I love my child. He is literally my favorite person on this planet. But when he is sleepy or hungry or hasn’t pooped in a couple of days he is not someone I want to share space with. I love him, but nah.
We were in Egypt recently and a few days into our trip, we were exploring the Sahara desert on ATVs. It was the most fun we’ve had in a while. He rode on the back and screamed with glee while I embraced my inner Ryde or Die Chick. We saw a Bedouin village and watched the millions of stars as we ate BBQ and other traditional foods.
But drama ensued at the dinner where my child chose to end our glorious day with a full-blown tantrum. He seriously stormed off into the darkness saying “You always keep me out of stuff!” Baffled, I sit there with the rest of the guests trying to figure out what the heck is going on.
So what was all the fuss about, you ask? He couldn’t smoke shisha with the rest of the adults.
Now he wasn’t the only child present nor was he the only child excluded from smoking shisha. (duh!) But to my egocentric child this was a grave injustice to his budding manhood. As if I, his parent, should somehow either not do the adult thing that he is forbidden or I should make an exception for him, since he is a “cheen” now.
This is what my child calls his pre-adolescence. Cheen. Not a child anymore, not yet a teen.
Now I sit here, still perplexed by that incident. And I’m smacked in the face with the realization that the terrible twos aren’t really over. They never left, they just manifested into this more sophisticated form of protest with a better vocabulary.
If you find yourself saying “Elmeka, you’re crazy! The terrible twos are most definitely over after a few years. You don’t know what you’re talking about”, then allow me to outline these developmental milestones that Freud, Erikson, and Piaget all forgot to mention.
At this age they are just learning how to literally stand on their own two feet and this gives them a sense of empowerment that I will never understand. This is the age when they want to feed and clothe themselves yet they still cling to their dependence on us to carry them because they haven’t figured out that their tiny legs are made to walk the 37 hours all around the zoo but they don’t want to sit in the stroller that is just holding the bags. Logic does not exist at this age.
I don’t get it. Just months ago they were knocking into everything and now they’re all cocky trying to run things.
Two year olds are confused and don’t know what they want. Which is the cause of their frustrations and therefore their tantrums. They want what they want and you are the servant that is to supply that need. At two you just deal with it because eventually they will tire out and take a nap so reprieve is sometimes just around the corner.
You expect tantrums at this age and you just practice your deep breathing and help them process their feelings like all the good parenting books and blogs tell you to do. This is expected, they say. They will grow out of it, they say. It’s all part of the beauty in parenting. It doesn’t make it any easier to go through.
Freaking Out Fours
Everything is a crisis at this age. Every. Thing.
My son once freaked out because he couldn’t figure out how to get his magnetic trains to connect like they did the other day. Freaked out because the cookies wouldn’t bake fast enough and he couldn’t understand why we couldn’t just get ones that are already baked. (seriously, he said this to me)
Kids freak out at this age because they are still trying to figure out life and how they fit into it all. They may start going to preschool at this point and their cushy life of chilling at home with mom all day is over. They are transitioning from being a baby to a big kid and trying to navigate it all.
It’s like being in a foreign country and desperately needing to go pee. You ask everyone you can find where the bathroom is, but your vocabulary in that language is pretty limited. Even doing the potty dance doesn’t get their attention and eventually you freak out because no one can tell you where the friggin toilets are.
That’s four-year-olds all day. They are just trying to figure out how to express themselves in this big, big world and they are so small that no one notices or understands what it is they are trying to get across. Again…I get it. But it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.
Sit Down Somewhere Sixes
They’ve started school. They know how to read a few words. And now they act like they are smarter than you. At this age “actually” takes residence in their every day speech.
“Actually, there are only 8 planets now mom”
“Actually gravity is what keeps us on the ground”
“Actually we don’t do math this way mom, that way was back in the 1990s”
And what you want to say to all of this is “ACTUALLY your mom has friggin’ 4 degrees and has 25 years of life experience on you so can you just go sit down somewhere with your new found knowledge.
But you can’t say that to a 6-year-old. You’d look like a crazy person.
What you end up doing is correcting them and whatever they thought they learned in school because Columbus didn’t actually discover America and global warming is actually a thing. You do this, not because you don’t want to get shown up by a 6-year-old, but because the last thing you need is for your kid to be the one in school regurgitating misinformation and having everyone think he’s a dumbass. Not on my watch, sir.
