intervene straight away and explain why that isn’t acceptable – but when it was at Playschool or Montessori – not so easy when I only see him hours after it might have happened. Talking to him about it was absolutely pointless, he hadn’t a clue what I was talking about.
Where I went wrong: Saying things like, because you slapped somebody, now you cannot do this thing you like, or watch this movie… basically trying to teach him about consequences.
What I learned: He hadn’t got a clue what was going on. He is still just too young to understand the link between action and consequence but especially when it’s hours after something occurred. That took me a while to figure out and following lots of discussions with other parents and advice from friends with much more experience in these phases than I have!
What I will do differently: Make a point of talking about different situations regularly and talk about when something is or isn’t appropriate.
Lastly, for now, but the one I’m working on and will probably have to always make the effort to do… stop assuming there are hard and fast rules. Wondering if I’m doing this wrong, or that wrong; chances are I’m definitely approaching things the wrong way at first, assuming their logic or emotional intelligence is far more advanced than it actually is.
But really, gut instinct does go a long way. Knowing your child as only a parent can, trusting our instincts and as our parents themselves did… and testing it all out on the poor unfortunate eldest child..