Invasion of the body snatchers – toddler edition

Oh dear friends of mine on the inter webs, I’m losing my mind. I’m tired, and I’m frustrated, and I’m feeling like a lousy parent. Apparently, we’ve entered the fabled ‘terrible twos.’

Up until 2 weeks ago, give or take, kidlet was a joyful and amenable child. He happily (for the most part, nothing is ever perfect) got undressed for bath time, and into his jammies for bed. And he’d pick out his clothes in the morning without much fuss. He might have wanted a little extra time at the playground, or one more book at bedtime, but really, where’s the rush in life? I could deal with that.

We went to California on vacation over Christmas, and he had a great time. No bedtime, haphazard naps, tons of stimulation, more tv than I’ve watched in 15 years…it was his own personal amusement park. So when we got home and started to bring back the routine, there was resistance. I understand that, no one likes to come back from all that fun and have to get up in the morning. The time change from West to East is a killer. It takes me days to adjust. So I figured after a few days, he’d adjust and be back to ‘himself.’

And then he stayed up one night with a croupy cough. And then a few days later spiked a pretty good fever. So he stayed home from daycare with me. And we lounged around in our pjs, and routine was relaxed. And then one morning he didn’t want to get dressed, or go outside, or have his diaper changed. Any of the stuff one must do with a toddler on a regular basis. But I chalked it up to still adjusting from vacation, and then not feeling well because he was sick.

It’s been two weeks y’all. EVERY.SINGLE. diaper change, wardrobe change, bath time, and change of scenery (inside to outside, outside to inside) has been met with fervent, “No, I don’t wanna…” and tears.

And I don’t know what to do. At first I stepped back. Figured it would work itself out. It used to be that if he didn’t want to do something, and I walked away from it, in a minute or two he’d decide to do whatever it was on his own, and we could go on our merry way. Well, that failed miserably. That approach got me 2 hours of trying to get my kid dressed and out the door before finding success. I’m sure I’m not the first person this has happened to, but damn…I’m unequipped.

I didn’t want to hold him down to get him dressed, or undressed. I don’t want to parent him that way. I don’t want to restrain him, or raise my voice to him, or let my frustration with the situation get the best of me. But I couldn’t figure anything else out. So, for nearly 2 weeks, I’ve been pulling clothes off a screaming, crying, kicking two year old. AND I HATE IT. I hate it. It makes me want to cry. And, I think it’s become it’s own reward.

I’m afraid that the dynamic of conflict has become a reinforcement of the behavior. And, dear Maude, does that worry me.

WHAT DO I DO? How do I fix this? How do I change this? How do I peacefully guide my kid into a much needed diaper change?

Sometimes I think, well…does he have to get dressed? What’s the harm in him going out in his pjs? It’s cold out, but we have shoes that fit over them, and a coat is a coat is a coat. College kids everywhere have adopted pjs as a sort-of uniform, why can’t my kid? Stop fighting this battle. But then I think, I can’t send my kid to daycare every day in his jammies. It’s not their job to get him dressed. And why should I abdicate responsibility for something that I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to do because it’s easier for me. If he wants to sleep in the clothes that we somehow managed to get him into that morning, so what? Dirt washes off sheets just as easily as it does clothes and bodies. No big deal. How many days would he go in the same clothes?

There’s the diaper thing though. We flirted with potty learning a few weeks ago, but it was short lived. He started to fight it, so we decided to wait and try again later. He’s still not expressing any interest in using the potty – so he HAS to have his diaper changed about 4 times a day. It’s not really negotiable. And I hold him down. MOAR BATTLE PLEASE.

We’ve tried distracting him – it used to work like a champ. “Look! Shiny object! Ooohhh!” but now, he’s pretty much on to us. A friend of mine suggested some Yo Gabba Gabba segments that are available on You Tube, and those have helped a great deal the last 2 days. And I might be willing to use those until he moves out, if I have to. But I also feel like I should (I loathe that word, but it’s exactly how I feel) be doing something differently. I guess I feel that way mostly because I don’t like how I do feel. Which is frustrated, and tired, and sort of like a crappy parent.

So, those of you who have come before me – what advice do you have for this struggling mama?

I hear there are boarding schools for toddlers in Europe….

(Also, I’m quite confident I’m not a lousy parent. I just feel…ill equipped to deal with this new challenge so it makes me feel all crappy and sucktastic.)

