Coping with the Terrible Twos Part 2: On the toddler side

In the previous post I wrote about things that are helping me maintain a semblance of sanity. Here, I’m noting down some tips and ideas that are of help while dealing with Rumi.

  1. Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are a result of and also result in great frustration. Rumi gets frustrated because she wants to do an activity on her own but is unable to do so, or she is trying hard to tell me something but I am unable to understand it. I get frustrated because I am trying hard to make sense of a lot of gibberish, knowing all the while that with every ticking minute, it’s getting worse and worse. While tantrums are sometimes triggered off by the most random, unexpected, hilarious things that we cannot always predict, there are a few things that have helped me control Rumi’s tantrums effectively.

The first cardinal rule is to never, ever laugh at a tantrum. Sometimes we can’t help it, the whole thing seems sooo funny to us – Rumi flat on the floor because the large block wouldn’t balance on top of the small block, but to her, it is a very real, serious thing. No matter how trivial it is, it helps to make eye contact and listen seriously like you would to an adult. So whenever you sense a tantrum coming up, sit your toddler at eye level and talk to them in a firm but loving tone (they can pick up on your impatience and irritability like magic and it makes things worse).

Encourage your child to talk about feelings and emotions. A really fantastic book that helped us with this is “Happy” by Mies van Hout. It has gorgeous illustrations and one word emotions such as “curious” and “jealous” and “brave”. We started using it when Rumi was 18 months old and decided upon an action for each word. Now Rumi uses the book very well to tell us that she is “angry” or “irritated” using the book as reference. Older children can also be asked to draw how they are feeling.

Also, I always ask Rumi to choose between two things to eat, wear etc. rather than ask her an open ended question such as “What do you want to eat?” as such questions very often lead to frustration on her part as she doesn’t quite know how to frame the answer. Moreover, this way she can be guided (manipulated?!) into doing something I want her to do rather than getting her own way by replying “chocolates”! And she feels like she gets to choose.

I have never used a naughty mat or chair in the corner, though many parents find it to be an effective tool for controlling misbehavior. I have found that in this age, Rumi really needs me to be around when she is losing it and leaving her alone has often aggravated things. Also, she doesn’t really quite get why kicking or hitting is wrong, she is merely doing different things to see our reaction, more than make us mad. However, if you find yourself losing your cool, it is a good idea to leave the room for a few minutes and then come back and hold your child.

  1. Picky Eating

I have written a whole, separate post on mealtime tussles in our house (read it here) and can still go on and on about fussy eating habits.

One thing I have really learned is to stop focusing on the weight chart as a health development milestone and focus on good eating habits that will hopefully stay with Rumi for life. I grew up eating most of my meals in front of the TV and I honestly still like to do that, but I want things to be different for Rumi. I want mealtimes to become family time, where we eat at the table and talk about the day. I want Rumi to try new foods and new flavours instead of serving a one-bowl meal that I stuff into her mouth while she is watching something on my phone. This is really hard for the grandmoms to get; the MIL keeps on saying that “hya vayaat mula ashich khatat” (this is how all kids eat at this age) whereas my mom flat out refuses to listen to me and does exactly what she likes (iPad, games, everything and anything that makes Rumi mindlessly open her mouth is allowed). It really makes them feel good that Rumi has finished off an entire bowl and my feeble attempts at explaining how she had only chatkor chapatti at home but ate the bhaji happily is like water off a duck’s back.

And this is the big problem with parenting: how do you really know what is indeed the best thing? I have experienced my heart falling into my shoes on more than one occasion when I see plumper babies and see how small Rumi is in comparison. But the pediatrician and common sense (in the form of my husband’s voice) usually come to the rescue and I can see that skinny need not be synonymous with unhealthy.

And although, it is really tempting to watch TV during dinnertime, especially since Masterchef Australia and Friends are on, I try my best to convince myself that good eating habits are worth investing in, in the long run. So, at least four times a week, we eat at the table and Rumi eats whatever we eat, at dinnertime. She is allowed to use her fingers, slurp, lick and yes, drop a little too. There is plenty of time for table manners later.

  1. Bedtime Battles

Rumi hates to be taken to the dark, quiet bedroom and leave all the excitement and light and TV outside. What with all that boundless energy, waiting for her to tire herself out would probably mean waiting until the wee hours of the morning. On the other hand, it is not possible to expect my husband or other members of the family to turn off all the lights and get into bed at nine. The trick, we learned, is to make the whole bedtime ritual a lot more fun by including some activities that are especially reserved for bedtime so that it becomes something to look forward to.

