when your toddler is a honey badger

January 19, 2012

Alright, I know you're all going to get pissed because this isn't not a love story chapter four, especially after yesterday's blackout shmackout, but I need to vent because it's really cramping up my brain. I haven't been writing much about parenting of late because things have been a pleasant summer breeze. Here! Have a mojito! It's delightful! I was driving home the other night composing a post in my head (that's how I do it) about how much I adore toddlerhood, and how blissfully happy I am. Since you've been around longer than ten minutes I can assume you all know where this is going– straight into the toilet.

As soon as we were out Awesome Babysitter's door it began: the hitting. I've touched on it once or twice but I've always danced carefully around (here here here) coming out and saying it point blank, not really wanting admit: Dude, we have a hitter. There, I said it. You know how you don't want to tell your mom about the fight you got in with your boyfriend because then she'll hate him forever and she'll only remember the bad things you told her? Don't do that. My kid is still awesome.

We've been having trouble with hitting since he was about a year old, but back then I just thought, Oh, well once he can TALK he'll stop, and then he could talk and I thought, Oh, well once he can express his FEELINGS he'll stop, and now at almost two and a half he can tell us his feelings and GODDAMN IT STOP PUNCHING ME. AKSJBDNAIOU!#!#E !H@B#L!

No one in our house hits. We are not modeling angry behavior, etc. etc. Still, with the freaking hitting. It's super great! Gah. It comes in phases, so sometimes we'll go a month or even two months without incident (!!) and then all of a sudden– back in hitting town. The good news is that he only does it to Jon and I, not at Awesome Babysitter's or anything like that.

He doesn't like being bossed around and reacts accordingly. I can "get" it from a toddler's standpoint: he's powerless against the many decisions he doesn't get to make each day, he feels a rush of emotion and doesn't know how to process it. So here I am, into all this touchy-feely positive discipline but it seems that no matter what routes we've tried (touchy-feely and otherwise) it has had little to no effect–
he's just fucking pissed off.

Arm yourself- the honey badger tool kit:

#1- Avoidance/distraction. Obviously the best way to deal with angry situations is to not have them happen in the first place. We identify what situations are triggering meltdown and take steps to avoid them or make them more fun. This works and is inarguably less horrible for everyone involved.

{The problem I have with this is that some things HAVE to happen– like diaper changing. Unless he's ready to get on the pot (we're working on that) diaper changes still have to happen, not optional or avoidable. No amount of hitting will make the pee magically disappear from the pants, tough it out.}

#2- Offering choices. I do this as much as possible, and he does not give a shit. He does not want to pick between two shirts, or between two snack options. Offering limited choices to help him feel in control makes so much sense to me logically, it's just that my kid doesn't care.

#3- Keeping the cool. People, I have become the queen of temper control. I am even. I am firm. I am not angry. I am endlessly patient. I empathize but stick to the rules. I make stupid crap fun. By all accounts I should feel proud. I feel like I'm really hitting my parenting stride, it's just that my kid doesn't care.

#4- The feelings. I really like the idea of all that feelings stuff. Talking about the feelings, learning to understand and accept the feelings, blah blah blah. "You're feeling angry. It's okay to feel angry. When we're angry we can stomp stomp stomp." You know, that hippy bullshit. I think it's a great IDEA, it's just that my kid doesn't care.

#5- Time in. We're a time-in house, as opposed to time-out, though I think the name is just nitpicking. Since everyone has a different version here's ours: [redacted: giant paragraph explaining our touchy-feely version of time-out that isn't particularly relevant, promise] Personally I don't see it as a "punishment," more of a break from the action, an opportunity to calm down and talk about the rules. We avoid using it as a threat, and frankly I'm not all that convinced it works. Really it wouldn't matter if we did make it a threat because my kid doesn't care. 

#6- Lalala I can't hear you. Much to my consternation the only thing that seems to have an effect is completely ignoring the behavior. If it's time for a pants change and he hits– I don't react and keep changing his pants. If he's thrashing around being ridiculous I leave and go load the dishwasher. Once he gets his initial emotions (and hits) out of the way he breaks down into tears and we can talk about what happened.

This was difficult at first, because hey someone's hitting me stop. It's the kind of thing we're trained to not overlook from anyone, let alone kids. Once I shifted to operating on the premise that he's not under control of himself it got easier. Rather than turning it into a battle of wills not reacting seems to help him come to grips with it on his own terms.
- - -

delightful!I'm realizing that the ball is in his court on this one, with very little to do with me and my awesome/terrible parenting techniques. No matter what we do this is something that he has to work through. We're being consistent, we're pretty fair, we don't get angry. That's what's frustrating about it. Some connection in his brain that says "no hitting!" isn't making the leap, and we can't do that for him. It's just like every other parenting dilemma– it comes in phases, we keep on working through it, it will end. (Can we repeat that, just for my own psychic well-being? It. Will. End.)

In between these crap incidents he is a magical adorable dream to be around. I genuinely believe that he's just being a little shit completely frazzled and not that he is being motivated by fear or insecurity. Nothing in particular we've done has brought this on. He's not being "bad." It kills me to read articles that claim all toddler hitting is "obviously" a desperate cry for attention. That idea is straight up laughable... but it still stings, occasionally, when I don't have my game face on or after a particularly stupid day.

Truth is, the jude is no shrinking violet. He's as sassy as both of his parents and BOOM, this is exactly what you get when you mix explosives. When I think about what this means for his future I wouldn't want him any other way. Not that I want him to run around punching people on the street as a problem solver, but he will get it eventually, and it's a symptom of something awesome– a confident self. It's just not very fun right now.

I'm not looking for different ways to deal with it. Full. Stop. I don't want a list of suggestions. I feel like our approach is absolutely bang on. I just need... a pep talk. I need someone to come sit in my corner and spray water in my mouth and rub that wax shit all over my forehead so I'm ready for the next round. Team huggybear.

I will outlast you, grouchy little honey badger.
I'm in it to win it until you figure your shit out. Kiss kiss.
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