The Terrible Twos
Fussy Baby at 14 Months
Okay, so the "Know-it-all" Mummy confesses that she doesn't "know it all". Since Saturday past, Gavin's crankiness has went up a whole new level I never thought possible. He now wakes up from naps crying - in fact, he cries a lot more lately and it's not the normal kind of crying but the hysterical type that seems inconsolable. Sometimes even offering the magic breast doesn't help at all. He just shakes his head and screams more angrily as if to say I don't understand him - which is exactly how I feel at those times.
I did an online search for possible causes of fussiness in 14 month old babies and only came up with a few other Mums complaining of the same problem - fussy baby, cries a lot, won't eat, always wants what you are holding, always wants you to play with him - in other words, very difficult. Although I didn't find the solution to my problem, at least I know I'm not alone, but just to be sure, I checked in with my three best Mummy pals to reconfirm that I'm still a good Mummy and I haven't done anything wrong.
Well it would seem my health science training is still quite ingrained in me because I started making a list of possible causes for Gavin's crankiness - my differential diagnosis - and started working through the list on a process of elimination. So here are the possible causes for Gavin's recent crankiness:
- dietary - too much MSG and sugar
- environmental - too much excitement and play
- teething - Gav's upper left central incisor is taking forever to break through
- sleep - shifting from two naps to one
- constipation - he went three days without pooping (quite a long time since he's now on solids)
- milestones - he just started walking unaided
- developmental - the Terrible Twos
There's also a possibility that it is just a combination of all of these factors. For instance, he had nightmares on Saturday night when he went out for a birthday party and ate food with a lot of MSG. On Monday night, hubby and I took him shopping at KLCC where he had New Zealand ice cream's Chocolate Ecstasy and my Starbucks hot chocolate. Needless to say he slept poorly that night. On Tuesday, he went swimming in the morning so I foolishly tried to shift him to a single afternoon nap for my convenience. Instead of sleeping two to three hours like I expected when I put him down for a single nap, he woke up after an hour and refused to go back to sleep.
He cried after waking up from his afternoon naps which could be due to his teething because he would shove a finger into his mouth and rub his gums while howling. I did attempt to resolve the problem with some Bonjela only to stir up a whole new burst of crying because Gavin couldn't stand the taste of Bonjela. Frankly, I'm not sure I'm all that keen on it either since it has a rather distinct aniseed flavour. I don't know if I imagined it but Gavin did seem to calm down a little after getting over the horrid taste of Bonjela so perhaps he was starting to feel some relief in his gums?
Then yesterday, Gavin started walking unaided. I've read that when babies hit a particularly big milestone, there can be a tendency for increased fussiness, so that seems to coincide. Then again, it could also be the stomach discomfort he was experiencing from not having pooped for three days in a row. After pooping yesterday afternoon, Gavin napped for 45 minutes in the evening and it was the first time in days that he actually woke up without bursting immediately into tears.
Last but not least, it could just be as my friend PL said - that Gavin is going through a phase. When you've tried everything and nothing seems to resolve the problem, put it down to the Terrible Twos, which, according to Dr Greene, even ideal parents would have to experience no matter how well they raised their toddler. Basically, the Terrible Twos is a phase every toddler goes through where they are starting to discover their autonomy and in order to exert this new found self, they have to oppose what their parents say. It is a part of discovering their own identity.
What is the Terrible Twos
The Terrible Twos is marked by a strong tendency to oppose everything Mummy and Daddy says, no matter how reasonable the request might be. For instance, "don't touch the plug points" is met with a howl of frustration, "don't play with the drawers" is met with an angry barrage of throwing objects from the drawer, and my all-time worst - "it's time to sleep" is met with an arched back and a scream of fury like you've never heard. Naturally, this is a very trying time for a parent, trying to be understanding of your child's apparent disregard of your commands.
If it is a difficult time for a parent, it is an equally troubling time for a toddler. Having just come from babyhood where your toddler's every desire was to please Mummy and Daddy, being at odds with their most favourite people in the world can be emotionally tumultuous. Their desire to be approved by Mummy and Daddy is at war with their need for autonomy. Dr Greene's depiction of the Terrible Twos as being the first adolescence is indeed an apt description of this phase.
So if you understand the turmoil your child is experiencing, suddenly the unexplained crying, poor sleeping habits and fussiness is starting to make sense again. If you were at odds with a loved one, wouldn't you feel upset, too?
Surviving the Terrible Twos
Well, understanding the cause of the crying doesn't make it any easier to deal with at 5am in the morning. Having spent the large part of the previous night pacifying Gavin who refused to be calmed down by anything, I wasn't ready to be deal with more crying at 5am. I wanted to hide under the covers and pretend it didn't exist - as rotten a Mum as that made me feel. It certainly made me understand how "shaken baby syndrome" occurs, not that it makes it any more acceptable nor do I think I would ever resort to such extreme measures to silence a baby's cry. At any rate, it also reinforced the importance of taking a break from your toddler especially if you're a SAHM.
So this hub is designed to reinforce two points:
- No matter what anyone says about their well-behaved baby who slept well through the night and hardly ever cried, your difficult, snappy, cranky, crying baby is not a result of bad parenting. Take an example of a parent I know whose first daughter was really "good", while her second daughter gave her a real run for her money. Every toddler is different, and naturally so because every toddler is a little person with his or her own personality.
- Don't feel bad if your child's crying is making you angry - this just shows you're human - as long as you recognise your limits and make sure you take yourself out of the picture before you snap. Don't be afraid ask a friend or a family member to mind your toddler for a couple of hours so you can have some R&R or "me" time. Dads, recognise that Mums, even Super Mums, need a break from time to time so she can regain some sanity.
So how when does the Terrible Twos begin and how long do we have to endure it? Well, contrary to popular belief that the Terrible Twos begins when a toddler turns two years of age, it can begin at any time after the first birthday (and sometimes even before). The average age that the Terrible Twos begin is around 18 months, and it can last until 3 years of age. Unfortunately for me, I already started noticing the early beginnings of the Terrible Twos in Gavin since he turned 1, although his moods and emotions are steadily getting worse. I almost dread to think what they will be like at their peak.
What can you do to ease the Terrible Twos? Well, I read a little book by Harvey Karp called "The Happiest Toddler on the Block". I've applied his suggestions with mixed results. I don't know if I'm imagining it, but I do feel Gavin is making more progress the more I used it. I'm hoping that as he gets older and understands more, the tactics in the book will have even more effect on him. All parents are welcome to contribute their secret tips and advice on dealing with the Terrible Twos.
About the Author
If you like this hub, you can find more articles about my parenting research and experiences on my blog Babylicious.