For example, we have an owl hand-puppet from Hamleys that only comes out at night for storytelling. Also, some favorite books are reserved for bedtime. (Love you Forever by Robert Munsch is a big hit here!). Special dinosaur pajamas, radium stars on the ceiling or a musical night lamp, anything that makes bedtime fun and interesting works.

Also, once Rumi is in the bedroom, I don’t really fret about what time she actually falls asleep. I allow her to wind down at her own pace – she is allowed to indulge in quiet activities like drawing, looking at her picture cards or playing with her pillows till her eyes start to close.

This ‘bedroom time’ has really helped her associate ‘getting into pajamas’ with something that is positive and fun rather than dull and boring.

 

  1. Multimedia Clashes

I want to say right at the outset that I am very, very against kids using tablets and phones and the like. My husband likes to download different Apps for Rumi and loves to see her excitement when she uses them but I hate to see her with her nose almost touching her iPad, oblivious to sounds around her, stuck to one place for hours. I hate it when people exclaim and find it clever that she unlocks and swipes the iPad screen with ease and goes to whichever App she wants. (‘intuitive learning’ beams my husband and I just want to throw the damn thing out of the window!).

I know, I know that “technology is a tool” and a “powerful” one and that it can be used very effectively when used “wisely”. But it is just so damn addictive! How can a poor blank sheet of paper and a few crayons hope to compete with a screen filled with colors, sounds and touch? Once kids are hooked on to it, there are very few other things that they’d rather do.

There is lots of research that speaks against the use of electronic media for children but again, a lot of evidence to show how it benefits children so there is really no solution to the ongoing debate in our house but compromise.

We have not introduced Rumi to the TV or to cartoons yet. My husband is dying to take her for a movie so that’ll probably happen this week on one of their ‘dates’.  Rumi loves to watch songs on the iPad and videos on our phones. I try to limit such things to “emergency” situations like doctors’ waiting rooms or long car trips.

In my opinion, TV or games on the phone should never be offered as rewards. They should also never become an integral part of the child’s schedule, where the timing of a particular show decides where to eat, when to head out etc. Naturally, this means doing it yourself first. I cannot zonk out with the remote control in hand and expect Rumi to sit down with a book. To try and avoid using the TV and phone as much as I can, I have one night a week I sit up to plan activities for every day of the week (this is the same time I plonk down in front of the TV and watch to my heart’s content!).

My take on this: limit TV, phone and tablet time as far as possible and lead by example!

 

  1. Dressing Dramas

For all the wisdom that I have passed on in the points above, I have absolutely no gyaan here because the dressing dramas at our place have reached an all-time new low: they include not just the half an hour spent in running behind the child like a screaming banshee brandishing her shorts and T-shirts in the air, but Rumi wailing and insisting that she and I BOTH remain “nangu”. And let me just be very clear here: my husband and I are not nudists and we do not remain naked within the private confines of our apartment so I have no idea in hell how she has got that! It’s bad enough that she wants to be nangu all the time but to point at me and scream “Nangu ho na” in a park? Words fail me. Any advice or input would be much appreciated!

From Mission Weight-Gain-Rumi to Mission Just-Chill

It happens to me every time we visit the pediatrician. I become a hawk. I can physically feel the transition happening, from tiny, over-smiley young woman to hawk-woman, watching any child that is plumper than Rumi with cold, calculating eyes and running my tongue over my lips (err… beak – do birds have tongues?) Then I politely turn to the mother and enquire very, very casually about the child’s age. If the baby is older than Rums by even a few days I sigh with relief (of course she’s chubbier, she had two whole days extra!) But hawk-woman quickly transforms into a panic-stricken flapping pigeon if the child in question happens to be of the same age, or in many cases even younger than my daughter. A quick pressed-lip glance at Abhi follows, who has obviously come to expect it after having known me for six years. He smiles kindly, reassuringly. At the first given opportunity, he will tell me “Trust me sweetie, the weight does not matter. Look how active she is, how happy!” “Hmmmph active!” I snort. “Active is the go-to word for every mum with a skinny or not-so-plump child.”

When Rumi is put on the weighing scale in the doctor’s office, I can feel the beads of sweat on my upper lip. As the doctor maps her progress on the growth chart I need a hanky to mop my forehead.

“Are you alright, Mrs. Purandare?” the doctor asks kindly.

“Well, her weight has only increased by 400 grams in the last three months” I blurt out desperately.

