A few months ago, the primary adjective I would have used to describe my son was “sweet.” While he’s still sweet most of the time, I have lately been periodically barraged by a cacophony of whining. I often wake up bleary, blinking to see a small person either yelling at me or just about to.
Lately, certain times of day are a series of efforts to hold off a meltdown. It had been mornings, which declined, only to be replaced by the return of the dreaded Bedtime and Middle of the Night Yelling. Sometimes I’m able to stave off the yammering by acknowledging his need promptly and responding in a reasonable period of time. I’m not going to drop everything – he needs to learn some patience – but I also want him to feel like I am listening. While less reliably effective than it had been, Dr. Harvey Karp’s Connect with Respect technique does help to an extent.
But some days, I just can’t help him. Sometimes it’s because I cannot under any circumstances figure out what the hell he wants. He’s up to more than 200 words, but that still leaves out a very large portion of the English language. This is an especially big barrier when he launches directly into whining with any prior indicator of need. I can’t parrot back what he wants if I can’t understand a word he’s saying. I’ve taken to looking him in the eye and telling him, “I can’t understand what you want. You need to use a different voice so I can understand you.” We’ve had mixed results. I think it works when he wants something specific and fails when he’s just randomly cranky, often under the influence of teething. Of course, it works the least at 4 AM, when neither of have any idea what we want except to go back to sleep.
Other times, we’re physically incapable of meeting his request, most often associated with the plea of “Up!!” Chris tried to explain to him recently that “No, you can’t go up into the tree to chase the squirrel.” We have a similar problem at the park, where he seems to believe that we have the ability to lift him up high enough to make a basket. As I’m simply not that tall and even the smallest basketball moves only inches from his fingers, it’s simply not practical. I lift him up into my shoulders, but that’s the best I can do.
Then there are other times that I simply won’t give him what he wants because it’s against our rules and values. We have zero tolerance for anything that purposely hurts another person, physically or mentally. Unfortunately, this sometimes conflicts with a toddler’s desire to have All the Things, All the Time, regardless of their actual owner. A few weeks ago, Chris had to physically extract our screaming toddler from the park for the first time because he stole someone else’s ball and refused to give it back. Thankfully, that’s been an isolated incident – so far.
Other times doing the action once is fine, but I don’t want to set a bad precedent. A few weeks ago, I allowed him to sit in my lap once while I was eating breakfast. For the next several days, he was obsessed with wanting to sit on my lap instead of his own chair. As I need my space and like eating my cereal without a small child’s fingers in it, I really didn’t want to make that part of my morning routine. Similarly, he often wants me to read to him in the morning, which I don’t have time to do and get to work at a reasonable hour. These are some of the toughest things because while he knows the schedule in general, he doesn’t understand context yet and is confused as to why sometimes some things are okay and other times they aren’t.
The worst part of the whining is that it’s incredibly emotionally draining. While the noise hurts my ears, the idea of it sets off my self-judgment. Even though I know he’s frustrated by the general unfairness of the world, the constant “Mamamamama” sure sounds like it’s condemning me. The third day of him screaming to sit on my lap, I actually started crying myself. Thank God his public meltdown was with Chris – I might have had one with him.
Thankfully, the whining is declining a little bit, as he starts to realize it isn’t very effective. I hope this self-control of ours is going to pay off soon because I might need to invest in earplugs otherwise.