The classic recommendation for giving toddlers some feeling of control over their lives is to offer two choices, both of which you as parents can live with. So lately we have been offering Will a choice: Play a little longer and shower with Rob (since Rob-and-Will showers take about two minutes max) or clean up slightly earlier and take a bath (with all the bath toys and dawdling that that choice involves).
Lesson to us: these sorts of choices, which wind up having ramifications that last minutes beyond the initial decision are no good for Will. He’s a toddler, so he chooses immediate gratification (play longer, take a shower) and then regrets it (Aaaaahhhh!! Should have chosen the bath). “I changed my mind!” he yells. For two nights running he’s had a short little tantrum (including tears all through the shower) about not getting to take a bath.
Tonight as I was drying off his still barely sobbing body, I asked him if he thought it would work better if we had set shower nights and bath nights and daddy would tell him which night it was. That way he wouldn’t have to worry about “changing his mind.” “Tell Daddy,” Will said. And he proceeded to tell him himself: “We’ll have shower nights and bath nights. Won’t that be a good plan?” Then he added, unsolicited from us: “I’m going to use my words. I’m not going to do any of these tantrums anymore.” Déjà vu from two nights ago when he said he’d outgrown the big T-storms.
As we walked into his bedroom he said, “Something is making me do these tantrums. Something is making me do these tantrums. I wonder what is making me do these tantrums,” as if he truly felt it was something out of his control. And then he stumbled upon the possible agent: “Maybe it’s a raccoon making me do these tantrums – but raccoons don’t fight. Oh yeah raccoons DO fight.” (Just yesterday on a walk to the park we had seen one raccoon aggressively pushing his way into a hollowed tree, right on the heels of a raccoon that went before him -- and Will had wondered if they were fighting. So fighting raccoons are fresh in his mind.) “I think it’s a raccoon making me fight,” he said.
Minutes later as I told him we’d reached our quota for nighttime books, he was just beginning to cry in protest, when I grabbed him tight and said into his ear “Don’t let those raccoons get you.” And suddenly, magically he stopped, happy I guess that I’d bought into his crazy logic and content to read just one book.
I’d love to think I could just pull out that phrase and shoo away the tantums from now on, but I’m under no delusions. We’ll probably be fighting rabid raccoons for a while to come.