I don’t have a vast familiarity with toddlers. Experiencing my son I can’t specifically speak to what is considered average development and what isn’t…for better or worse. He is two years-eight-months-old, and mostly garden variety, but I fully understand the compulsion to assume his growth weighs heavily as strokes of brilliance. Little Man constantly floors me with his leaps in development, but I’ve learned that’s what these stages are. That said, the limited number of professionals who’ve interacted with my son confirmed the few areas I thought were advanced or, at least, more unique to him.
I’ve observed and been told that Little Man is quite skilled in taking turns and sharing…to the point that he doesn’t understand when another child walks up and steals an object out of his hand. He never seems particularly disturbed when it happens, but will stare off befuddled for a beat before walking away to find an alternate source of entertainment. My son tells jokes and is chatty…telling stories to me throughout the day, especially relaying moments he was in trouble. I find this development funny considering his speech delay. Little Man looks to engage others in conversation; professionals working with him say that is unusual for a child his age.
Most interesting, however, is my son’s fairly sophisticated emotional intelligence. Little Man, probably beginning in the nine-month-old realm, possessed an uncanny ability to read others, and significantly alter his behavior and personality to what he correctly perceives others expect from him. Much of the time this serves as a manipulation tactic, and boy is it effective. Other times it seems to meet no other purpose than an intellectual exercise I find disturbing.
Part of this innate ability makes him fairly rigid and sensitive to shifts in his routines. I don’t have an overly complicated routine to our days, but any shift in what Little Man can expect from people and events leaves him struggling if the deviation is more than a day, two if I’m lucky. Some of this, I suspect, is simply toddler. But, I’ve heard early childhood workers in various capacities refer to Little Man as an “observer” or an “organizer.” It isn’t so much I think this merits a diagnosis, rather a personality quirk that makes him who he is.
But, with his need for routines and rituals and his ability to size up his world comes the price of anxiety. I wouldn’t say it amounts to a diagnosis, but times like the recent holiday season I’m reminded of how sensitive Little Man is to changes in his world, even when the change is fantastic and exciting.
At the ripe old age of nine-months, I noticed my son’s personality would change when we had extended visitors or his routine was off for too long. Some of it is age appropriate, but there were changes beyond the fussiness or lack of sleep that so many of my friends describe. Little Man’s temperament and general nature would shift in unexpected ways, but not globally. He would change his mode of interacting based on whoever was the primary personality in the room at any given moment, regardless if my husband or I were in his sights at the time. It’s difficult to describe this long out, and I would assume it was in my head if I hadn’t had practitioners working with toddlers relay what I suspected was a pretty interesting skill.
This brings me to the two week hell that was the holiday season. Family had been in the area, and my husband took the week off. It’s all so thrilling. But, each time Little Man encounters a wave of such excitement, it throws him. His behaviors more concerning as he’s grown older. Most glaring this time around was the aggression. Historically, he’s consistently demonstrated gentle hands with his sister outside the exceptionally occasional snafu easily explained by hunger or fatigue. There have always been independent bouts of jealousy, but Little Man usually has the ability to keep himself contained. And, really, once I read him a story or two on my lap, he’s good to go. Throughout the two week holiday span, however, I worried any time he was around his eight-month-old baby sister. Hardly an encounter occurred without my son pushing or hitting the Warrior Queen. I’m used to seeing an uptick of impulsive and rough behavior when my husband is around, but the incidents escalated dramatically in frequency and intensity.
Sure, during tantrums I might be slapped in the thigh, but twice my son slugged me in the eye without provocation. The biting was out of control as well. Usually such events are reserved for those moments when we pushed out bedtime too long. As the days wore on, it was rare to have his mouth remotely close to skin contact without a biting incident. The entirety of the situation left me flummoxed. My son is a sweet, kind soul who is patient and tolerant, all the more for a toddler.
Frustratingly, the peanut gallery dismissed this crop of behavior incidents as standard toddler practice. The entire span of time that Little Man continued to spiral I asserted he was struggling…all of the excitement and change was too much for him. I defended that these events were not how he navigates his world when the three of us are doing our thing. No one believed me. I began doubting myself…maybe he really is this aggressive. Maybe he is changing, and it is for me to adapt, levering my head from the sandy beach I’d grown to love.
Toward the end of the uproar, I had a couple moments when it was only our threesome…maybe just me and Little Man. They were brief and achingly far between, but I’d have glimpses of the existence I was beginning to lose to the recesses of my memory. I worried if we would return once the world settled, but they were a welcome reprieve even they amounted to be fleeting.
As I write this post we are almost a week out from the avalanche of activity. I’ve come to understand that just as easily as Little Man swings to the reckless, he soars back to the son I know. Within a day we returned to our life…flare ups of impulsivity when he’s hungry or tired…or Daddy is home. Once again I enjoyed our outings, watching my son explore his world in delight. All as though nothing had ever changed, nothing occurred.
I enjoy it when I’m right, but perhaps relief is more apt this time around.