And avoiding assumptions about her behavior.
An interesting thing happened yesterday.
We have a Stokke Tripp Trapp High Chair — the full bundle including the attachable baby set, cushion and tray. It’s a high chair that we chose for no other reason than pure aesthetics. Luckily, it is not only lovely but it also functions quite well; our full review will soon be available on STWFU. We don’t use the cushion (mostly because I don’t want to clean it after every meal, so I tell myself that her diaper offers sufficient padding). We also skipped the newborn set altogether since we subscribed in relatively equal measure — based on a daily balance of our own physical and psychological needs as adults — to both Magda Gerber’s philosophy on sitting babies up before they’re ready and tummy time. That is not to say that we never used a bouncer or a sit-me-up floor seat before Sydney could prop herself up on her own, but more on that to follow in another post as I’m now digressing.
Back to the high chair.
Sydney has been using Stokke’s high chair to join us for meals at the dining table since she could sit up unsupported. At approximately 16 months, she developed a fascination with independently buckling herself into the seat. Around 17 months, she was climbing up, over and into the attached baby set and strapping herself in. But in a zippy and unexpected twist shortly after turning 18 months old, she started waving her arms wildly at the high chair in aggravated protest. She and the chair were no longer allies.
It happened yesterday at lunch. Sydney adamantly refused to climb into her high chair and she even more adamantly refused to let me place her in it. Sydney’s version of adamant includes the aforementioned erratic arm movement, an ear-piercing wail that is literally the worst sound I’ve ever heard (I’m often surprised that it doesn’t shatter glass), and is frequently accompanied by a sudden limpness throughout her entire body that is enabled, in part, by her implicit trust in the fact that I won’t allow her to go careening head first onto the floor (though I’m often tempted to call her bluff).
Committed to my you-may-have-your-feelings-my-darling-but-it-won’t-change-the-outcome philosophy on dealing with tantrums, we battled it out for nearly 20 minutes. An eternity in toddler tantrum time (TTT). Sydney would reach toward the tray top, screaming for her plate and I would calmly remind her that she must sit in her high chair in order to eat her lunch. Corybantic arm waving would ensue, followed by a theatrical sob and a slow, overly dramatic slink to the floor.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
The battle finally ended with me forcing her into the high chair, kicking and wailing like a tortured, dying animal while I tried to calmly reassure her in a loud yet soothing tone (which I’m sure only comes across as condescending) that sitting in her high chair was truly the best way to consume lunch. It was a good meal for neither mother nor toddler.
A similar plight unfolded just before dinner that very evening. Carlyle and Grandma Julie waited patiently at the table while Sydney and I plunged into our battle of wills. They took their turns interjecting throughout the standoff, each offering their best advice to me and their most encouraging words to Sydney. She would crawl into my lap, snuggle her back into my belly, face the table, place her hands defiantly on its surface and appear prepared to begin the meal — at which point, I would again discuss the importance of her high chair. The mere mention of — or gesture toward — it would send her careening sideways in a feral frenzy. She waved her arms in giant crisscrossing motions at the Stokke and even grasped the attached baby set in order to push the entire chair away. In response, I would place her on the floor, announce that the rest of us would begin our dinner and mention that she could join us in her high chair when she was ready. Cue dramatic sprawl across the floor, back arched and head thrown back in a prolonged cry of immense grief that, extraordinarily, was both high-pitched yet guttural. Exhausted and in no mood for a repeat of the lunchtime hysterics, I wondered how long I was really going to hold out this time. Also, I’m never really sure that I’m doing the right thing.
After several successions of floor-to-lap combat, it suddenly occurred to me that Sydney might be trying to communicate her desire to sit unencumbered in a chair like the adults in her family. Even though we typically remove the tray and push the high chair right up to the tabletop for family dinner time, perhaps she wanted to sit uninhibited by the confines of the Stokke Tripp Trapp Baby Set? I detached the set from the high chair, leaving only the 5-point safety harness remaining in the seat, and then shifted Sydney from my lap toward the footrest. She leaned forward and pulled herself into the seat and quietly began the motions of strapping herself in.
I flashed an astonished glance at Carlyle as we all began to praise Sydney for joining us at the table. As one might imagine, dinner was a much more pleasant experience than lunch.
Since then, I’ve been thinking about Sydney’s tantrums and what they could possibly mean. I’m sure there is a parenting book I haven’t yet read that summarizes my apparent findings, but I have been wondering about other instances in which I could interpret her tantrums as a frustrated inability to articulate her intentions rather than a basic rebellion of independence and conflicting wills.
Our discoveries will largely be anecdotal, customized to our specific circumstances and situations, but it reinforces our need to avoid assumptions about our child’s behavior. Sometimes when we think she’s just acting out, she might actually be trying to tell us something quite specific.