This is what incites the tantrums because they want to feel like they know everything and are actually teaching you something. They hate being shown up and at this age the tantrum is just them storming off into their room and mumbling under their breath that “you don’t know everything” and they are right because that’s what [insert a child the same age with limited world knowledge] told them at school.
Existential Crisis Eights
Everything at this age is about not yet being in double digits. They obsess over what life will be like once they are 10 and the things they get to do when they finally reach the glorious tens because they will be that much closer to being a teenager.
(For the boy, this is when the word “cheen” was invented)
Everything is a negotiation at this age as well. The “if-thens” as I call them.
Boy: If you let me get this graphic and violent game then I’ll clean my room for a week.
Me: Cleaning your room is what you’re supposed to do. And no.
Boy: If you let me play football then I promise I’ll do my chores without whining.
Me: I’m not okay with you getting a traumatic brain injury and we both know you will still whine about doing your chores. So no.
And tantrums at this age happen when you won’t compromise on allowing them to do whatever it is that they want to do right at this moment. They love the convenience of being a kid, but not really the lack of power that exists at this age. And they feel that 10 will somehow magically make them more powerful and able to do things.
The tantrum at this age evolves into continuing to negotiate until they can’t get what they want and calling things “unfair”. “Take a breath” became a frequently used phrase in my household around this age and often I would stare at him in amazement at the foolishness that sometimes exits his face hole he spent so much time shoving food into.
You’re Too Old For This Tens
This is when you’ve basically reached your breaking point with the evolution of the tantrums and just end up saying “you are too old for this” and remind them to use their words.
Tantrums at 10 happen often. My son is 10 now and his tantrums have become more internal. He still storms off to protest the injustices against him, but he most often sulks at this age. When you finally give in and asks what’s wrong, he says “It doesn’t matter. It won’t change anything”. Then gets upset when you don’t press the issue. Or if you press the issue. (You can’t win, so just go with it)
10 is when I introduced my son to mindfulness. This has helped us both get through this strange phase. It’s almost like he’s finally reached the glorious double digits and he’s realized that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.
That “power” that he was seeking has also come with more responsibility and he doesn’t like that too much. The good thing about this age is they have a more developed reasoning ability and can usually talk through things with you.
Wanna Be a Teenager Twelves
The plight of being the yet-to-be-old-enough child. And if you thought the wait for the double digits was bad, the count down to being an actual teenager is worse. The negotiations get more savvy and you find your child trying to negotiate between getting her nose pierced or a tattoo.
The tantrum at this stage is shutting you out and going to their room. I had a step-daughter and went through this phase with her. I still remember the period of confusion and frustration – for us. It was a bearable phase, but it was challenging to understand what she was going through after she’s shut us off.
A lot of this may be with just finding themselves in the world and with their peers. When they can have and do what their friends can, this is what matters to them. When we were younger I remember a listening to a lot of Radiohead. It seemed like their songs helped me understand what I was going through when I couldn’t quite put it into words.
The good news is in time you can process with this budding teenager after the fact. You can have some very good conversations to help figure things out together.
There was a slight reprieve with age 12. You think things are getting better and then out of nowhere there are these hormone-induced rants and tears because there wasn’t enough cheese to make the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich.
This stage sucks and it doesn’t get better from here. At this age they feel they are grown enough to challenge you on things. They may even raise their voice at you on occasion and you’ll find yourself saying “fuck outta here” as you recount the interaction over wine with a friend.
Because that is how you cope with this phase. You drink wine. Copious amounts of it.
While it makes you proud that your teenage daughter is assertive and comes up with a decent argument about whether she should be able to stay out with friends or see a rated R movie, you are equally perplexed and frustrated when both your periods come on at the same time and you both are over each other’s mood swings.
The rage of the mood swings are not limited to just menstruating daughters either, sons can often explode with so much emotion that you find yourself asking questioning the whole PMS logic. (only for a brief moment, that shit is real)
At this point you just really spend your days drinking and praying you both make it to graduation.
The good news about all of this is that just as with the terrible twos, you find strategies that work for you both. With my son, I have told him that he is more than entitled to his feelings and the expression of these emotions, but he does not have a right to subject the whole house to his rampage. He is welcome to have his tantrum in the privacy of his room and then come out to talk when he is calm.
Another strategy I learned from a friend is have your child take a shower when you are in the heat of an argument. This gives you both some time to take a breath and your child can calm down with the assistance of warm, running water.