Parenting a toddler tip # 7: Overreact….

Say what??
(A recent episode which involved an earnest request for multiple hair accessories and wearing my jewelry, quickly followed by great frustration over having multiple hair accessories and wearing my jewelry. We call this piece: “from zero to nero in 10 seconds”.)
Miss Ellabeth is a very dramatic young lady. She is constantly “on”.  Her fake cry/smile/concern/fear/remorse are all Oscar worthy. She’s a ham. She s a big fat faker.  And we love every minute of it. We think it is hilarious and adorable and cute. Right now. She is 18 months old and pretty much everything is cute.  Talk to me in say…6 months when she is two, and  it is obnoxious and hugely off-putting. But right now, it’s pretty cute and so I work with what I have.
I have recently found that the best way to react to Ella’s ever more frequent episodes of  overly dramatic displeasure or disapproval are to react in kind. Yes, that’s right. Match her. Freak out for freak out.
(I realize this flies in the face of every parenting manual you have ever read, and what do I know. Nevertheless…read on.)
For instance: yesterday I took Ella to Hobby Lobby. Of late I have been a stupid and overindulgent mother, (I blame the head injury) and have allowed her to escape the confines of the cart in certain stores which has pleased her greatly. (Truly short sighted and shoddy parenting, yes, I am aware.)  But yesterday, I was feeling strong, well fed, well rested and fairly emotionally stable, and so I decided I was going to pretend to be a good parent and that being in Hobby Lobby aka Land of Breakable Glass Tzotckes was as good a time as any to reinstitute Ella Stay in the Cart Rules. 
Well. Ella was shocked and dismayed. Understandably so. Rightfully so.
She screamed in protest as a deposited her little round bottom firmly onto the hard plastic seat and bucked like a bronco as I awkwardly fed her fat little thighs through the leg holes. And when she saw I remained unmoved, she graduated to heaving sobs of deep despair.
We had the attention (and commentary) of the entire store, but instead of doing what I generally do in these circumstances (fake being the calm and rational adult with a frozen smile who distractedly says, “ssshhhh..shhhhh….inside voice” whilst skidding around the store on two wheels, throwing random things desperately into the cart), I decided to call her bluff. And raise her one.
As she threw her head back and bellowed like wounded young rhino, I put on my most genuine expression of empathetic horror and with all the sympathy I could muster cried, “Oh NO you POOR THING, I feel so bad for you! This is not what you thought the new rule is. This is truly unfair, but unfortunately it is necessary. I’m really so very sorry my baby.”
Now of course, she did not understand most of the content, what she did understand was my unexpected display of seemingly genuine sympathy in stark contrast to my usual display of indifference or detachment (even though I assure you I feel neither detached or indifference at these times).  For a moment she was distracted from her earnest endeavor to enter the Banshee Hall of Fame,  and stopped to stare at me, quizzically. I did not break character.
Then she resumed crying. This was my cue to gather her into my bosom (not a particularly easy feat with her remaining in the cart understand, but I find if you lean forward far enough…) and again murmer through a strangled sob of my own, “oh, my poor poor baby, I feel so bad for you, your life really is very, very difficult and I feel so bad about that”. 
At this point the angry wails lowered several decibels, and became mournful sobs as she snuggled into my bosom. We must have been quite a sight, groaning in anguish together, locked in awkward embrace, my bosom growing ever soggier,  as we strolled the aisles of discount Halloween décor…
In an instant, something magical had occurred. We were not the victim and the bully, we were co-commiserators.  We were not in conflict, we were on the same side. She saw me as someone who felt her pain, deeply and was possibly even more regretful about the situation than she was. She was appeased. Perhaps she even felt an ounce or two of sympathy for ME. In a few minutes she lost interest in the mournful sobbing, and lifted her head off my chest to glance at her surroundings. Indeed, she had to employ her considerable acting skills to remember to throw in a sad hiccup or gasp every now and again as her interest turned to all the pretty shiny, yummy looking things that were juuuuust outside of her grasp.
I have continued this response ever since. Don’t want your diaper changed? I can quite understand! Who would?! It moves me to tears quite frankly!  Feel that the wait for oatmeal is ridiculously long? Me too! It’s an outrage! I mean an infant like yourself could easily STARVE as we wait for the water to boil! Bubble Guppies not on the TV? I couldn’t be more angry about that either! I beat my breast in protest!
Now people, look, I have five kids. The oldest is 14. If there is one thing I have learned about parenting (and truly, I have only learned about 3 things in all this time so I ‘aint no expert), is that nothing works forever and one thing most certainly does not work for every child. I have a kid or two who would have become even more enraged and/or encouraged into even worse behaviour with this approach. But for this kid, at this time, exaggerated empathy is the answer.
Not to mention that it is a heck of a lot more fun than pretending to be calm and mature.
In closing I leave you with the tail end of a lengthy and loud tirade Ella saw fit to bestow upon her elder brothers, who had been involved in some sort of altercation.  I look forward to Broadway.

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3 comments: said...

You are the coolest mother in the history of EVER.

robin said...

That is SOOOO funny! I'm glad it is working! Loved the video - she's precious!

DianeSS said...

You crack me up, Kirsty. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall!