Containment

I woke up from a dream in which various short row bits of knitting were shriveling like lettuce left to dry, and remembered the stuff I was reading before bed from the Penelope Leach Baby and Child book.

We’ve been dealing with a lot of disobedience and meltdowns with Amy lately. Things like delaying when we ask her a question or ask her to do something, even when it’s not negative. Repeating her statement or question over and over whether you answer it or not, getting louder and more insistent, obviously not in a state of mind to receive anything we say. Continuing to do things that irritate us that we’ve told her so very many times not to do, sometimes right after we tell her not to do it. Like kicking or throwing things when she’s frustrated, putting things in her mouth that are not allowed in there (there are some things she’s allowed to put in her mouth), not being gentle when she climbs on someone or interacts with the cat, changing her mind four times in three seconds, as well as the above-mentioned delayings and repetitions.

And, what especially prompted the turning to Leach again, continuing to get out of bed as soon as we leave the room. We keep going in and putting her back in bed (actually, when we go in she knows what’s coming and usually tries to get back in bed before we get there), trying to be firm but calm and not too interesting. I don’t mind if she chatters to herself in bed, because at least if she’s in the bed, she’s more likely to drop off when she gets tired. But if she’s out in the room playing, she’s more likely to keep herself awake.

Before I got the book out, I remembered times I’ve caught parts of Super Nanny shows, and how with timeouts or bedtimes she’s all about continuing to put the child back in the chair or the bed without making a big fuss — just boring repetitive firmness without aggression or attention.

Repetition figured big in the relevant chapters of Leach, too. Toddlers, even ones who talk so sophisticatedly like Amy and seem to understand so much, really need a lot of repetition to learn things, even though it seems like you’ve told them over and over again not to do x, even though they can even tell you that they know they’re not allowed to do x. I guess for a toddler to say they know they’re not allowed to do x is not quite as much understanding as it seems to be.

Some repetition — like the repeating of questions and statements that seems either like attention-seeking or expressions of determined crankiness — could be a sign of stress. Toddlers need some opportunity to be frustrated — i.e. opportunity to try things just beyond their current skill levels — but not too much. Sure is hard to find the balance, and to determine how much is too much, and how to provide scaffolding (just enough help but not too much help) without adding too much to the frustration one way or the other.

But it seems like the frequency and duration of these disobediences and meltdowns is a clue that life lately is too frustrating for Amy, and we need to scale back some things.

I need to continue to use pronouns correctly myself, and play along with talking about them when she shows interest, but not make a fuss over it when she reverts to calling herself “you” and me or Mark “I.” That’s tough, too, because sometimes it’s not obvious whether she’s using “you” to mean herself or me or Mark, so I have to clarify. I want to clarify without it coming across as pressured correction.

Then there’s the idea of containment — providing an environment and atmosphere that is sufficiently firm AND sufficiently compassionate so that she feels safe, welcome, and appropriately free. I’ve talked before about compassion and respect, the two ideas I’ve found most reflect my ideal approach to parenting and other relationships. I need to keep working on practicing those.

Leach acknowledges that parents get angry, and that it’s not unreasonable or incomprehensible. (Irrational is not the same as unreasonable. And even irrational feelings are still valid feelings — it’s the incorrect interpretations that make them irrational, not the feelings themselves.) We need to work on being angry appropriately — modeling the behavior we’re prescribing, like giving ourselves a break, taking time out, hitting or throwing or banging something soft in a safe way, or some other physical expression or outlet that is safe. We need to keep fighting the temptation to take things personally or catastrophize the current situation (i.e. she’s going to grow up to be a hellion), and we need to keep fighting to distinguish between Amy and her behavior. It’s a little surprising to me — a little interesting — how strongly the sense of hatred wells up when Amy’s behavior is pushing our limits. We don’t want to hate her, any more than she wants to hate us when she’s pushing.

I need to safeguard my own needs for space and quiet at times. But I need to tip the balance back towards Amy a little — give her more direct “playing with” time as well as “playing independently” time, reduce our demands, make cooperation more naturally appealing and easier.

And I probably need to go back to bed.

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4 thoughts on “Containment

  1. This too shall pass.
    Be as matter of fact as you can. It gets better.
    Leave the area if you are ‘losing” it.
    Use a timer if it helps. ie. I will be ready to play with you in five minutes when the timer goes off. Or we will play for 10 minutes and I will set the timer so we know.
    Above all enjoy the fun times…three will pass very quickly.

  2. Marcy, I feel like I need to ask you for feedback on my children! First off, I think you are doing an amazing job. Your insights to Amy’s behaviour and the knowledge you have about who she is is awesome. Many people are not tuned into their children like you seem to be. Good for you.
    Secondly, she really is at an age that can be complicated and frustrating. (I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that, but having gone through three of my own at that age in under five years I thought it might be encouraging to let you know that it does get easier, on that front anyway!)
    Keep getting to know her, keep doing the things that work, be consistent. AND, know that days (sometimes two or three in a row) are going to be frustrating. In between, cherish the good moments. Enjoy her. I have to remind myself to do that every day. In a blink of an eye…

    Take courage, you’re doing great.

    Peace to you,
    Tamara

    Another tid bit: I have found that in times of great stress or frustration, I sometimes think about what it will be like in five or ten years when I will look back on that particular situation and think how amusing it all might be. (Doesn’t work all the time, but I’ve had a few chuckles here and there.)

  3. Thanks, Tamara — sometimes I suspect that I just *think* I know and understand her… but I guess it counts for something that I’m trying to be observant and reflective as well as aware of my own assumptions and baggage.

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