Opinions. We all have them, and find them hard to ignore. We all feel the need to voice them, and have them listened to and taken into consideration. But how do we learn to express them normally?
My 1 and a half year old has recently started expressing his own opinions. He is of course entirely word-less thus far, and therefore needs new and original ways to tell me what he wants. Some of the time, the form of expression he chooses is as immature and baby-like as you would expect from, well.. a baby. He will burst into spontaneous tears if I offer him Cheerios when what he had a hankering for was Rice Crispies Multigrain. He will kick and pound on the floor of his cot with his tiny hands and feet if we have a difference of thought as to whether his bed time has arrived. And he will literally push me off the couch if he would rather have some alone time with his episode of Baby Da Vinci.
None of these are normal adult reactions to wanting something a different way. But when it comes to expressing an opinion of his own volition, and not arguing with mine, he is actually startlingly adult-like. With his new found and almost magical powers of comprehension, my baby boy has been transported into the world of mature decision making. If I announce that it is time to go out, I can follow R to the coat closet, where he will look at the selection of jackets and pick out his favourite, holding it out for me to put on him. (Not that it’s for me to argue sweetheart, but it’s finally above 85 degrees outside and this is a snow suit.) A slight rumbling in the tummy? Watch my son wander over to the snack cupboard and scan his options, before making a selection and digging in happily, much as I’m sure a teenager might peruse the fridge shelves.
R will go to the bookshelves and tilt his head sideways to browse the titles until he finds the one he feels like reading, he will bring me his shoes, (or anyone else’s he fancies) if he wants to go out, and he will walk ahead of me purposefully, ignorantly marching off in the opposite direction to anywhere useful I might be intending to visit. The boy knows what he wants. And woe betide anyone else who gets in the way of that.
And that’s where the comprehension hits a brick wall. Even though he is so impressively capable of showing me what he wants, he finds it near impossible to show me in a normal way what he doesn’t want.
Sometimes it is blindingly obvious, and I didn’t need the temper tantrum to see what the problem was, as he points angrily at the croissant I’m daring to enjoy all by myself. Other times, I find myself asking him (as I do, multiple times a day) what is it about this situation that’s bothering you? The shoes? The jacket? The colour co-ordination? It’s truly tiring. And it’s not even his lack of language. I know that plenty of mums with talking toddlers have to ask them repeatedly to “use their words” in much the same way that I am constantly asking R with increasing frustration, “show me what’s wrong!”
I suppose it’s just a waiting game, until he learns that telling me or showing me the problem is much more effective than shouting and thrashing for ten minutes and then showing me in the end anyway when I ignore the tantrum.
Having said that, I’m sure we all know our fair share of adults who think that the silent treatment, or throwing things, or meaningless insults are a better form of communication than language. Isn’t that just a somewhat more socially acceptable form of temper tantrum?