09 April 2008

It's Wednesday, not Monday.

Children screamed at 2:30, 3:30, 3:45, and 5:30, and were then ready to get up before 7:00 (although I made them wait).

Once up, said children argued over who got to help me refill the humidifier, who got to hold the largest Tupperware lid, who got to carry the milk into the playroom, who got to wear the pink flowered shirt, who go to turn on the hairdryer, and who had to get dressed first. (It's worth noting that eventually, I yelled and apologized and we regrouped and had a lovely breakfast together.)

I decided I needed a latte for the road. I filled up my trusty travel coffee mug, made it down to the garage with babies and gear and my coffee without tripping or spilling anything . . . then drove off to daycare with the coffee still on top of my car. (Two things worth noting: (1) any readers who know me in real life must be chuckling right now because I've driven off with coffee on top of my car about a billion times in my life, and (2) after dropping the kids at daycare, I went back to the horrific SIX-WAY intersection where my mug had fallen off and retrieved it, unscathed [mug and Snick]—it just needs a good washing.)

I talked myself out of stopping for a bagel for breakfast and pulled myself together to make nice, healthy oatmeal at work. Just as I pull my oatmeal out of the microwave, a coworker staggers in under the weight of dozens of bagels. Turns out it's company breakfast day and somehow I missed the memo. Sigh. At least I can feel virtuous.

On a somewhat related note, I need some parenting advice.

Riley is in a phase where if he's the least bit tired, hungry, or otherwise off his game for a reason I can't discern, he gets into a "No . . . Yes . . . No . . . Yes . . . " hysterical crying, hysterical crying routine. I don't know how to handle it. Here is an example and what I've tried:

Riley picked out a shirt to wear this morning. When it came time to get dressed, our conversation went like this:
R: "No flower shirt!" [insistent, but not yet tearful]
Me: "OK, do you want a different shirt?"
R: "Flower shirt!"
Me: (handing back shirt) "All right, great choice! Let's put it on."
R: "NO FLOWER SHIRT!" (legs flailing, tears welling up)
Me: "OK, do you want a different shirt?" 
R: "FLOWER SHIRT!" (full-blown freaking out)

Etc. etc. I've ended the conversation in a few different ways, none of which seem particularly effective:

1. Taking him off the changing table, giving him a big hug (if he'll let me—that often turns into "No Mama!"), and going back to the changing table when he's calmed down.
2. Just forcing the damn flower shirt on him.
3. Distraction: handing him a toy, getting him dressed on the floor instead of the table, telling him a joke, etc.
4. Yelling. Not recommended, but I've done it.
5. Asking, "Riley, I see you're upset about your shirt. How can I help you?"

This conversation can happen about food, coming inside after school, who gets to flush the poop in the toilet, etc. And it happens many, many times a day. 

What I need to do is fix the underlying cause of the behavior; when I can trace it to hunger, that's relatively easy. When he's tired, that's more difficult; if it's close to bedtime, I can ride it out, but sometimes I think Riley is just chronically tired and I can't force him to sleep, so I'm a bit at a loss there.

Is this just a phase that most 2-ish-year-olds go through that I need to ride out? If so, at least I know the end will come, but this behavior pushes all of my buttons (huh, maybe that's why he does it?) and I need a way to manage it so that I don't go postal one day.

All advice appreciated.


bg's Little Sis said...

My Izzy, (2 and a half) is doing this same thing currently...last night..."more noodles, ok, NO NOODLES!!!!!!!!!!" MORE NOODLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" It was fun I tell ya...and it happens lately with anything. The only thing working is to hug and hold for a few minutes, not ever discuss the noodles or whatever, just hug and hold. My older 2 didn't have this phase manifested in the same way...who knows sista...we just keep moving.

On the coffee, I was laughing out loud, I've done the same thing so many times I can't count either, and it's usually on a day where I'm saying in my head,'wow, you're doing good today, things are moving along ok'

Lots of love to you and the kids,


thrice said...

Maybe he wants a different flower shirt?

At that age, I gave my boys a choice between two shirts. Usually one that I knew would be favored, versus one I knew wouldn't be favored. That way they felt in control.

