What It's Like When Your Mellow Child Starts Freaking Out Over the Tiniest of Things
My 4-year-old son is my mellow child. His almost 7-year-old sister is a drama queen of epic proportions, who has never had a feeling she hasn't worn splashed across her face. Where she's like a firework, quick to pop off and detonate, he's a slow burner. The only problem with this situation? He only gets fired up about tiny and (in my opinion) totally inappropriate things.
A major disappointment, like, say, not getting the big Christmas present he wanted (because he changed his mind two days before) or missing his best friend's birthday party because we already committed to going to Grandma's, he can shrug off like a champ. But if he doesn't get a blue chair in his preschool class? Wars will be waged, and the enemy force always seems to be me.
We're both dealing with the fallout of his sweating the small stuff, and frankly, it sucks.
I would expect this behavior from a younger toddler, but these irrational freak-outs are a new thing for him, and as much as I want to validate his feelings and frustrations, I don't want to encourage him to continue to melt down because I forgot to bring a bad guy action figure to pair with the Batman I did remember. He's now old enough to know the difference between big and small disappointments, but he's not old enough for me to talk him down from the precipice of a tantrum.
Instead, I often find myself giving into whatever it is he's decided is a matter of great importance — like the fact that I have cut his grilled cheese into two pieces instead of the seven he just decided for the first time would be much more preferable — then regretting my surrender. Yesterday's irrational meltdown was sparked when he found a plastic pill cutter in our bathroom. I have no idea why we even own such a thing, but it didn't seem like something a recently turned 4-year-old should be playing with.
Welcome to tantrum city. And because I was also dealing with the demands of problem one, also known as my daughter, I finally just gave him the thing after giving him a quick reminder not to stick his finger in it because it could be sharp and painful. He promised me he would "just play with the top," whatever that means. Ten minutes later, I was cleaning up his bloody finger and cursing myself for being so weak.
Here's the thing: by this stage of motherhood, I should be a champ at dealing with meltdowns of all shapes and sizes. I should be immune to the emotional pull of trying to make them stop. I know the best strategies to handle a tantrum. I know you should allow your child to express their feelings as strongly and for as long as they need to. Don't diminish or make fun of your child's behavior, even when it seems ridiculous. When the issue can't be quickly and simply solved (and it almost never can), let your child work through it on their own terms, then reconvene when they've calmed down and can talk more rationally. Understand that their frustration and anger and sadness are real emotions that they're feeling deeply, even if you can't understand why.
But lately, what I really want to do every time he decides a molehill is a mountain — like me putting on the wrong episode of Vampirina — is roll my eyes and say some version of, "WTF, dude. Get it together." Admittedly, I occasionally do and say just that.
I'm sure this is just another in a long list of crazy kid stages I've been through and survived. I'm sure it stems from him wanting more independence or some other totally reasonable and good developmental objective. But, for now, we're both dealing with the fallout of his sweating the small stuff, and frankly, it sucks.