Challenging Behaviors in Challenging Times – A RIE Chat Summary

(Beginning in mid-March 2020, when the world shut down, I began a bi-weekly conversation with the parents who had been in my RIE classes. Since not every family could make it to these conversations, but each conversation touched on important elements, I would often write up a summary of the conversation. What follows is one of those summaries.)

It was a small group last night…and small again on Saturday afternoon. As I said in the last email…I think this is when it’s starting to get real for people.

I’m getting short emails that say “I’m reading these, but don’t have time to really reply, thank you!” You’re welcome. I’m going to keep writing the recaps and the articles. I’m going to keep hosting the chats. This is a really full time of life right now, and I know you have a lot coming at you. I’m hoping that what I’m sending your way is a little light and perspective that helps.

So, one thing that stuck with me from my conversation last night, which centered on

  • routines (or lack thereof)
  • finding activities and engagement for an active toddler (Please send me whatever is working in your house!)
  • giving yourself permission to be sad about lack of attention and presence for a second child…and to consider looking for a silver lining to it (bringing your baby up with the idea of community and family), and
  • sleep (again, or lack thereof)

…was this realization that there are some child behaviors right now that are completely normal and typical and expected from your children…that we might see differently because of the context of life right now.

For example…parental preference. Toddlers and preschoolers often go in and out of preferring one parent over another. It often starts with a preference for Daddy, particularly if Mommy has been a primary caregiver…it simply shows a burgeoning independence, autonomy and control. Yes, it may also factor in that there’s a new baby in the house and Mom is spending more time with the baby…but it isn’t the CAUSE. Similarly, a child may suddenly only care about Mom…sure, maybe Mom is extra anxious because of things in the outside world, that might be part of the child’s pull toward her…but it is completely normal for preschoolers and toddlers to ‘switch allegiances’ between parents throughout childhood (and as I’ve said to people, even through teenage-hood!).

Also, sleep regressions. Yes, 100% your child’s sleeping pattern may be all over the place right now and it very well could be because they aren’t getting as much exercise as they are used to, their routines are different, parents are home and making more noise than usual/are contributing to a different energy in the house…but also…shi…I mean sleep regressions happen…it’s part of normal development. I’m attaching a simple excel sheet that maps out naps and sleep over the first several years…but keep in mind that sleeping well is part of development and like all development, you take steps forward and you fall back.

Lastly…pushing buttons. Yes, our tempers are all a bit more on edge: adults have a lot on their minds and a lot of balls in the air, and I don’t know about you, but the more I have going on, the shorter my fuse gets. So you may find yourself angrier or find you are quicker to snap at your child than usual. That’s totally to be expected, but also…it is your child’s JOB to push your buttons. To look for the boundaries, to see what happens when they cross them.

I just watched a video from my student where she had, well, it was a disaster of a lunch. But when I looked back at the video, she was responding so ‘perfectly’…so “RIE” for so many times…but her child was literally “looking for trouble” and kept pushing until she snapped. I promise you…it wasn’t her…it was her child. For whatever reason, there was something inside of him that needed to push boundaries that day.

The really awesome thing about it is, she was able to think back on what happened…think about what lessons she wanted her son to take from the experience, and was able to connect and talk with her son later. She also was able to think about her own reactions and state of mind…what were HER expectations in this exchange, and did her frame of mind unintentionally invite either her son’s actions…or color her reactions. They are learning and growing together.

So what I want to leave you with is this: yes, our lives are turned upside down for the moment, and life with young children is extra complicated…but life with young children IS complicated and challenging. Don’t blame yourself for how you are feeling and responding right now, or think that your attitude or anxieties are necessarily changing your child’s behavior!