The Terrible... Ones?
One of the funny and wonderful--and sometimes maddening--things about small children is that they are completely incapable of hiding their feelings. Whatever they feel at any particular moment is completely apparent on their little faces. Now, as a parent, I'd love it if Jason's face always looked like this:
Even this would be fine:
Unfortunately, more and more often lately, Juliette and I have been seeing this:
And, worse for us, that face is frequently followed by a full-on, heels-kicking-on-the-floor tantrum.
He gets this face pretty much any time we tell him he can't have something or can't do something. "No, sweetie, that's not your toy, that's the dog's toy." Or, "Jason, you can't go outside and play with your water table right now, it's too cold." Or, "Mommy's in the bathroom right now, can you play with Daddy instead?"
Unfortunately for Juliette and me, Jason has fully inherited both of our stubborn streaks. Once he sets his mind on something, it can be very difficult to pull him onto a different track. He'll even throw his whole body weight into pushing one of us away if we try to thwart him. Sometimes he even hits us.
We're dealing with it the best way we can. Juliette and I have discussed and decided on our guidelines for what is and isn't acceptable behavior, and give him instruction on that every day. We require that he say "Please" and "Thank you." We praise and reward good behavior, and we've introduced "time-out" for when he breaks the rules, or doesn't listen, or gets too out of hand. We try to be consistent.
It's been kind of a mixed bag in terms of results, so far. On the one hand, he has gotten better about listening when we tell him to do something--the threat of a "time-out" is a pretty good motivator, especially because he knows we'll follow through on it. On the other hand, he still has breakdowns pretty frequently, and sometimes it feels like they're only becoming more common. The problem is that he's such an inquisitive and active kid. He always wants to be doing something or touching something, getting into new places and seeing new things. And when he wants something, that desire is both strong and untempered by the maturity required to delay gratification.
It's been a tough time, and both Juliette and I have been feeling our patience wearing thin. Sometimes we wonder what's wrong with him or with the way we've been raising him, since it seems like he acts out more than any of the other kids we know. We just have to tell ourselves that we're doing the best we can, that we don't know what any of those other kids are like when we're not around, and that this is just a phase that he'll grow out of.
It's not like he's completely awful, either. On the contrary, Jason is often sweet and smart and funny and fun to be around. I particularly love how generous he is with his things when his friend Amalea comes to visit--he's constantly showing her books and giving her toys, and generally trying to make sure she's having a good time. He also spontaneously gives hugs to me and Juliette, or to his friends.
It's things like that that keep me going when Jason falls apart and screams "No Daddy!" over and over. I just close my eyes, take a breath, and remember the feeling of his little hand patting me on the shoulder when he gives me a hug.