Helping Each other through the “Terrible Three’s”
There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead;
And when she was good
She was very, very good,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
This well-known children’s poem fits my curly-headed daughter’s recent behavior to a T. My little Sweetie turns 3-years old this month.
No longer a baby, but not quite a little kid, she’s in that precarious time of toddler-hood that confuses, frustrates and irritates not only her, but her parents as well. Simply put, Ella IS the little girl with a curl from the poem above.
However, I want to point out that she can be “very, very good” – when she has a mind to be. She continues to be a very creative, very bright child who loves to run, jump, dance and play.
She can sit quietly and entertain herself by watching favorite television shows and videos, or by conducting imaginary interactions between her Winnie the Pooh figurines and Care Bear friends. Watching her get so involved in her play is both fascinating and fun – a real joy for her Daddy and me.
However, the other side of our little girl, – that “horrid” behavior, is fast becoming the lead persona in our mini Jekyll and Hyde. And, quite frankly, she’s dragging me over to the dark side right alongside her.
Ella, like most children her age, is uncertain about what’s considered proper behavior, and where exactly her boundaries lay, thus causing her to become frustrated and break down in all too frequent temper tantrums.
My husband and I are also confused, often grasping at straws for how to properly guide her through these ordeals. What should or shouldn’t we give in to help her calm down?
For myself, I’m finding that as Ella gets older, she is becoming more aware of what my physical abilities (and disabilities) are. Because she fully understand that I cannot pick her up when she is in distress (as is her regular demand), I am much less likely to be her preferred parent at these time.
I am finding myself at a complete and utter loss of control, sanity and patience, simply because she is not allowing me to help her through her troubles.
Mind you, Ella has always been a Daddy’s girl. In the past she has pushed me aside to rush toward her beloved Daddy when we both go to pick her up after work. And she’s broken down into sobs at the mere sight of me, much preferring her father to rescue her from her crib or accompany her to the kitchen to get a snack.
And until now, I’ve always been able to take her obvious preference for her Daddy in stride. I simply remind myself that I’m the one she deals with more often on a daily basis for everything from discipline, to fun and games, to warm snuggles and comforting.
She’s so used to me that whenever Daddy walks in the door, returning from work or from a weekend day of home repair, she instantly attaches herself to him because he’s someone different.
Daddy comes around and it’s time to play. Mommy’s around and it’s time for diapers, discipline or day-to-day activities.
But now, with Ella’s new ‘tude and much stronger opinions of what she wants and NEEDS (namely, “Daddy, up!”) it is becoming increasingly harder for me to handle her pushing me aside in favor of my husband.
Her refusal to let me into her world upsets me so much that I often end up having my own little tantrums of tears and frustration. Why can’t she just help me to help her?
On one recent occasion she woke up very early in the morning, which has become her regular routine, crying for Daddy. Since he was sick with a cold, I went to help her instead.
I was prepared to do whatever it took to calm her down and get the situation under control. If she wanted milk, I’d get her milk. If she wanted me to “sleep around next to” her, I would cozy up beneath the blankets. If she wanted to go downstairs and watch T.V. at 5:00 in the morning, fine. I was game.
But no, she didn’t want any of these things – with me. Only Daddy. She only wanted “Daddy, up!” to make everything right in her world. Because she knew I couldn’t pick her up, in her point of view I was no good to her at all.
And she was mad – really mad. By the time Daddy finally came to answer her pleas, she was so far gone that it took her a very long time to stop her screeching and yelling and realize that she was okay.
My frustrations are seeping even further into other types of interactions between Ella and myself. I’m losing patience even during situations that don’t call for me to go above and beyond my physical abilities.
Take, for instance, the incident she and I had just the other day. It was “Mommy and Ella” day – Daddy was at work and she and I were enjoying our regular Monday time together. Everything was fine as naptime approached and we headed upstairs to lie down.
Although Ella agreed to the nap at the onset, by the time we made it to her room, she wanted nothing to do with sleep at all. I finally got her to lie down with me in her big girl bed.
But after one full hour of her still happily chatting to herself and singing songs, I had had enough and decided to give up. No nap for her that day.
Angered that I was now not going to have the free time I needed to get some household chores done, I basically dragged her downstairs and explained that we were going to go do some things that Mommy wanted to do, not what Ella wanted to do.
After some much needed cooling down time where we pretty much left each other alone, I was finally feeling better and went to give Sweetie a kiss and tell her I love her.
What did she say to me in return? “I love you, Mommy…. It be Daddy Day now and you go to work?” Touché, Sweetie. Point made.
If I want Ella to behave more calmly and re-establish her happy-go-lucky nature, then she has to observe me doing the same.
Obviously, she’s perfectly aware when I am not happy with the situations she presents to me, and it further effects all our future interactions.
If I can remain calm and good-natured in the face of her tantrums and less-than-savory attitudes, then perhaps I can teach her a thing or two about regaining control of her own feelings.
And while I can’t pick her up when she’s upset, I can certainly kneel down and hold her. I also can’t carry her around, but I can always lift her onto my lap and into the rocking chair for a good cuddle until she’s feeling better.
The sooner she and I figure out all the good ways we can handle bad situations together, the better off we will both be.
Constantly growing and learning, but always loving – three things all children and parents have in common, strengthening the bonds between them.
Once she and I wind our way through the tumultuous year ahead, I’m certain we will both come out of it as stronger, more self-assured individuals. And we can then go forward with a loving, lifelong relationship that is “very, very good” indeed.