Thursday, May 17, 2012

Surviving the Terrible Twos


That's about how I've felt for the past week and a half, and likely how I will feel for the next year — at 18 months old, Evan is now firmly entrenched in the Terrible Twos.

We went on a family trip to California a few weeks ago and he brought back a little souvenir from Disneyland: Hand-foot-and-mouth disease. My heart broke for little Evan as he stood and screamed to exhaustion. There wasn't a lot we could do, and it was agonizing to know he was so tormented. But luckily the illness passed relatively quickly, and life soon returned to normal. 

... or so we thought.

Apparently he found his voice, and the shrieks are here to stay. So are the fits, the kicking, the wailing, the dropping limply in protest.

Needless to say, it's been a rough time for all of us. Not only is it hard just getting through each tantrum, but the knowledge that this is going to be our lives for an indeterminable amount of time is agony. Most days now I wake up just dreading the hours ahead.

While some days are easier than others, and I know we will gradually learn to navigate through this awful stage, I still am at such a loss.

We have a unique child on our hands. As our pediatrician put it, he has the intellect of a 3-year-old but the emotions of an 18-month-old. So when it comes to dealing with meltdowns, the tactics you would use to work with a 3-year-old are beyond his emotional abilities, but the tactics for an 18-month-old are ineffective.

At this point, we are literally going down the list of advice and ideas for getting through his four-a-day (at least) tantrums. We have gotten excellent advice and there are wonderful theories out there, but one thing still baffles me:
How do you teach a child the "appropriate way" to express anger when, in the grown-up world, there really is no socially-acceptable, appropriate way to express anger?
It's an emotion that is highly frowned upon, and when you express it you are judged and/or feared — and yet we all feel it, and those who repress it are no better off than those who blow their stacks. Do we have him let loose on a punching bag, or do we do the count-to-10 thing and try to dissolve the anger? Is the duke-it-out method encouraging anger, or is the other sweeping his concerns under the rug? Or neither?

Am I just over-thinking it? Are there any of you who have pondered this same issue? How have you dealt with it? What advice do you have?


  1. The methods that you choose to instill now will set the tone for adulthood. I think it's important to remember that anger is a secondary emotion. In an adult it is hopefully much easier to discover the underlying emotion, and address it but with a child, just as you have to learn which cry means tired and which cry means food, you have to decipher it. My nephew gets super angry when he doesn't feel safe. Letting him know that he is, and that he is loved, helps quell his fear and quiet the anger.
    At a certain point, one should consider rage. I don't know how much stock you put into mental/behavioral science but I firmly believe that some people are genetically predispositioned for things like rage disorder (I'm afraid my child will be). Recognizing it early could be vital.

  2. I have thought about this issue too and like most things there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. In my opinion it is okay to have anger, but if it is violent or encroaches on others that is not okay. I try to help find the root of the problem and focus on that. Is he angry because the circle won't fit into the square hole? Provide alternatives-"Honey, that piece doesn't fit in there. Why don't you try this square piece or let's find another place the circle will fit in." Each child is different from each other and the child changes too. Sometimes they will need to calm down before they can tell you what the problem is. I have Matthew go to his room until he is ready to speak to me in a polite way and then we work together to fix the problem. Pray a lot so when you need inspiration it can come.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful insight.Tiffanie, I haven't thought about rage but I have bipolar disorder and I fear every day of my life that Evan will have it. But I like the reminder that anger is usually caused by something else. That sounds like what you're saying, Katrina. I think a lot of Evan's anger stems from his strong need to be independent, so we encourage his autonomy wherever possible. We've even made him in charge of certain things, so we say, "Evan is the boss of brushing teeth. You choose which toothbrush you use today." It helps balance out when we have to lay down the law in other ways and remind him that Mommy and Daddy are the boss. In general, I think every thing we do is more of a down-the-road payoff rather than instant. That's what's so frustrating, but also why it's so important to be diligent even when I just want to quit. Thanks for the support!!