Toddlers, eh. Bloody hell. So I read half a book on how to improve behaviour and our general relations. This is my review of the situation.
It’s an ordinary Thursday. The grey mizzle continues to cover Leeds and I’m still worn out from yesterday. Nothing special happened, just a series of running battles mainly focused on Peppa Pig. Today playgroup starts at 10 and so we need to mobilise quickly. He loves Playgroup as he can run around with other children and eat his own body weight in toast. “I do feed him.” I say unconvincingly as he tucks in to his fourth slice. I love Playgroup because he runs around with other children while I drink tea and watch the second coming chew her way through a stack of dirty toys and random bits of thread that she finds on the floor. We all need the release.
It is with trepidation that I approach getting him dressed. “Shall we go to playgroup?” I ask. He runs away shouting. I take this is an affirmative. “Socks on then it’s cold outside.” He runs away. “But I only want to take you to playgroup. You want to go don’t you?” “Yes.” “Then put socks on.” “No.” “Then we can’t go.” “I want to go.” “Then put socks on.” “Can I watch Peppa Pig?” “No” Repeat until I throw the socks across the room and have to go and sit in a different room with my head in my hands.
He celebrates his victory by taunting me with plastic toys. “Shall we get ready?” I say with a trembling voice. If I don’t get out soon then we’ll have missed the window and we’ll be trapped inside. He will be bouncing off the walls like the “look at that guy” at a rave and I’ll have to entertain him. I need to keep Peppa Pig in reserve. “Fine then we won’t go. It’s you who is missing out” He gives me a look that says, ‘I think you want to go more than me.’ Finally I get him in the car without shoes or coat. “It’s cold daddy.” “I know, that’s why I was…Never mind.” He’s gutted when playgroup ends after twenty minutes. “I want more.” “I know that’s why I tried to…Never mind.”
As a parent you are told that you are supposed to be in control. I’m not. I fell into seeing my role as a Sergeant Major who barks instructions but also gives cuddles. Your troops are supposed to conform to your will. Arbitrary as it may be. I’d draw lines in the sand. “Do that again and you won’t get to go to Wacky Warehouse/you won’t get a yoghurt/you’ll go to bed with no story.” Then he looks at me in a way that says “OK I’m up for a challenge. Let’s see on that.” And bang, he throws the toy at his sister’s head and smiles. ‘Shit. I don’t really care. He can’t throw anyway, it wasn’t even close.’ Damn. Do I follow through with the punishment and all the shenanigans that it will entail? It’s better for me that he watches tele. It was only a metaphorical line in the sand after all. But I have to see it through “Right. No tele.” Curled up ball of tears. “I know you want tele but I told you not to throw Fireman Sam at your sister.” We’ve got an hour and a half until bed and I’ve just cancelled the main item on our itinerary. It’s tough to say who is more gutted.
So, I needed to find a new approach that meant I was doing more than just counting down the days until I returned to work. We were so desperate we turned to a book. I’m summarising, but essentially the book pointed out that conventional parenting is a bit rubbish. Sure the super nanny approach gets results fast but you create conformist automatons who are dead behind the eyes and say “yes” to your every whim, but it won’t work out well in the end. And as so many current adults are dicks then it’s hard to disagree with the evidence. This book encourages us to let it be. Does it matter? How does this situation look through his eyes? Let’s all chill. We don’t need a naughty step. Is he really being naughty? I’d say 95% of the time what people call naughtiness in a toddler is merely them trying to exert some control in a world where they get little choice.
Now, rather than ordering and getting frustrated we have a discussion. “I know you don’t want to wear socks and a coat but it’s snowing. Remember yesterday when we went out without socks and a coat you were really cold.” And the woman from nursery looked at me like she might call social services, I don’t add. It works well and we’re all a lot happier. If slightly colder. Now, rather than angrily wedging him in his car seat while telling him “It doesn’t hurt” we sit in the car for ten minutes while he pretends to drive. “We can’t go. It’s against the law. The policeman will tell daddy off.” Then ten minutes later I wedge him in his car seat. “I know you’re bored of the supermarket, I am too. It’s OK to feel sad but you’re lying in the middle of the aisle and that lady can’t get through.” That kind of thing. After all he doesn’t decide what we get to do. Often he doesn’t even know where we’re going. He can’t remember that I’ve told him ten times. He doesn’t choose his dinner, unless it’s dry pasta, and he doesn’t choose when we eat. No wonder he gets so stressed when he doesn’t even get to pick his spoon.
So in the world of aspiring super nanny’s I’ve gone soft. My word isn’t always law. The first conclusion you may draw is that we’ve decided to be more relaxed, see the world through his eyes and agree not to get angry. Unless pushed hard. The second is that we let him do what he wants. Either way, we’re all happier. There is something to be said for that.
The book is called Toddler Calm by Sarah Ockwell-Smith