Maybe I'm completely off base, but the Ri-man seems like he wants to *feel* in control. Not un-like the majority of the male species, when in fact they don't really want to be in control at all. Sigh.

Mitzi said...

If you figure out what to do with Riley please let me know so I can try the same with my daughter. My 2 1/2 year old, Carly, does me the same way. I usually do the same steps you do. Lately, I say to her "woah, woah woah, before you lose your mind screaming, I am trying to understand you - TALK to me and tell me what it is - help ME help YOU." She quietens down, looks at me and says it again, I repeat what she says, and with many tries we figure it out together. However, now that I've said that out loud that particular technique will never work again.

I do think its an age thing and something that will go away with time - how much time I don't know.

You're a great mom.

Jenn said...

I don't know if it will help to know that it's 100% developmentally appropriate behavior and it's more common than not with children at that age, but there you have it. At that stage, they are wanting to make choices for themselves, but they're also easily overwhelmed. Have you thought about changing certain routines slightly to allow for choices. For example, lay out two shirts and say calmly (unhurriedly), "Which one, Riley?" The trick there would be to stick with the one he chooses, even if he starts to freak out, but to give him time to make a thoughtful choice and to talk about it with him as it's happening, "I see you picked the shirt with the flowers! This is such a bright, happy shirt, everyone who sees you in it will feel like smiling!" Try to put a twist on it that's positive before the meltdown happens and keep the routine the same every time. I know sometimes it's NOT possible to give choices, and sometimes the meltdowns are going to happen anyway and there's nothing you can do to head it off, you just have to ride it out as calmly as you can. You are a GREAT mom and you will find the best way for all of you -- trust your instincts. Really! :)

Anonymous said...

Hang in there. He is right on track, developmentally, and the threes can be even more challenging. In my head I refer to my three year old as "Mr. Chronically Unreasonable" and just try to go with the flow and ride it out. This is my third time going through this stage and it is tough. But at four they magically become so WONDERFUL! I only have boys. I think girls might even get to that point sooner.

Also, it's not a crime to bring your kids to daycare in their pajamas from time to time and let the teachers there dress them. I've done that occasionally when the craziness about getting dressed was just too overwhelming. It's not a battle worth fighting and if you change the venue and the audience it often becomes less charged.

Trips mom said...

I have 3 girls (triplets) and they are 3-years old now. They do the same and I've found what works is to say "show mama what you want, show me, mama doesn't understand, show me" and then usually they walk to/take whatever it is they feel they need. Normally they first have to "think" for a moment and in this moment they seem to calm down.

Anonymous said...

I was also going to suggest giving Riley choices so he does feel in control. Give him two shirts to decide between, two options for breakfast, etc. The little ones like being able to decide for themselves.

Elle said...


My niece did the same thing, and now my nephew is as well. My nephew is amenable to the tricks already suggested here -- choices, talking etc. However, none of that ever worked for my niece. We all just rode it out (she outgrew it more or less by age 3), and today she is the nicest, sweetest, most reasonable 9 year old you'd ever want to meet. It'll pass ;)

django's mommy said...

Another vote for the two-shirt choice here. That has worked well for me. I also think it's about control, and totally developmentally appropriate. That's not to say it's not frustrating as all get-out, though.

Stacey said...

My 2 1/2 year old angel/devil child is the same way. I think it is normal. The best thing that I have come up with for dressing and feeding are giving her two choices. She feels like an empowered big girl to get to choose. If you find a way to make the kids come inside without a fight, let me know!

Jan said...

Damn. Blogger ate my comment. Grrr. So. Short recap:

My kid does this only when he's teething. So Tylenol helps.

Also, total sympathy for you, because it'll make you crazy.

I warn him that he needs to make a choice and he won't get to change his mind, then I stick with the next choice, even if he screams.

Anonymous said...

my 18 month old just the past few weeks wakes up multiple times a night to scream. i am going insane but glad to know it is normal. i am starting to go in, re-assure, and leave to let her cry it out - amazingly she quiets down quicker than if i stay in the room. it is exausting!! :) Maggie

Ruta said...

Distraction, baby, distraction (in addition to the two choice suggestion)... My 2 yr old and I have a game of saying yes and no back and forth in funny voices - whenever she gets in that cycle, I start in with the funny voices... It seems to distract her long enough to calm down and make a choice and carry through.

