L’enfant terrible

We are (I think…hope…pray) getting through a bit of a rough phase with Silas.

"Get it together, Brother!"
“Get it together, Brother!”

He’s been defiant, throwing objects and tantrums at the slightest provocation, arguing just to argue.

Weirdly, this is not what I thought the “terrible twos” would be like. I figured on the attitude problems, yes, but I thought they would be the kind of thing I could parent around, or discipline out of him. It turns out that the real problem, as far as I can tell, has been sleep deprivation.

Silas has always been a completely awful sleeper. Always. Things were getting a bit better, though, in the late fall. During this recent rough period, besides being a total pill all day, he didn’t rest at “rest time,” and was up many times every night. He went back to wetting the bed, which we thought we were past. He was clearly exhausted, and, although he frequently complained of being tired, he refused to sleep.

What seemed like a power struggle with me turned out, on closer inspection, to be a power struggle with himself. He didn’t have control over his own actions in any meaningful way. He was too tired to make a decision about how to act. No amount of discipline–of time outs or whatever–could possible fix what was wrong, because the problem was not that he didn’t know how to behave, nor that he didn’t want to behave well. The problem was that he was entirely lacking in the cognitive ability to exercise any self-control at all.

We’ve all had times like this, right? That time when you were so bleary because you were up all night with the baby and so you picked a fight with your spouse. The time when you looked back over your work for the day and realized you made mistake after mistake–you thought you had been paying attention, but…nope. Lack of sleep makes us stupid. Lack of sleep makes us angry. I can say this, with some authority, being, as I am, the parent of a small baby.

Once I named the problem, I became better able to ride it out. I tried to make sure that he got medicine before bed if his mouth was hurting him (two-year molars, oy!). I made him keep doing rest time even if he was going to scream through it. I tried talking to him about how his body needs sleep. JC and I did everything we possibly could to help him sleep through the night.

I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Two days this week included a rest time that turned into a two-hour nap. Even when he was an infant, we considered ourselves lucky if we got a forty-five minute nap. Two hours is phenomenal. The potty accidents are much fewer. The all-day tantrums are gone (thank God!). We’re all feeling a lot better.

I wonder how much of the “terrible twos” is really just a change in metabolism and sleep patterns, or if it’s just Silas (or if the worst is yet to come…).

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One Comment

  1. February 23, 2013
    Reply

    We didn’t have the “terrible twos”. My daughter is three now, and we have begun a whole new phase of tantrums and contradictory behaviour. Some days I feel like I can’t do anything right…We are taking a gentle approach, but I am struggling with my own frustration and anger at her behaviour. I liked your idea that it was a power struggle with himself, rather than with me.

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