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Being "That" Kid, and Taming Dragons

Little L is officially a drop-out from her toddler gymnastics class. For the past several months, we've missed class almost every week due to travel, sickness, or her ever-evolving nap schedule.  The rare times when we've made it there, she has been excited to play with the equipment - but only until another kid wanted in on whatever she was playing with.  Then, Little L would get annoyed, turn to me and say, "Mommy, pick up! No sharing!" and want me to get her as far away as possible from said child.

Then, when "circle time" began, she would refuse to join the circle.  After much coercion and coaxing her into place, she would loudly yell, "Out, Mommy! Finished! Finished! I want go out! Nye nye!" and every other phrase in her vocabulary to indicate that she wanted to be anywhere else but there. Regardless of whether we were singing or the instructor was explaining or I was dancing with her, Little L would persist in making these demands until she was let out of the gym area.  And then she'd be fine.

I'm not always good at reading cues, but I'd have to say that it's pretty clear that Little L is not ready/interested in organized "classes."  Frankly, I am not fond of them either, because it forces limitations on the rest of our day's activities, and her schedule is unpredictable enough as it is without having the added pressure of working around a fixed time slot.

Now, I realize that when she's in preschool, we will have to go to class, and she will have to deal with playing alongside other kids, like it or not.  That's two years from now, however, and I'm not really in a big hurry to rush her if she's not ready yet.  She's allowed to be not-ready at a mere 19 months.

So anyway, I guess that makes my kid that kid, the noisy and uncooperative one that the other kids (and mommies) look at with pity and/or derision. Not gonna lie, there was a mother there who gave me "that" look, and I did so very much want to go over and tell her that at least my kid's intelligent, unlike her dull potato of a toddler who said nothing and blindly complied with everything. But I held my tongue, because I had to deal with the fussing of my kid, and I didn't want to make things awkward for the teacher.

Do I feel bad about her dropping out? Not really.  If anything, I feel like the book I'm reading by Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Hold On To Your Kids, affirms my decisions. He argues that the belief that socializing begets socialization is fallacious, and there is no evidence that supports this popular idea. I won't dive into the details because this is a book that every parent should read, and in it you will find all of the studies and explanations that expand his theory on the need for cultivating more of an intuitive child-parent bond in those crucial developmental years.  Instead, I will say that Dr. Neufeld's book resonates with me and has also reinforced the idea that Little L doesn't really need friends right now, but needs to continue to develop her sense of self through a healthy, attached relationship with Hubbs and I.  Foisting her into classes to help her "make friends" or socialize when she is clearly not interested yet, only undermines her trust in us to meet her needs and respond to her cues.  She is evidently preferring time with us to time in gymnastics.  I can definitely (and joyfully) honour that!


That said, the "Terrible Twos" have hit our home, and she's not even 20 months yet! The acquisition of language has, for Little L, opened up a whole new world for her to express herself, and this has led to some massively loud, verbal meltdowns. 

She was born in the year of the Dragon (as was I), and I get it; we're both impatient and hot-headed, prone to quick reactions and equally quick to calm back down.  We are also both sure of what we want, and very vocal and stubborn about it.  So yeah, apples and trees.  I can't fault the girl.

But taming the dragon is part of my job as mommy, and finding a good, effective way to do it without crushing her spirit is tough work indeed.  I probably err a bit on the side of leniency, but from what I have read about children her age, force and power-struggles tend to be more harmful than helpful, and entirely unfair because of where she is at in her neurological development.  This is another reason why I suspect that, from the outside, I might appear to be "that" mom, who lets her kid get away with stuff and doesn't seem to be altogether in control of the situation.  Most of the time, I'd like to think that I am still in control, and know what I'm doing.  On occasion, the freaking out gets me in a bit of a tizzy, and that's usually when Hubbs needs to step in and rescue a frazzled me from an equally-frazzled Little L. 

But, as with most moms, I do battle a bit with boundaries.  There are the obvious ones which aren't negotiable, and I think everyone can agree on those: not eating communal play-dough or foam soap, holding hands to cross streets, not touching hot stoves and ovens and dishwasher buttons... these are pretty cut-and-dried.  But what about allowing more time on iPads or iPhones, when Little L has already spent a very attentive 15-minutes on the device? Or allowing her to skip the singing time at church because she doesn't want to join the others? Or permitting drawing on non-approved, but washable, surfaces with her (washable) Crayola markers? Or climbing into an empty tub to play with bath toys? Or allowing her to eat chocolate even though her veggies remain untouched?

So yeah, it is a daily challenge, and one that is made all the more difficult because every kid is unique, and not every method/technique that works with one will work with another.  Mine's bright and perceptive, so that awareness works against us sometimes.  She's also, by nature, a bit anti-authority, so you need to get her "on side" with you before she is willing to comply with requests; power struggles do not end well because Little L is the type who will fight you until the bitter end (when you cave because she has nearly lost her voice and looks like she's going to pass out from battle fatigue). 

A few things I've tried that seem to work for us:
* getting down to eye-level with her
* gentle, low, firm voices
* setting the example / modelling it first 
* 1-minute "warning" before transitions
* counting to 5 for transitions 
* empathy ("I know you feel mad.  It's okay to cry because you're mad, but Mommy can't let you... bc..")
* distraction / diversion
* offering an alternative
* delay ("We can't look at the pictures right now, but after you're done eating, and we've brushed our teeth and washed our hands, we can look at them.  How does that sound? Is that a good plan?") - Little L usually will tell me, "A good plan!"
* nursing for comfort
* letting her tantrum fizzle out while we calmly respond (e.g. when she wants to leave the table after a meal and demands that it happens NOW, yelling, "Finished! Finished! I want to go play!")

That's all I've got.  Any pointers, parents? The dragon-taming season looks to be a long one... (insert maniacal cackle from my mother, who is happy to have lived to see this day of revenge) :P


I LOVE this post. I needed this post. Thank you so much. xx

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