Five weeks back I went on about how difficult Felix’s behavior had become to deal with, in particular how his tantrums turned into boxing practice, with him as boxer and my wife and I as punching bag. After several months of dealing with this nightmare — the most recent in a string of difficult phases that all involved issues with separation, sleeping, and aggression — we made an appointment for Felix to see a developmental therapist. His behavior was that extreme.
We had seen this therapist before, back when he was about one and a half. At that time, the flashpoint was napping specifically, and sleep in general. I would take Felix up for nap after lunch and run him through the routine I always did: reading a book, singing a song, laying him in the crib and then — freedom! But for some reason, this order of events stopped producing a slumbering toddler. Instead, Felix would whine, and then scream, cry, and bash his head against the crib in frustration.
I tried everything from loading our mornings with physical activity in the hopes that he’d pass out, to crouching by the crib and stroking his belly while he dozed, to singing song after song after song in the darkened room. (What a trip that was — I’d start falling asleep on my feet, mid-verse, while he’d be as lively as ever.) Some days I spent two or more hours trying to lull him down, which would end up pushing his bedtime back to all hours.
But as I told the therapist, I thought he needed his nap. Weren’t kids supposed to nap till they’re three? When he didn’t, he would be a fatigued wreck by the end of the day. And plus, I used that nap time to work and take a daddy breather.
Hearing all this, the therapist just nodded and said, “How does he sleep at night if he doesn’t nap?”
“Just fine,” I told her. “Because he’s exhausted.”
“But if he naps during the day, he’s not tired at night, and plus he gives you all these problems going down.”
“So… I recommend you just cut out the nap.”
This was not what I wanted to hear. And yet, I felt no surprise. I already knew he didn’t need a nap anymore. I just didn’t want to accept that fact.
Fast forward to now. After implementing the techniques I talked about in my article on dealing with an aggressive, tantrum-y child, I’m happy to report that there’s been a change in Felix’s behavior. Not a complete change; he’s recently taking to playing pattycake on my wife and I when he wants our attention in a manner that’s part jovial, part aggressive, and completely inappropriate and annoying. And when he’s tired and cranky or in the midst of some great emotional tumult, he still might throw a punch. But his aggression isn’t like how it was a month ago. His behavior has improved.
And maybe this is presumptuous of us, or arrogant, but we think that this time around the developmental therapist would again not tell us anything that we don’t already know. Continue with our positive reinforcements, present a calm front against his tantrum storms, remove ourselves when he becomes too much to handle, manage our emotions so that we don’t lose our tempers. We’ve seen positive change already, and over time it seems likely that (fingers crossed) we’ll continue seeing growth and maturity, especially as he is growing and maturing.
(Ok, so perhaps she might have another tip or two to share with us, but it is really worth taking up her time? Surely there are people who need it more than we do.)
Part of the positive change was our putting in place a plan and consistently enacting it. A big part too was simply being patient while Felix grew out of the phase, and for our plan to effect change. Modifying a kid’s behavior is not like programming a computer — it’s not clear or linear, and things don’t happen in a blink. Patience is needed. And a certain amount of optimism that things are going to be alright.
Based on the past, I would say it’s likely that there will be more challenging patches in the future, some of which might leave us feeling despondent and frustrated. But I’m convinced we’ll get through ’em just fine. I don’t know if I always saw that before, but I do now. With time, things will be alright.