Terrible Twos

I’ve been in education and studying child development and child psychology most of my life. I’ve seen the struggle, I know the struggle, I live the struggle. The struggle is real. Picking and choosing the battles to fight with your child is hard. Being able to systematically identify and follow through with which battles to chose and ultimately fight with your child is a challenge, but being consistent with those decisions is darn near impossible. 

Jax is at that age where he has figured out exactly what buttons to press to get us worked up. He knows the basics of right and wrong, don’t go near the fireplace (it’s “ha” as he says), we put out plate and cup in the sink after dinner- we don’t throw them against the wall, and as our favorite bedtime book so eloquently says, “tails are not for pulling.”  But what about the little things? You know the small stuff you’re not supposed to sweat? The battles that sometimes have to be avoided, but other times just can’t be ignored? I work with teachers on developing the skill of “active ignoring.” If a child is displaying attention seeking behaviors, then giving him the attention, even in a negative way, reinforces the negative behavior by giving the child what they want even if they achieve it in a negative way… (IE positive reinforcement is not always a good thing). In operant conditioning, positive reinforcement is the addition of a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future.

But how, as a parent of a two and a half year old do I pick and chose what behaviors to ignore and which to address. For example, when a child misbehaves in a store, some parents might give them extra attention or even buy the child a toy. Children quickly learn that by acting out, they can gain attention from the parent or even acquire objects that they want.

So where does that apply and when is it impossible to carry out? I carry with me an extensive background of developing plans for students who need academic and or behavioral interventions. I know how to address these issues and work tirelessly to support teachers to promote student success in this area… and then I’m home… in sweatpants and getting ready to settle down and relax… read Jackson a book and head to bed…. and then it starts.

A tantrum that could make even a Kardashian who doesn’t get enough likes on Instagram jealous… it starts slow, but builds fast. An extended lower lip, squinted eyes and flailing hands and feet. Shrieking fills the air at ear popping decibels. I often find myself quietly whispering, “go ahead… flip out… you think this is my first rodeo?” I can’t even count how many times I have been able to actively ignore a tantrum or demands and then calmly be able to talk about what happened and discuss with the child the most effective way to “get what they want,” and tantruming is not that way. 

It’s easy, until it’s your own child… immediate breakdown of the rational decision making part of the brain. You try to keep calm. You actively ignore. You give reminders of the expected behaviors… You automatically go into self-preservation mode. Tantrums are the hurricanes of parenting. You can prepare all you want… cover up the windows, nail down the patio furniture, but no matter how ready you are about two minutes in you realize you are totally screwed.  

This tantrum phase is scary… he gets this look in his eyes that tells me he is surveying the landscape for something to destroy. Yes I ignore and retract and follow through with what I say. But then again, there are times where I’m just ready for the hurricane to end… I guess active ignoring only goes so far.  

What’s Wrong With My Son? Nothing, I Hope: The Truth Behind a Worried Dad.

So I’ve been sort of cryptic with some of my blogs regarding Jax and some perceived “issues” going on. Not that there is some major catastrophe or illness or anything like that. But between him not talking yet and my background as an educator it has been a difficult ride the past few months.   
So let’s just put it on the table… Jax isn’t talking… No animal noises… Not much other than “Daddy!” Which he repeats constantly. You don’t have to have a masters degree or be a teacher to worry when your kid is two and still isn’t speaking. It’s scary. Crazy things run through your head. People can tell you that, “it’s ok, he’s such a happy little boy.” That means nothing when you are the parent and worrying.  

I was nervous to talk about it, you know, because when you say things outloud it makes them true. Saying that you are worried about something makes it a reality. Well I’m tired of it. “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself” -Hermione Granger.  

I We have been working with birth to three for about four months now. We set goals we do assessments and we progress monitor. Still no words. We had hearing tests, we did eyes tests, we did blood work. Still no words. We had speech pathologists come to work with him, we took him to a speech clinic for evaluation… Still no words. If I hear one more time that his receptive language is above average, but he is below standard in expressive language I’m going to tear up my CT Early Learning and Development Standards handbook.   

So that brings me to my education background. I’ve sat through a countless hours of meetings on student progress or lack there of. I’ve listened as teachers presenting findings and data to parents. I’ve wondered what it would feel like to be on the other end. I always had empathy for those parents. No one wants to sit on that side of the table for a PPT. NO ONE, because your hearing a specialist at tell you something is wrong with your child. I always took into consideration that sitting on “that side of the table” was never a good feeling. 

Then the day came where I was the one sitting on “that side of the table.” I listened as a special educator said, “yeah, he could be on the spectrum. Maybe he isn’t,” the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness on our end was heart breaking.  

I’m not sure where my mind went that day. I’m not sure if I agreed with her or thought she had no idea what she was talking about. There aren’t other signs that I see… No sensory issues, no tiptoe walking, and he shows various emotions is appropriate setting and situations. I’ve talked to people close to me, at my school and just done research and I am sure he is fine. I mean he literally is one of the smartest kids I’ve ever met. He knows basic colors and shapes and follows multi-step directions. (I know 5th graders who can’t follow multi step directions).  

