It’s no secret that Jack pushes the limit. He’s extremely passionate. Defiant. Exaggerated. And fearless. In a world of bouncy balls, he’s the super ball. Bouncing uncontrolled from ceiling to floor to wall to window.
Shortly after Ella’s arrival in November, Jack intensified. His tantrums were louder. Longer. He demanded the moon. Battled us over everything. His language/communication skills were getting greater daily, but his communication with others was remaining minimal. One day he started to stutter. And Justin began dreading coming home from work. I cried for the sweet boy who kissed me so softly and hugged me so tightly. It was time to find him.
I started reading the book Raising Your Spirited Child. It helped define parts of Jack. Offered solutions for overwhelming behavior. Ways to handle the stress. But, I just needed something more specific. An expert who could hear our story. So, about a month ago I reached out to fellow blogger Darlingist Dr. Momsie.
She’s a mom and licensed phychologist working at a bustling urban school district counseling students, parents and teachers on family, emotional and behavioral concerns. She works from a “cognitive-behavioral” orientation, which means a focus on environmental reinforceres and how thinking patterns impact emotions/behavior. She earned a doctorate in school psychology in 2005.
“At that time psychology and education consumed my world,” Dr. Momsie said. “I had read that after completing a doctoral degree, a women’s chance of marrying decreased by 75 percent. I was okay with that.”
That was until she met her husband in 2007. The couple married in 2009 and welcomed a beautiful baby boy in 2011. Having taught college-level child development courses, studied parenting and consulted with hundreds of parents, April thought parenting would be a breeze.
“I now realize how challenging (and completely fulfilling) it can be! On my blog, Darlingist Dr. Momsie, I try to combine my training and experience with a good dose of reality. I share the joys of being ‘Jr.'s’ mom, the challenges of being a working mom, and the insights of a psychologist.”
Seriously adorable family, right? Here’s how she shed light on our life:
A lot of this may be due to developmentally appropriate boundary and independence testing (Terrible Two’s) combined with an anxious personality style. Try the following basic interventions for quite awhile and, hopefully, some will be enough to get Jack through this transition period without too much emotional upheaval.
Issue: Jack’s tantrums intensified in time out. He’d fight over everything. Brushing his teeth. Putting on clothes. Potty. Eating. Sleeping. Everything. We placed him in timeout, but his scream strengthened. His breath lost. Never a “hold his breath” way, but intense and inconsolable.
Solution: Empathy before discipline. Some kids don’t have the words to express emotions. For example, Jack loses it because he wants cereal not the provided cinnamon roll for breakfast. First, label the feeling (Jack you are very angry that you can’t have cereal. It’s disappointing to have a cinnamon roll). Next, don’t give in to the tantrum (Cinnamon rolls are for breakfast, not cereal). This is so important – and SO hard. Allow him to express his anger, and ignore as best you can, until the rage passes. He’ll most likely move into a stage of sadness/clinginess. Comfort and hug him. But don’t give him cereal. As he gets older and continues to tantrum, natural consequences are best (you tantrum in the store you leave, you don’t and you get a snack). Be ready for the tantrums to escalate and intensify before they disappear. He’ll really test you on this!
Issue: Adjusting to a sister. Jack loves Ella. Always has. But he began hitting and defying Justin and I every chance he got.
Solution: Provide warnings about changes and give him quality “Jack time” without baby sister. It’s important for children to have that one-on-one connection with their parents, even if it only a few minutes a day. You can just take a few minutes to play with him, noticing what he's doing, reflecting what you se. Avoid asking questions or making judgments.
Books for separation anxiety: "The Invisible String" by Patrice Karst and "The Kissing Hand" by Audrey Penn.
Issue: Jack’s shy. He’s been at the same daycare for two years. With the same teacher. Although he’s able to formulate sentences and pronounce complex words, he was extremely quiet at school. Even with friends. He’s always experienced some “separation anxiety” since being a small baby. But, quiet days at daycare were followed by excessive meltdowns at home.
Solution: It could just be run-of-the-mill "shyness" or more serious anxiety. It is probably too early to tell. If you handle it well, you may prevent further anxiety problems. Encourage him to "face his fear" of talking in large or strange company by gently encouraging him to engage in large settings. At some point, you may want to add a reward for "being brave" and increasing his verbalizations. An ice cream after school with mommy, or a sticker on his chart might help motivate. Don't push too hard, he is still very young! However, I have seen cases where early teachers have ignored such behavior until middle elementary, when the pattern has become engrained and hard to change. Becoming overprotective or making too many allowances to avoid uncomfortable social situations may only increase his anxiety long-term.
Jack’s progress to date: Our genuine little boy is back. And even brighter. I’m not sure if it’s the tools we put in place. Or the acceptance of his role in the family. Growing up. Or maybe just a mixture of it all.
Regardless the reason, we’re smiling again. All of us. Jack rarely tantrums. Mainly over normal things, like more icecream, or when he’s super tired. And never in public. He’s talking at school. I even heard him yelling to a friend one day. “Such a sweet voice,” his teacher said. He apologizes for everything. Even when he accidentally spills his milk. “Sorry, Mom. Sorry.” He agrees to things he doesn’t really want to do. Without a single whimper. He greets strangers. Finds entertainment anywhere. Rarely complains. And sings songs while he plays.