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Invasion of the body snatchers – toddler edition

  1. MistressofBoogie

    I have absolutely no useful advice whatsoever, despite going through this very same thing with Boogie some years ago. I can’t remember much about it (blocked it all out), but I seem to recall that I lived through it with the motto ‘if you can make ’em laugh…’. Yes, I basically turned into a court jester for the duration. With occasional shouting, obviously. I am not a saint.
    If you do find any miracles, let me know; L’il Boo is morphing as we speak…

  2. Jay

    I know families who routinely put the kids in tomorrow’s clothes after bath. They sleep in them, get up, and go off to school. Eve never fussed about putting on PJs but if she had, I would have adopted this method in a minute. As long as they’re sleeping, who cares what they wear? These days, at 11, Eve sleeps in her clothes about half the time. Since she now perspires like a teenager, I do require a change of shirt in the morning, so she sleeps in yesterday’s clothes and changes before school.

    The episode you’re describing sounds very familiar to me. With Eve as a small child, it mostly happened when she was working on a developmental leap. She’d be cranky and oppositional for a couple of weeks and then she’d do something new, and the crankiness would resolve. That didn’t help “fix” the behavior, but it did help my perspective.

    As far as holding the kid down, sometimes you have to. I didn’t like it, either, but some days you gotta. I found that my intention mattered a great deal to me. I don’t know if it made any difference to Eve, but it was different for me to hold with love in order to keep her safe than to hold out of frustration and irritation. Sometimes I had to wait until I could get my own emotions under control.

    Breathe. You are a great mom. This is how it goes.

  3. Oh, I am so right there with you. Except for us it’s the Terrible Threes. Same frustrations, same behavior. “I don’t WANNA!” In fact, he “didn’t wanna” so badly the other day he actually threw a plastic stool at Tasha’s head. My go-to strategies (ideally) are firmness and consistency. It’s hard being firm – literally brings tears to my eyes – but caving him or bribing him or being flexible just seem to result in worsening behavior. So when he throws a fit, I walk away until all the mad is out and he’s ready to be comforted. Trying to comfort him during a fit makes it worse. And sometimes they last for awhile (hour or so). They seem to crave consistency at this age so I explain to him each night what the following day will bring. Unfortunately, he can’t sleep in his school clothes anymore because he wears a uniform, but I used to do that trick. He also gets a “car snack” each morning that he enjoys carrying to the car. And yes, many days it is a small lollipop. Because we are on a tight schedule every weekday morning, I use bribery and distraction still. But the rest of the time, I let him have his fits. A friend of mine takes a giant bag and starts putting her daughter’s toys in it as she has a fit and then only releases a toy back at a time when she shows good behavior (her child is four, though) and apparently, that’s worked well for her. I hate being the disciplinarian instead of the comforting mommy, but this, too, shall phase as they move into a phase that is less challenging – or brings it’s different set of challenges, I should say. Hang in there. You are not alone!!

  4. Robyn

    OK, so my advice is probably a lot different than most peoples, as i follow Unconditional Parenting, which in the simplist terms is all about how the relationship between the parent and child is the most important thing, and that kids need to feel unconditionally loved, meaning not manipulated, bribed, or punished into doing what we want them to do. So…keep that in mind when i give my advice 🙂

    My dd is almot 3, and we have yet to get to the “terrible” any age. she’s generally very well behaved, although has very strong opinions. i honor them as best i can, and when i can’t, i make sure i have a valid reason and explain it to her in a way she can understand. For example, if she doesn’t get a bath every other day, her lady parts get red and sore, so when she doesn’t want a bath that day, i explain that she has to clean her vagina in the bath or it will get sore. i explain that we can skip all other washing, but she must at least sit in the water for few minutes to clean her vagina. she seems to understand what i say and always agrees to it.

    so maybe you can try something similar with diaper changes. explain that he must have his diaper changed so that his parts (whatever you call them) stay clean and don’t get sore. i’d also explain that if he doesn’t want to do diaper changes anymore, he can start going on the potty. kids understand way more than most people give them credit for. you could also try the pull on diapers, if it’s that he objects to laying down. i’d tell him we have to change his diaper, but that we can wait a few minutes until he is ready. i’d give him a chance to come to terms with it and decide he’s ready.

    as far as the jammies, we went through a phase recently where my dd wore jammies to daycare at least 3 days a week. we told daycare they could change her clothes if she wanted them changed, but that we were perfectly fine with her staying in jammies. they didnt’ seem to care. to me, this is not a fight worth having with my dd. she’s 2.5…she doesn’t sweat much and doesn’t get dirty while sleeping, so i don’t see what the big deal is.