The whole situation is a whirlwind of emotions. It’s my son so I’m worried and want to talk about it, but it’s my son so I don’t want to worry or talk about it. I don’t want family or friends to judge me or us or him. I don’t want people at his school to look at him differently. It’s scary… I cry, Steph cries… Then he does something amazing and we smile and we laugh.  

He’s happy. He’s a happy little boy… But that’s not enough. Let’s face it. When I sit at PPTs and hear educators tell parents not to worry because their child is such a “happy little child” it makes me cringe because now I understand why that isn’t enough. I used to think knowing was enough. The theory behind things and situations will help you only so much, but you’ll never truly understand where someone is coming from until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes as they say. 

 Through this whole process, we’ve tried a million different strategies. We’ve given choices for activities, required him to look us in the eyes before he gets something he wants, we’ve practiced making faces in the mirror and tried to “stimulate his tongue withstand a tooth brush.” Som etimes I get annoyed with trying to balance being a special education service provider and a dad.  

When do I say enough is enough and just enjoy my son. Play catch (he needs a lot of work, it looks like at this point he’ll be a left handed reliever), draw pictures and swing on the swings. Then, when I spend the day with him doing those things I feel like a neglectful parent for not spending time identifying animal sounds and working on his B3 goals. It’s a horrible, horrible feeling. 

It hurts in my chest to try to communicate with my son and struggle to do so. I think one of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt in my life is watching him get so frustrated when he is trying to tell us something and he can’t express it properly so we understand. At this point we know him well enough to get most of what he is trying to say, but not all the time… And it’s those times that make you feel like a failure. You begin to feel like you did something wrong or skipped a step in his development. What did I do to make him struggle so much to tell us what he wants? Will he ever get to a point where he is not so frustrated when he can’t get what he wants to say out? Will he ever even be able to communicate what he wants? It’s scary. It’s scary knowing that you are worry about not just these issues, but the ones that might possibly come up as he continues to grow.  

I don’t want to sit here and pretend that I’m not the happiest dad in the world because that would be an absolute lie. This kid brings me more joy than a Yankees and Packers championship win in the same season (ok maybe not in the same season, but you get the point). I love this kid more than life itself. There is not a thing that could ever change that. He makes me feel like the luckiest person to walk this earth… He’s taught me about life and not metaphorically, he’s taught me about what it truly means to bring life into this world and then realize that life is the reason you live.  

Although he makes me so happy every second of every day… The worrying is a helpless feeling. One that very few people will truly ever understand.   

Progress:​

My Son is a Parseltongue

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So I have been so hesitant to write anything about what’s been bothering me lately.  Like really bothering me.  I know I pretty much write about anything and everything on here because that’s what this blog is about… The real stuff… The good, the bad and the ugly… Clint Eastwood style.   But I also want to make sure that later in life Jax doesn’t have a complex… (Or at least too much of a complex).

But I’m starting to worry.  So this blog entry is less about me telling a story and more about me being able to get something off my chest.  Something that is worrying me.

I’m pretty sure everyone knows I’m an educator.  I’ve been a teacher and administrator for 15 years now.  Maybe I have some sort of hypochondria or a super heightened sense of attention to detail when it comes to child development, but I feel like I’m starting to stress out.

So he’s almost 17 months old… He’s done a lot over the past year and a half.  He’s hitting milestones left and right… But he’s still not taking. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to defend the… “Everyone develops at their own pace” philosophy.  But when it’s my own kid it’s stressful. Don’t forget… This is the type of literature I read on a daily basis:

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Try reading that as a parent and not losing your mind.  Try reading and article that says by 15 months your child should be able to order Lo Mein in Chinese and be able to use chopsticks to eat it. I’m struggling to balance my professional career as someone who diagnosis students’ reading problems and has to decide if a students behavior issues are developmental, environmental or learned… I’m struggling to balance that with my professional career as a dad who worries about everything.

I mean, we do have the basic “mama” and “dada”… and for whatever weird reason there’s also “nene” (bottle).  But other than that he has the language skills of Animal from the Muppet Babies.

We talk to him (I mean… I could talk for hours… its my favorite pasttime).  Grammy, literally gives him literacy and vocabulary lessons all day… half of his toys talk to him… and we read to him every night.  And all we get in return is something that sounds like Parseltongue.  I mean, maybe I’m looking into this to deeply… but he sure fits the bill of a Parselmouth

“Parseltongue is, when spoken, a hissing sound, similar to that of a snake; as such, normal people cannot understand it (one known exception being Dumbledore). Apart from merely communicating with serpentine lifeforms, Parselmouths also seem able to influence the will of serpents to a certain extent. Aside from serpent-based creatures, Parselmouths can communicate with each other with the language, as Harry understood Tom Riddle’s commands to the Basilisk and the House of Gauntcommunicate with each other almost exclusively in Parseltongue. While inherited, Parseltongue usually requires the speaker to face a snake-based creature or object shaped like a snake (e.g. a carving); more proficient speakers may be able to speak it at will.” -HarryPotter Wiki

So maybe I should be less worried about the fact that he isn’t really talking or more worried that my son may be a Dark Wizard?