I have often thought that caring for a baby in their first year of life is like watching the lights come on in a house, one by one. First they’re all unfocused and mewly, then they’re laughing and doing that funny stationary leg-marching business, and soon they’re entirely purposeful and able to reach right out and grab what they want. Click, click, click, one room after another gets lit up in their brains, and their worlds open wider and wider.
If that’s true, then the stage around 18 months is like having all the lights on at once, blazing away, while a mad scientist operates the giant electrical switch powering it all. “MOO HOO HA HA HAAAA!” shrieks the apparition in the white coat, hair standing on end and eyes pointing in two different directions. “HA HA HA—WAAAAHHHHHHHH!”
Young toddlers are insane, is what I’m saying. They’re physically capable of outrunning you, yet they have no sense of self-preservation. Their emotions are as wild and unpredictable as a storm on the high seas, and the smallest trespass will send them flinging their bodies to the floor in order to throw a tantrum loud enough to detonate an adult’s eardrums at fifty paces. They kick, they slap, they throw things, they scream, they eat things that aren’t meant to be eaten while hysterically refusing things that ARE meant to be eaten.
Thank god they’re still formed entirely of Pillsbury thigh-rolls with baby-soft faces and the occasional desire to cuddle, because in my limited experience this is the age which most strongly begs the question, Would It Be Wrong To FedEx My Child to Octo-Mom, Since She Apparently Can’t Get Enough of this Crap?
So! Let’s talk about ways to survive the 18-month zone, and by that I mostly mean “let’s open up comments because I sure don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”
Dealing with the meltdowns:
My personal (adorable!) hell-beast is 15 months as of this writing, and while we do tell him no (often many times per day), it isn’t really what you would call an effective technique if what you’re going for is acquiescence. His usual response is to make a little round O with his mouth, lock eyes with one of us, and immediately repeat whatever action he was doing. You mean THIS? he seems to be saying. This smashing the cat with a soup ladle? Why on earth should I stop doing something so immensely satisfying and entertaining?
I find that distraction is the only thing that really works, and my husband and I can often be found yelling “Ball! Ball! Dylan, where’s your BALL?” in order to pry our young son away from whatever unsavory activity he’s engaged in.
Sometimes the only thing to do is pick him up and physically re-locate him, although that approach often results in a Massive Screaming Fit.
Dealing with the food issues:
For a while there Dylan was eating anything and everything, and I thought we’d escaped the pickiness that was such a trial with our older son. Ha ha ha ha NO. Wrong. He just hadn’t had the food-light come on in his brain yet, and once it did, forget all that sweet potato noise. Now he rejects things based on some sort of complicated, ever-changing set of criteria that only he is privy to, which is especially maddening when a food staple that was greatly loved for an entire week (Eggos) suddenly gets re-filed on his S list.
For us, we find that the old spoon-as-airplane standby does occasionally work, as long as you get dramatic about it and add many sound effects. It sometimes helps to hide beneath his highchair tray and pop up in a comical, startling fashion, and stuff the food in his mouth when he laughs. Every now and then, he’ll eat something only if it’s offered via chopsticks, which . . . look, I don’t know, okay? It’s weird.
I know people say that children will eat when they’re hungry and not to resort to special techniques for “tricking” them to eat a meal, but I don’t think those people have dealt with a cranky, food-deprived toddler who doesn’t understand that eating will greatly improve their outlook on life.
Dealing with the violence:
Oh, there’s nothing quite like spending a year and a half of your life tending to someone’s every need, only to have them reach out and smack you across the face because you dare to change their poop-filled diaper.
I think this is one of the hardest behaviors to deal with, mostly because of the knee-jerk emotions it stirs up in me. I feel hurt, betrayed, and of course, angry when my child hits me.
The only thing I know to do here is grab their hands/feet, hold them securely and tightly, and tell them NO—using the Voice of God— right to their furious little face. Then finish what you’re doing and put them down, even if they’re blatting and screaming about it. I have also made good use of the Put the Child in his Crib and Let Him Freak Out On His Own While I Count to One Hundred technique.
Now, I KNOW some of you guys have been through these issues and more, and have some trips and tricks to share. What helped you deal with the more challenging aspects of young toddlerhood? I know it’s just a stage, but despite having gone through it all a couple years ago, I’m finding it exactly as hard as before this time around, and maybe even harder. Any wisdom is more than welcome!