Arwen said...

It sounds like my two year old and all the distractions/funny voices/etc. in the world doesn't help... in fact it's liable to get you bit.

Alot of times they know what they want but still can't vocalize it so you both get frustrated.


Molly said...

I dress my son in a long sleeved shirt and leggings at bath the night before. When we wake up, you just have to add pants and a jacket, and voila! Dressed for daycare! Don't know if this helps... He also does the yes no yes no thing. If he starts doing it, I just make the choice for him, because obviously he is fried. It seems to be related to being tired or hungry in my experience. I can't speak to outgrowing it, because he hasn't outgrown it yet, and he's my one and only! I'm sure Riley will work it out. Does Maddie do it too?

Sarah said...

I don't even have kids, but on a basic communication level, and in reading that conversation, I would recommend trying to acknowledge that you hear him. Like, repeat what he says back to him, so he knows his feelings are being heard. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

My 18 month old son is starting to do the same thing. I've been trying to deal with him via advice from "The Happiest Toddler on the Block" book by Dr. Karp. Basically he thinks the child is acting that way because he doesn't feel like he is understood by the parent, or is really being listened to. So, what you are supposed to do is repeat back the words of the child in an exaggerated and loud voice, so he understands that you are listening to him. That is supposed to get his attention and kind of validate his feelings. It is supposed to calm him down, so you can move on to whatever you want him to do, and hopefully it will help avoid the freaking out. I'm not sure how well this works, as I've only tried it once so far. But it does make sense to me, and the book is a good (and easy) read. Good luck!

Inkling said...

I'm with you on the yes-no thing. The three year old (turned 3 the day after Easter) I watch 27 hours a week has been doing it for months. Most days, I just try to be gentle, speak low and soft, and give him the time he needs to come up with his final decision. Sometimes that includes letting him throw himself on the floor, and sometimes it means holding onto him and riding out his tantrums with him. Because he's famous for puking if he gets too upset, I try to not let him get too frantic. But it's tough, and when we're in a hurry or in a public place, I find my blood pressure sky rocketing. I've done the choices thing, and sometimes it works. But when it really matters, it doesn't work. Children are their own animal sometimes. Sometimes I think he's grieving over being with me and not having his parents present. Whatever the reason, the only thing I know to do is remain gentle and sound loving, and we eventually survive. It's hard, and some days it's tempting to throw a tantrum right along with him.....like when he decided to throw the tomatoes at the farmer's market and had a fit that I moved the cart into the middle where he couldn't reach anything.

The best advice I've ever followed was actually yours, when you talked about Riley wanting your keys. You let him play with them for ten minutes while you waited for him to lose interest, and he willingly gave them back so you could then head to the restaurant. I've started actually building tons more time into our schedule (especially for the always stressful swimming lessons his mother wants us taking), so that I can let him do his own thing and adjust/transition on his own time clock. And when I get impatient and wish we could just skip the whole transition time, I find myself remembering your story of Ri-man and the keys. It sure helps. So thanks!

Mama Nabi said...

The Waffle-stage! No. Yes! NOOOOO! I love you... I hate you...

Yes, yes... very very common. I remember when LN first started doing it (and yes, she still does it frequently... groan) - I was still under the impression that she was a logical human being and treated her accordingly. But then there's only so many times you can go back and forth.

One thing that I've found helpful is: limiting the choices. It's either THIS or THAT. And firmly telling her that she does not have more than 2 choices. She get to pick and feel like tha Queen of her Castle. I get to end THAT conversation within the hour. Win, win.

Of course, when the waffling is between NO and YES... if it's question of safety, i.e. seatbelt - I just have to deal with the tantrums. If not... I give her some space and let her figure out what she really wants.

Eliza said...

I'm with Mama Nabi--two of my three have gone through this phase, and I've found that the quickest end to the waffling is to offer the old "either/or"--it is not GUARANTEED to make them cut it out, but at least puts ownership of the final waffle in THEIR hands and makes you feel like less of a criminal when you make them stick to one or the other and they are wailing and gnashing their little teeth.

buddha_girl said...

I'd like to say the end's in sight for you and Ri-Man with the meltdowns, but I'd be a damn-ass liar.

