When my son was born we soon knew he was more than a typical baby. He could hold up his body weight on his legs and roll over at 3 days old. He was always too strong. As an early intervention therapist, I was worried. I had my son’s pediatrician check his range of motion and muscle tone. He assured me that he was fine. He was a happy baby, (once we figured out feeding issues). He slept through the night at 6weeks old! He was often just “more” He moved all the time. He constantly made noises. Grunts and squeaks while taking a bottle, he always woke up “singing”, vocalizing open vowel sounds. You could not ignore him! As he grew he continued to just be “more”.
As a one-year-old, he met all his physical milestones on time and continued to constantly make noises. He talked and used sign language, understood everything he should. He continued to be “more”. He laughed harder, cried louder, moved and climbed more, explored EVERYTHING!! If something upset him, he was difficult to console. His reactions were not what you would expect for the stimulus, in other words, he often “overreacted”.
All this continued, then the terrible two’s hit! OH MY!! He continued to be sweet, social and charming. We knew there were some sensory concerns, but nothing seemed too extreme. He didn’t like to have messy hands, (we worked on that for a long time with sensory activities). As soon as he was able, he told me that he only liked “soft pants”. His reactions when upset were so much more than typical. Not everyone thought it was out of the ordinary, but I knew these reactions were not the usual toddler tantrums. We did realize that he struggled with transitions. It was so hard to leave a place, even if he wanted to go where we were going. Entering a location was just as tough sometimes. Most people did not understand why I couldn’t “control” my child as if I was completely responsible for his feelings, emotions, and how he coped or didn’t cope. I knew that my son was struggling, but I had no idea how to really help him. I had read everything I could find about toddlers. While some of it helped a very small amount, most of it did not.
Finally, I learned that his reactions, while more than typical, were still in the realm of normal. I learned that the brain releases chemicals and hormones in response to situations. Some people’s brains release more chemicals and hormones than others. As adults, these people are often described as passionate, hot-tempered, sensitive, etc. As children, they are often labeled with words that are not nearly as kind. These children need compassion and understanding. They need more time to process their feelings and emotions. They need kindness and love.
We spent a lot of time on labeling and identifying emotions. We worked on self-calming techniques such as deep breathing. We created a calming corner in the living room and made sure he felt safe in his bedroom. We requested that his daycare to create a calming corner. We explained the calming techniques to his caregivers. It took a lot of understanding and investigating of triggers. He was not aggressive, although many children like him are because it works for them. Not because they are “bad” kids or have been taught badly, but at 2 and 3yrs old aggression is effective towards other kids. When you cannot communicate effectively physical reactions are normal. (Think about how many adults cannot control their temper, kids have strong feelings too, and do not have the cognitive skills to make better decisions.) Sometimes we just had to wait until he was finished crying and could move on to whatever was next. I learned that in the grocery store, he would cry for the first 5-10min, then he was fine. He always cried leaving church, until we got down the stairs inside, then he was happy to run across the large foyer. As parents, we knew that we just had to stay calm and give him time and space to calm down. We knew we were doing everything we could to help him. We knew it was going to take time for him to grow and mature enough that he could handle his emotions. We often got the same advice from others, they were trying to help, and their advice would probably work well for most kids, but we knew what worked for ours.
We often felt alone in this. We didn’t see other kids reacting this way, mostly because we were too busy caring for ours to notice. I have since spoken with many parents that have a child just like ours. They feel alone or blamed for the way their child struggles. They don’t know where to go for help and find themselves re-inventing the wheel on how to help their child. I want to reach out to other parents. I want them to know that they are not alone. I want to share what I have learned so that they do not have to struggle as hard. Sometimes just knowing that you are not to blame takes away so much stress that you can be a much more effective parent. You can remind yourself, in those difficult moments, that you are not the cause. You are not making mistakes. You did not make your child “like this”. These children just need us to be understanding and empathetic. It’s not easy to stay calm and patient when your young child is out of control, but knowing that all they need is love and kindness makes it so much easier to be loving and kind.