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Surviving the Terrible Whatevers

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

Remember when I wrote about Preston’s epic tantrums back in April, when he was 19 months old? And then again in August right before he turned 2, I wrote about these inner demons that seemed to be taking over his mind and body, rendering him (and me) inconsolable and slightly crazy? Sounds pretty harsh now looking back at those blogs, but I’m happy to report that Preston seems to be past his terrible twos, or whatever we’re calling them now. It's been about two months now that I’ve noticed him maturing before my eyes. And it’s been the most amazing thing to watch…

I tend to over-analyze his behaviors—let's be honest, I over-analyze everyone’s behaviors. (My husband likes to call me “Dr. Phil” when I go into my psychobabble.) I don’t read a lot of baby books or spend much time online reading about the different stages my son is going through (and I don’t watch Dr. Phil). I just pay close attention to him and what he’s telling me with his actions and reactions. He’s been my best source of info on how to be a parent, and I honestly feel that I understand him on such a deep level that I don’t need a book to tell me about my own kid (though this Parenting article I just stumbled across explains the different ages and stages very well). When he was going through the “terrible twos,” a term I know is debatable but I’m using it anyway, I knew his tantrums were coming from a place of frustration. How did I know this? Because I know my son is normally a very happy, sweet, adaptable kid—these tantrums were not characteristic of the child I’ve known, and raised, and loved.

It’s been incredible to watch this transformation happen—we’re finally at a place where we can reason with him. When we say “no” to him, it no longer sends him into a tailspin. He sulks for all of 10 seconds, we distract him with something else, and he gets over it. Just like that. The best is when he fakes us out: He’ll pretend he’s getting really upset and do this pouty thing with his mouth, it’s adorable, and we’ll wait breathlessly for a tantrum to start—then he erupts into laughter. The kid is already punking us.

And remember the obsessive teeth brushing? Not an issue anymore. We stuck to our guns on not letting him use all of the toothbrushes in our house, and now he no longer bothers asking for them. And what’s even better, he tells me when it’s time to brush his teeth at night; I let him pick from about four different colored toothbrushes in his bathroom, and he proudly brushes his own teeth, with a big smile on his face—like, “Look, Mommy, I can do it myself!”

He doesn’t need me to help him brush his teeth anymore. I'm actually not sure how I feel about that one.

Those six or seven months of the terrible whatevers have been the most trying months for us as parents so far—as a baby he was generally pretty easy, so we kind of had it coming. But more importantly it taught me how important patience is—parenting is all about patience. As hard as it was to remain calm during his fits, it’s the only thing you can do to help the situation (not that we always remained calm).

Trying to reason with him during a tantrum with questions like, “Why would you hit Daddy like that?” or “Why did you throw your letters on the floor?” don’t help get you any closer to a resolution. Trust me, I’ve tried. What does work? Spending a lot of quality time with him, regardless of what else is going on in my life; telling him how much I love him, ten thousand times a day; paying attention to him, and having infinite patience. It’s so logical: Isn’t that what we all want? To feel important, understood, appreciated and loved?

We all make mistakes as parents and lose our cool at times (um, a lot of times), but it’s the things we do right that have the biggest impact. My 2.3-year-old likes showing me he can brush his own teeth. He always tells me he loves me back. When we sing the A-B-Cs, he says, “Good job, Mommy!” And just like that, the tantrums become a blur...

(I realize I'll be referring back to this blog when the next age and stage sets in.)

How long did the terrible twos, or terrible whatevers, last for you? What methods have you found to be most effective for getting through the tantrums? Wine goes without saying...