Buddha is doing the very same thing right now, and he's going to be three in June.


He's also taken to answering, "Yesno. No. Yes. Yesno."

I have no words. Just sending you good vibes.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, I found it was related to too many choices. Your patience and willingness to try is admirable, but sometimes all that freedom is simply too much. My assvice? In situations where applicable, give him two choices: Riley, which shirt do you want to wear? A or B? It's pulling in those reigns somewhat - and showing your ultimate authority - but still giving him his bit of freedom.

And the coffee? lol...if I had a nickel for every time I've down something like that!

- A

mlg said...

yikes.. my kid never did this.. I had no idea it was so common! I guess I got lucky. I did give her 2-3 choices for everything rather than giving her a yes/no question to answer.

I misses idol last night : (
and I really like Neil Diamond.

Anonymous said...

I think it's just a phase they go through. My just-turned-two year old had it maybe three months ago and it was rough. As far as we were able to work out, it was related to not knowing what she wanted, or maybe more accurately, not being able to predict which of two things would make her happier five minutes from now. Combined with general frustration that in life you have to make choices that are mutually exclusive, that that's just the way it is. It did not seem to be a power struggle with us because it also happened with things like her being upset that she could not be both in the living room and the family room at the same time (with nothing barring her from being in one or the other).

So my entirely-seat-of-the-pants opinion is that it's part of the process of coming to understand making choices and that choices have natural limits and consequences (i.e. it is not physically possible to inhabit the living room and the dining room at the same time).

It was definitely frustrating when she'd do things like ask for more milk at dinner, and then when given the milk, have a meltdown that she didn't want milk. Or the getting dressed scenario you described.

We decided that the best thing we could do was be sympathetic and consistent. So with the milk situation we'd explain 'We gave you the milk because you asked for it just a minute ago. It's just sitting here on the table; you don't have to drink it.' (we don't have a finishing what's on your plate rule, as it seems a unfair given that she doesn't have control over how much food we give her) For shirts or other back and forth choices, we would ask her if she was sure when she chose something, and if she was, that was it. Or if she wasn't sure the second or third time she made the same concrete request, that was it -- we'd say something like 'Ok, that's the third time you have asked for (whatever), and we need to (go to day care, have lunch, whatever) so that's what we're going to do right now'. We'd comfort her and/or distract her as necessary when we were done.

It seemed to us that since she was trying to figure out what she wanted and how to make choices and what making choices meant, the worst thing for her would be for us to be too accomodating since if she's overwhelmed or uncertain, the last thing she needs is for us to seem lost too. And it also seemed important for there to be some structure and limits on how she impacted everyone else in the house. But at the same time we also wanted to let her make choices for herself as much as possible.

It was a very frustrating phase (christ on a pogo stick, child, MAKE UP YOUR MIND or for the love of god, this is what you JUST ASKED FOR) was in my thoughts (and or muttered under my breath when she was crying too loudly to hear) but it also passed in maybe three-ish weeks.

It was followed by a not-reading-my-mind phase in which we had meltdowns for things like not correctly predicting where on her plate she wanted her broccoli and other minutiae. That one we just went with 'we can't understand what you want when you are crying' (which was almost always the truth) and 'remember that if you want something you need to ask for it politely and without whining.' That seemed to work well as pretty quickly we'd see her face screw up and then her visibly try to calm herself and ask in a quavering voice for whatever she wanted.

It was really frustrating because it was always so stupid (who really gives a cr*p about where on your plate your broccoli is? or if you care, why not just move it?). But I also could understand that when you have relatively little control over your life as a little kid, the things you do get to influence can be very important to you. And from my experience with siblings and cousins, it's an age where details start to matter a ton.

So that's what we thought and what seemed to work with our kid.

Good luck and hang in there -- I think you are doing an amazing job in challenging circumstances, and you are raising two healthy, happy, and very well cared for kids.

Lara said...

From my memory, about ages 18 months through 30 months were the absolute toughest. It DOES get easier, really. Hang in there.

But for now... as a few people noted, give choices between 2 or 3 options at most, and let them choose. You can probably find some sort of choice in almost any situation. If your kids seem to want the control, give them a choice EVERY time you possibly can... just not too many options so they are overwhelmed.

