I read a book on early childhood development once that said children go through spurts of development, rather than regular, gradual progressions. During these spurts children are faced with a new version of themselves, with new abilities and perspectives, and it can take time for them to adjust. The author referred to these periods as “disequilibrium” and noted that it can be a challenging time for parents. As the kids try to work through the changes in themselves, it can often manifest in behaviours that are disruptive and unpleasant. It seems to take approximately six months for the child to adjust, and then life seems quieter and more predictable for a while – these are the periods of “equilibrium”.
I’ve noticed that this pattern seems to hold for DD. Starting around the time she was 34 months, until she was around 40 months we went through a huge adjustment process as I was faced with behaviours I didn’t know how to deal with. I have to say that for some time now things with DD have been pretty good – the usual types of “mis”-behaviours that I know how to deal with (sometimes I don’t always deal with it the way I know I should, but I am clear on how I wish to handle it). But I think we may be headed for another period of disequilibrium.
For the last few days I’ve noticed that DD has begun a new set of behaviours. It’s the same ol’ situation – she’s got restless energy, a negative kind of energy that only seems to release itself in ways that aggravate everybody around her. She gets sassy and bossy, she repeats an annoying behaviour (like, say, poking me or her brother) over and over again as though she were stuck on “auto repeat”. I’m familiar with this scenario, but what has escalated recently is the ways she releases this energy and the degree to which she is able to seriously push our buttons. There is a certain tone to her voice, a maniacal quality to her laugh, and a frantic energy to her movements in these moments that makes me feel like I want to scream and run away and lock myself in a room. Worse, it makes me feel as though I hate that part of her and I then have to struggle through those feelings to recognize where they come from and why, so that I can allow them to flow through me and out of me.
My parenting philosophy is no punishments, no “consequences”, and no bribes. With some thought, and a bit of trial and error, I can usually figure out an appropriate response that stays within my values yet is effective. In the past I’ve found that engaging DD in some other activity during these times is the best solution, but I confess I don’t always have it in me to do so. Tonight has been particularly challenging, because I haven’t had a chance to think about the appropriate responses to some of the stuff she’s been doing, and in those situations I tend to fall back on my knee-jerk responses, which include scolding, lecturing, and threatening. But I feel that now I’ve recognized that we are entering a new period of disequilibrium I can be on my toes a bit more and give some thought to how best to handle these new behaviours.
Of course, it doesn’t help that it’s been weeks since I’ve had a break. I haven’t been to knitting group for the last two weeks, my mother wasn’t able to babysit last week b/c she was sick. I have not been away from my kids for two weeks. I’m sure this has something to do with it.
Fortunately I am getting tomorrow afternoon off – DH is taking a half day off work so I can head out to the university and do some research for a Pro Bono case I need to finish. I’m going to meet up with a girlfriend for coffee, stop in at my department to network (I may need a forensic pathologist for an upcoming case), and basically enjoy the sorts of priviledges that only mothers with young children can appreciate. Things like going to the bathroom when you need to, and without an audience. Being able to buy a cup of coffee and take it with you (between two kids and all their paraphenalia, I never have a free hand with which to do so). Sitting in blissful silence while studying a paper. Talking to another adult without a child yanking on your arm or interrupting every five minutes. Walking freely, at a comfortable rhythm, without having to stop every two minutes to examine a flower, or grudgingly allow a peice of broken plastic or brightly coloured trash to be placed in the “treasure pocket”.
I’m very much looking forward to it!