If you remember, Squeakles and I were both in tears when I had to leave him at school last Friday. I got a couple of updates during the day that suggested he was doing better, but was still a bit upset. So when I went to pick him up (ice skating that evening ended up being canceled anyway), I was surprised to find him really resistant to leaving. In retrospect, I am not sure it was because he was having so much fun (though he was having fun, which was good to see), but because he didn't want an outside force to come in and shift his activities again wihtout his consent. But such is the nature of the end of the day - you have to go home. He started whining and yelling as I left the school (with him in the stroller and Weeble in the mei tai carrier on my chest), and did not let up the entire way home. Nor did he let up at home either for at least an hour.
Over the weekend and so far this week, Squeakles has continued to react to things he doesn't want to do with a lot of yelling, crying, and the occasional thrashing. For those of you who know Squeakles, this is really out of character. It makes me simultaneously frustrated and sympathetic. On the one hand, I do not ever want to accept this kind of behavior. On the other hand, I know that it's coming from a place of real frustration and he doesn't know how to handle these new strong emotions. He flips back and forth between what he claims to want (he wants us to stay, he wants us to go, he wants to eat, he doesn't want to eat, etc.) - whatever we offer, he suddenly wants the opposite. If we leave him to yell by himself, telling him that we are happy to talk to him as soon as he stops yelling, he simply keeps on yelling. I've found some advice online to leave the child alone and let them figure out that they aren't getting attention, but most of the advice implies that kids will stop pretty quickly - like within a few minutes. But not Squeakles - he will spend an entire hour thrashing around (usually in the crib).
What I think he needs is a combination of not attending to him, and periodically checking on him to give him opportunities and some help calming down. I pop in and say, "are you ready to stop yelling yet?" When he's really worked up, he just keeps yelling. When he's starting to calm down, he will often tell me in a somewhat normal voice, "no, I'm not done yelling yet" and then will wait for me to leave the room so he can keep yelling, or sometimes will tell me that he likes yelling. Finally when I can see he's on the edge of really calming down, I can try to be a little bit playful and pull him out of his mood.
This is all fine and good when we've got two hours to kill. It's infinitely more frustrating when we have to get out the door to get to school and work.
The latest development is that, while he's starting to tone down the yelling a little bit (somewhat shorter durations, and sometimes telling us that he's going to yell without actually doing it), he's come up with a new approach that he thinks will drive us crazy. He claims he's going to eat whatever it is that is closest and inedible - the floor, his blanket, his shoes. If you tell him something he doesn't want to hear, he says in a rising about-to-cry voice, "and I would just eat the floor!" I don't mind this too much because it's a little bit of comic relief. And it's always something that we know he really doesn't actually want to eat, so it's pretty easy to call his bluff and tell him that's fine, go ahead and eat the floor, and when you're ready to come out and play in the living room let me know.
(He also threatened, over the weekend, to throw himself overboard out of the crib. I found him sprawled out along the top rail, clutching the corner of the crib, claiming he was going to fall and hurt himself. But clearly he didn't actually want to do this - he just wanted me to think he was gong to do it.)
His teachers at school don't have any cure-all advice, but they seem to be doing the same things we're doing. They give him every opportunity to calm down and join in whatever they're doing, but leaving him to himself if he really starts screaming. They are being really sympathetic and I am grateful for that. I know it's incredibly hard for them to deal with this when they have a classroom of 20 other kids who want (and deserve) their attention. They seem to think this is probably normal, but they do admit that most of the new kids aren't usually this worked up. At the same time, most of the kids who enter their class have previously been in a toddler room at the school, so they are only adjusting to the new room, not the concept of going to school in the first place.
We're all trying to find our footing here. Squeakles wants to have control of his life back, and is trying to figure out how he can make that happen. He has never tried tantrums before and he doesn't know yet what effect they will have on us - he seems to think they might work. J and I are trying to balance being firm and compassionate. This means figuring out when we need to give him a time out to show him that he can't get what he wants by screaming and when we need to stay by him to show him that we're always there for him and we are actually listening to him.
This is exhausting.