If a meltdown happened with my daughter (my most emotional kid), I would put her into her room, and tell her she had to stay there until she was ready to be nice (or not scream, not throw toys, or whatever totally unacceptable behavior she was doing). I would then calmly close the door and let her scream until she calmed down. At first she would be totally hysterical, but it quieted down to gentle sobbing. Usually in just a few minutes she would come out and tearfully tell me, "Mommy, I'm ready to be nice now," and we'd hug and snuggle until she got the reassurance she needed, then go on with our day. Sometimes she would come out and immediately get hysterical again, and I would just put her back again, and say "I don't think you're quite ready to be nice yet. You can't come out until you can be nice."

I guess I think this worked well for us because it taught her to calm herself down, and it separated us when I was feeling that I might overreact.

RockCity said...

Yes, a phase...my youngest child is 12 and I still remember it. Later what I figured out was she really did mean something else, just wasn't able to verbalize the complete thought. For example...in the flower shirt incident, Riley is probably trying to tell you something more specific about the flower shirt and he can't verbalize it; such as, "Mom, DUH, I know that's the flower shirt and I do want to wear it, but I need to wear it backwards today because I dreamed it was backwards day, and also I need it to be inside out and a different color and a different species of flower".
If this is truly what this phase is, it will be quick, kids are so smart. Good Luck!

A said...

Once you're on the road to a tantrum, even giving what the child supposedly wants does not help. It helps me to remember that they are too little to be logical. If we expect logic, we are just fooling ourselves. So, understand that he is frustrated, but don't expect to reason with him.

Anonymous said...

I'm with the choices thing. I'd give him two choices and explain that his choice is binding. Once he's made a choice I would ask if he's sure, put a positive spin on the choice (as you've done), then trudge ahead. If he then freaks, I would explain that it's time to get dressed, he's made a choice about his shirt, and now it's time to put it on. After the shirt is on, I'd give him a good, long hug (should he choose to accept) and move on.

I think some consistency is key. If he knows what will happen each time, he might (just might) freak out less. Perhaps he's having trouble with wanting freedom, but not too much. So giving him choices and following through would give him both the freedom to choose, and the knowledge that he doesn't have to make everything happen (because you do!).

Good luck!

moo said...

it's just a phase, but of course that doesn't make it any easier to deal with.

You could try giving him two options, although it may or may not work. Something like ... "No flower shirt? How about the striped shirt instead?" and if he says "no ____ shirt!" hold up both and ask, "This one or this one."

Maybe having the concrete choices will help.

And I hate to even suggest this, but perhaps Riley is feeling John's anniversary the same way that you are? Perhaps he's feeling more of a need to be in control because of it?

liz said...

I just wanted to ditto everyone on this phase.

God, it was horrific.

2 choices whenever possible and never more than 2. If he's disappointed about not getting BOTH point out that he'll be getting dressed again tomorrow and he can wear the other one then.

All my best

Keen said...

I am super-impressed that you were able to retrieve your coffee mug--intact--at a six-way intersection! And yes, it made me laugh, because if I recall correctly, the cap to your gas tank was not so lucky.

I recently left my wallet and my cell phone on top of the car as I left the park and didn't even notice (can I claim that I'm new to driving? No, I guess that's probably not it.) Fortunately, I was only going home because I'd forgotten something and went right back, so I never even noticed they were gone, but when a very nice man at the park handed me my wallet and phone I was so confused and had no idea why he had them.

I wish I had some advice for you about Riley. So far, I've found that those are all stages, and they've all passed without me ever out was going on in the first place. Not very helpful, I know.

OTRgirl said...

My Mom always told stories about how I started dressing myself at 18 months. I can see now how that happened!

No particular advice, I think the choice deal has been covered! Just a hug.

Clare said...

My son went through a "Nokay!" phase. Is it no? Is it okay? You decide! And you'll probably get it wrong. Ah good times.

CappyPrincess said...

I remember those days well - we still have them at times and the 2 choices really does work. It's like they get overstimulated with the decision making process and just need the choices narrowed.

When the kids are really wound up, sometimes I remove all choice and say "this is the way it is" (ie dinner out, video night). They actually handle that well as long as it's not all of the time.

Good luck with everything.