By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
At my house, up is down. Down is up. Black is white and night is day. Everything that used to be true is decidedly false and most things that used to be a “no-no” have now morphed into “yes, you go right ahead.” Why, you ask? Because we have a 2-year-old in the house. That’s why.
Trust me, I’ve seen this before and there’s a method behind the madness. Two-year-old Kate has entered a phase that parenting books call “negativity,” which is a polite way of saying she’s trying to turn her mother into a lunatic. She does everything and anything that she senses I don’t want her to do. This “negativity phase” basically means that she hears and understands my requests and then runs in the exact opposite direction, like this. “Don’t eat the Play-doh.” She eats the Play-doh. “Don’t hit your brother.” She smacks her brother’s head. “You can’t wear your swimsuit today because it’s winter.” She ends up on the driveway barefoot wearing a polka-dot swimsuit and a smile.
Negativity sounds fun, doesn’t it?
One of the hardest things a parent in my situation has to grapple with is the “why.” Why did my sweet little baby who once wanted to cuddle in my lap, gaze up at me and say “I wub you” now want to torture me with willful disobedience, run away from me in public and turn me into a crazy person? Why?
One of my favorite parenting books, Touchpoints by Dr. Terry Brazelton, says that negative behavior is a toddler’s way of sorting out her own independence. “The provocative acts that drive [parents] to discipline [the toddler] reflect the child’s passionate search for limits. …The turmoil that leads to tantrums is also a reflection of how passionate [the toddler] is about her independence.” But if you ask me, the simplest answer to the “why” question is this: Because she is 2 and because she can. Period.
A parent faced with “negativity” can do one of two things – scream her bloody head off and rail against an irrational toddler in a futile attempt to bend her will. Or she can use that toddler’s iron will to her advantage by cleverly turning the tables and then playing along. That’s right. It’s reverse psychology, the old switcharoo – a classic strategy used by moms who are hoarse from all the yelling and still getting nowhere.
Here’s how our upside-down world looked today. My 2-year-old darling woke up, climbed out of her crib and was ready to get dressed. I wanted her to wear a cute little butterfly outfit. But I knew she would want to wear the worn-out Barney t-shirt with the permanent spaghetti stain on it and would likely go to war in order to get her way. So I presented her with some outfit options, being sure to push the stained Barney shirt as my top choice and the butterfly outfit as my least favorite choice. She quickly sized up my instructions and pushed away the stained shirt that I insisted she wear. “No Barney shirt! I wear this,” she said, picking up the butterfly outfit.
“No, not that!” I said. “Are you sure that’s what you want to wear?”
She was so sure that she was already putting it on. Mission accomplished.
At lunch time, I made the rookie mistake of putting a cup of milk in front of her and asking her to drink it. She pushed it away and said “No milk.” Realizing my error, I quickly snatched it up again, saying “Oh, no. That’s not your milk anyway. It’s my milk. I’m going to drink it. I love it.” Then I pretended to guzzle her milk down and turned my back on her to do other things in the kitchen. Five seconds of toddler contemplation ticked by.
“My milk! Gimme my milk!” she demanded. I feigned protest for a few moments and finally caved in, handing over the cup. She drained it and left the kitchen with a milk mustache. Score another one in the Mommy column.
No disrespect to Kate Winslet, but I can’t help but feel the Academy overlooked me when they were handing out Oscars last Sunday. You haven’t truly acted until your audience is a 2-year-old who can sniff out the slightest whiff of insincerity. If she thinks for a second that she’s being conned, the game is over. I have to really commit to the role and make my protests as authentic as hers.
Of course, there are a few areas where throwing it in reverse is not an option. Safety is non-negotiable and I’m certainly not telling her to dash out into the street to see if she’ll stay by my side. But in other less critical areas – like beverages and butterfly outfits – a little drama from the mama seems to help us navigate the day just fine. To that, I say “Bravo.”