If there is anything synonymous with something that attempts to be helpful whilst at the same time being a total hindrance it is ‘Toddler’.
We have two of them, both try to be helpful with mixed results, but also for different reasons.
Our youngest son tries the hardest, but it less capable of doing anything other than cause his parents to gasp in horror at the incredible dangers he’s putting himself or something he shouldn’t have (TV, mobile phone, glasses, drinking glass, etc etc) in. The immediate, yet ill-thought-out, response being a barked “No!” resulting in total meltdown from the 2 year-old.
I’m sure most parents who have had to deal with a toddler will knowingly nod in empathy at having a child who has completely overreacted to a silly situation. So, what can we do to prevent his overreaction? After all most of the time he’s just trying to be helpful.
What we know we shouldn’t do is shout at him. This is a shortcut to inconsolable toddler meltdown. Unfortunately toddlers also have a way of being exactly where they should not be, holding exactly what they should not have, at the precise moment you have turned your back. So, not shouting is actually a conditioned response, it’s not a natural one.
Instead, we try to talk calmly to him, make a suggestion about something that he might want to do instead that is also helpful to us. e.g. instead of taking that full cup of water to your brother in the other room why don’t you go and tell your brother to come and get his drink? It doesn’t always work, he gets in his mind that he needs to do something to be helpful and any attempt to stop him or divert him ends in failure. It’s hilarious afterwards, but not so nice if you’re in public and dealing with a tantrum.
Hopefully in time he’ll learn to control and regulate his emotions, his reactions can be extreme but do fall into the realms of expected behaviour for his age. We do have to keep in mind something which we have been warned might be a possibility that may affect his ability to regulate, so his reactions are something we’re keeping an eye on.
His motivations for being helpful seem to be just that he’s learning and wants to do nice things for people, which is lovely. If he continues to want to be as helpful in years to come he will be an extremely nice boy that’s for sure, but I’m sure parents of teenagers will tell me that rarely happens!
Our eldest son is also a helpful boy. We get reports from nursery how he likes to help get the milk from the cool box and hand it out, and help the teachers with other tasks. On the face of it this is great, another lovely boy which, regardless of anything else, is nice to see and hear. What worries me is his motivation for being this helpful. For him it is a combination of craving attention and being compliant to the people around him.
What presents as ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ behaviour has a very abnormal reason behind it. His past experiences have taught him not to step out of line or he’ll get a toddleresque overreaction from the grown up in charge of him. He’s had fear instilled in him at a very young age. Even now, if he misbehaves, even unknowingly, if you raise your voice or even talk to him in a softest of stern voices you can see an element of that fear in his eyes. It has lessened and is almost gone, but it can be heartbreaking, and more than once I’ve caught that look when telling him off and softened what I’m saying mid-flow. It’s difficult.
The positive I can take from that is that the attention he is now craving is positive attention, and not any attention. This presents itself as being helpful, being compliant, and doing as he’s told (for the most part). He does argue back now which is reassuring if a bit frustrating, and I’ve talked about that in a previous blog post.
This is all a reminder that sometimes even good behaviour can be for the wrong reasons. We’ve missed the very influential early months of our eldest son’s life, and we can see the effects that they have had on him even now.
I think what we’re doing is working and having a positive effect on both boys, but really we won’t know until they are older. All we can do is what anyone can do, keep at it, adapt where necessary and hope for the best!