    • This is mostly what we were doing until a few weeks ago, when it all went to hell. And it was literally overnight that it happened. And I was so blindsided by it that I processed it all wrong. And am still not happy with how I’m handling it. We’ve been doing a LOT of bribery. Which I don’t like. But I’ll rationalize for now with, I’m exhausted. It’s a terrible rationalization to offer, and one I’m embarrassed by, but it’s true. I’m busier at work that I have been in months, and the kid and I can’t seem to find peace with ANYTHING, and he’s slept through a night about 5 times in a month. And he’s still fighting this cold. I’m hopeful that once the cold is gone and the sleep is better (though, bedtime has regressed by powers of magnification I can’t even name), we’ll find a better place. Yesterday we didn’t have anything we had to do, and he resisted a diaper change, so I said he was welcome to be diaper-free, and would he let me know when we was ready to put one on? So for the next 20 minutes he played, and then told me he wanted his diaper, and as soon as I would get ready to put it on, he was change his mind and run away. It turned into a game. I don’t know how to respect what he wants, and listen to his needs without feeling like the back and forth is a game.

      • Robyn

        I’m willing to bet that you being stressed with work and lack of sleep is probably the biggest reason for this change. I’m totally not blaming you…it’s the reality of life. I have noticed that whenever my DD is acting out more than usual, is more clingy, doesn’t sleep well, and is generally tougher to deal with, it’s exactly the same time that i am stressed with something not even related to her. Like when i got pregnant, and when my DH switched to the night shift, and when i was stressed about finishing up school. She is so in touch with my feelings. i really feel like we are still connected emotionally like we were when she was a baby. she always get stressed out when i am stressed out. i get it now, and that has made a huge difference for us. Now when i notice she’s being extra difficult and clingy, i take a few minutes to calm myself and realize that i’m the one who’s attitude needs to change. Once i do that, and give her the extra reassurance and attention she has been asking for, everything gets better. i believe that most of the time, the acting out, is just their way of showing you they need something. if you figure out what it is, and work on that, the behavior problems usually go away. it’s tough though. it’s hard to stay patient and rational, but you get better at it the more you practice.

        also, i really don’t think it’s unhealthy or bad, or whatever for toddlers to have tantrums. that realization was huge for me. i used to try and not upset her and would get stressed out every time she was upset. actually, DH still has a hard time with this. now, i understand that she has really big emotions that need to get out, and my job isn’t to fix everything for her, but to support her through it…let her know i still love her even when she’s angry at me or whatever. she needs to feel safe having these big feelings and letting them out, or else they build up and it’s just a vicious cycle. so, now the tantrums really don’t stress me out. yes, it was really embarrassing when she had a 10 minute tantrum about leaving daycare yesterday, but when it was over, i felt fine and she felt better. i wasn’t stressed or angry or anything. i realized that she was upset about leaving because she was having fun. i get that. so i just kept repeating that i know she doesn’t want to leave, i know she was having fun with her friends, and i continued to put on her coat and put her in the car. she fought and kicked and pushed and cried, but by the time i was ready to buckle her seat belt, she had stopped crying and calmly asked for a cookie (she usually gets a cookie when we leave daycare and i had forgotten to grab it on our way out). we got the cookie and went on with our day.

        sorry this is so long.

        one final thing, do you know what about the diaper changes bothers him? does he hate lying down for it? does he just not want to stop playing? you could try preemptively saying, “i know you are having fun playing right now, so let’s hurry up and get that diaper changed into a nice clean one so you can get back to playing.” say it firmly but nicely, just kind of matter of factly, like there really is no other option. sometimes that helps my dd. sometimes she needs to feel like i am in control. sometimes when i give too many choices, she starts to feel insecure because i’m not being the parent and she doesn’t know what to do. it’s a balancing act i do between giving her choices so that she feel like she has some control, and also knowing when to be the parent and let her know that i am in charge, so she doesn’t need to be.

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