Well, we’ve hit the mark. The CONTRARY age. Man it drives me nuts. But it’s a sign of development and understanding self. I say yes, he says no. I say no, he says yes. I say up, he says down. I say stop, he says go. Just for the sake of battling, testing every limit or suggestion. They're like a super hero in the battle of wills. “I’m here and ready to challenge you!” Their little brains are thinking.
Just this week my sister was telling one of her swim moms about what we call an “ice cream fit”. One of her swimmers, we’ll call her Jill, was swimming in toddler class with mommy. She’s not quite 2. She saw a pink ball across the pool that she wanted yet was unable to use vocabulary to get it. So she squirmed, she shrieked, she bucked back and forth in her mom’s arms. Finally, my sister recognized the ball was what she wanted and got it for her. By this time Jill is frustrated at these adults. She receives the ball but it’s not exactly doing for her what she thought, it’s not as exciting as she thought. So since she was already half way into a fit, she proceeded to up it up a notch and take it to full on crying and screaming. No, she doesn’t want the ball now. No, she doesn’t want the tube, toy, fins, goggles, you name it! Mom is flustered. Where and what is happening to my sweet toddler? Well mom, welcome to the land of “stuck”. Stuck in wanting yet not wanting. Stuck in the yes when I meant no. Ugh. Jill’s mom asks my sister if she should take her out of the pool so she doesn’t disrupt other swimmers. My sister just replies, “This is an ice cream fit”.
“Jill, do you want a toy?”
“Jill, do you want a floaty?”
“Jill, do you want to get out?”
“Jill, do you want to stay in?”
“Jill, do you want ice cream?”
And so it goes. She has cut off her nose despite her face. It doesn’t matter what you offer. The answer is no. She is “Stuck”.
What can I do with my toddler or preschooler who is so contrary? Well, here are some tips:
1.Try not to ask “yes/no” questions. I tell my swim parents this one all the time. You’re setting yourself up, and them, for failure.
2. Choose battles carefully. And when you do. Make sure you win them! I’m talking big ones. Usually about safety or something worth it to you.
3. Offer choices when you can. But they need to know if they don’t make a decision then you will make it for them. Even choices can lead to a control issue.
4. No, kids don’t need to be in control. YOU, the parent are in control. Not children. Have fun with them, choices are given when appropriate. But toddlers and preschoolers do not have the cognitive reasoning to make day to day decisions. That includes: What to eat (candy!), when to sleep (never!), what to wear (shorts in 20 degree weather). Freedom comes as they get older and show maturity.
5. Give grace. Both to yourself and them. Parents can get just as stuck as their kids. Sometimes they really are having a bad day. Sometimes it’s tax season and parents are having a bad day. There’s room for forgiving, moving on and understanding they really do want the ice cream.
Just today, my 3 year old and I have been stuck in contrarianism. When he went to get his little snack in a cup, he realized there were no more cheese-its left. He was stuck with wheat thins while everyone of his siblings had cheese-its. Before I could get his siblings to share with him, he launches his snack of wheat thins on the ground, crying. Seeing his snack all over the place, broken and full of dirt. He proceeds to really lose it and now we are in full throttle hysteria.
Later, as we are getting out of the car, he insists that “only Mommy” can unbuckle him (control). Fine. I stand and wait for him to climb out of the car. Takes 4 minutes,37 seconds. (yes I timed it. This is more control.) As he’s getting out he hands me his blanky since it can’t come inside with us. I put it on his car seat. “No, not that one, put it in the back!” I can hear the high pitched need to control my every decision. Luckily I am no softy. Nope. It’s going right where I put it. So now he refuses to walk inside. I leave him there. Next to the car. In the parking lot. I walk away, about 20 feet, he screams, cries and comes running to me. Phew. I won this one. But now we get to the stair case to walk inside. Refuses to walk down by himself. Here. We. Go. Again. Every 20 feet a battle. Every thought, we are “stuck”.
I can appreciate his efforts. Yes it’s exhausting. But my job as mom is to not lose patience but to calmly guide my children. I love the tenacity (that will go far in life), I love teaching him he can’t always get what he wants, I love teaching him he’ll get more in life by cooperation and kindness, I love teaching him that I am going to love him no matter how big the fit, scream or tears. I just love him!