He guffaws loudly and at this moment I am convinced that we need a new pediatrician.

“When was the last time you checked your weight in grams?” he asks.

“It’s just that I can see her growth curve dropping, it was rising upward and now it has started to drop a little” I reply in what I hope is a cold and dignified voice. He smiles again.

“She’s just burning more calories, now that she’s more active.” Oh how I hate that word! “But if you worry about weight gain, try giving her some high-calorie foods. Potatoes, cheese, even ice-cream.” (I have never given Rumi sugar even once up till now). I smile weakly and we leave.

Next morning it is Mission-Weight-Gain-Rumi – Mission WGR , I say grimly – and Abhi shakes his head knowing that the time ahead is going to be difficult for him. I make Rumi’s kheer with extra jaggery and ghee in it. There it is, brown ragi, positively swimming in fatty goodness. Except that my baby won’t open her mouth. She’s clamped it tightly shut and not even her favorite Fluffy Chicks story is making her open it. I goad, make funny faces, sing “Old McDonald’s” – but nothing.” “Try Mission-Have-Fun-With-Rumi instead” remarks Abhi wryly as he leaves, ignoring my glare. “Maushi, jaude, tichi nehmichi bin-goad kheer aana” (“bring her regular non-sweet porridge”) I scream at the maid. Now my baby gobbles away happily and I fume away, letting my coffee grow cold.

This continues over the next couple of weeks. Rumi refuses to eat mashed potatoes with cheese, vanilla ice-cream or rawa suji. She’s happy to stick to her usual dal-rice, carrots and beetroots. I’m continually fretful and dejected. Abhiraj and Shobha Maushi tiptoe when they’re around me. Mealtimes stop being fun. It takes over an hour to chase Rumi all over the house to get her to eat a few spoons of high-calorie stuff as opposed to a bowl of varan-bhaat that she samples in 10 minutes. It has definitely stopped being fun.

At the next pediatrician’s visit I march into the office and grimly drop Rumi onto the weighing scale. Surprisingly she’s back on track with her weight. A very temporary fluctuation, as is common with all kids. Abhiraj’s sigh of relief is much louder than mine, the ordeal is over.

Now that I have no reason to be a worried, nervous wreck (only till something new comes by, but still!), I can stop to pause and think about it. Healthy is important, but when did fat become a priority for me? Especially since, as an adult I always want to lose it from various parts of my body?

I think all moms in India feel like this or rather, are MADE to feel like this. The words “chubby” and “healthy” are used interchangeably, as if they were synonyms. Aajis, Ajobas, Kakas, Kakus – the entire Brady Bunch of relatives wants to see a fat baby. “Kitttnnnaaa dubla hua re mera baccha, Allu kuch khilati nahi kya usko?” (“Look hoooowww thin my poor baby’s looking, Allu don’t you feed her properly?”) remarks my own Phuppi, every time we visit her. Her remarks always upset me and I fret the entire day about how my baby doesn’t gain weight. No amount of rationalizing helps, and I end up almost in tears wondering why my baby isn’t fat.

There are millions of other moms in the same boat. Some get defensive (Oh he’ s just become taller and he’ s sooo active!), others complain and fret about it (She just won’t eat, I don’t know what to do!) and I even know some mothers that hound doctors for a ‘tonic’ that will “increase appetite”!

I am about an inch away from doing the same myself when I chance upon this wonderful book called My Child Won’t Eat. Oh, if only I could squeeze Dr. Carlos González into a bear hug for his writings! All you worried mommies, just grab a copy and read it, read it, read it!

Dr. González doesn’t encourage making food into funny shapes for children or trying to hide vegetables or making plane noises. He believes in giving children healthy options and then leaving them to it: no coercion, no punishments for not eating, nothing. His basic philosophy when it comes to feeding your infant/child is to chill out, parents!  Society pressures us to feed them sooner and more than they really need or even is good for them.  A baby’s stomach is so small, it should be obvious why they might start crying halfway through their meal – they’re stuffed!  Another point he makes is that the growth charts we use today do not take into account the parent’s genetics:  I’m small (and was very small as a child), my husband is small (and was very small as a child), so how realistic is it for me to expect Rumi to be otherwise?

Funny and sensible, the book makes me weep with relief and laugh at myself. Abhiraj is delighted when I open the door with a maniacal grin instead of a worried frown. It’s Mission-Just-Chill I inform him. He laughs and peace prevails at B-301 Anurag Society, if only for the time being.

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