There is a difference between being worried about your child’s wellbeing and being worried for their lifelong success. For instance, Man weighs as much as the average 18-month-old. He will be three in September. Does that worry me? Yes. Do I ultimately know that he will grow up to be a healthy kid, though maybe a little small? Of course. However, he has been displaying some increasingly disturbing behaviors lately, and do I know that ultimately he will be okay? No, not necessarily.
“Is this behavior normal?” I recently asked his camp director as she explained to me that Man was having a difficult summer.
“I hate using the word ‘normal’,” she replied. “Every child is different.”
Somehow, I think the word normal would have been thrown around a lot more easily if his behavior was indeed that…but I know it’s not.
Man came into this world with his eyes wide open. Often, you see the first photos of babies and their eyes are shut tight. Not my Man, he was ready to gaze upon the world around him, already in need of some stimulation.
As he has grown it has become more and more apparent that Man is a “sensory-seeking” child. Similar to needing an extra shot of espresso in your latte, Man needs a little extra stimulation to get the same amount of input as other children his age. He is also (and I’m not just saying this because he is my child) extremely smart and curious. To throw another log on the fire, he is a typical boy, with extremely poor impulse control and judgment. Put all three of these things together and it’s almost like a ticking time bomb. You get a child who runs out of the house and into the street just because he wants to catch and “observe” the butterfly that he sees outside. I have told him that he is not allowed to open the door and leave the house by himself every day—multiple times per day—for the last 17 months, yet somehow, he still does it. We have a deadbolt, but inevitably someone needs me, and sometimes I forget to relock it.
He is a child who has tried (and has succeeded) to open the car door with his foot, just to see what the road looks like while we are driving.
Or how about a child who still opens the refrigerator (because he has already broken four locks) and empties all of its contents on the floor “just because.” He has been doing this since he was 18 months old, and yet he still finds it fascinating. I expect this behavior from my one-year-old, but Man should have out grown it long ago.
I literally have not been able to take my eyes off of him for more than a few minutes since the day he was born… and I’m exhausted.
Now you’re probably reading this thinking: wow, she has no control over her kid; she must be terrible at disciplining. I used to think this too. I was constantly questioning my parenting skills. Was I just not doing this right?? I have given him time outs, removed him from situations, yelled, reinforced the positive when he does listen, taken away precious toys, used behavior charts, designed a “sensory diet”, physical redirection, etc. So far, NOTHING works. For some reason, I cannot impress upon him that some of his actions put him in mortal danger and he cannot, under any circumstances, do it again.
The other half of you is probably thinking that he’s only almost three, and of course he is going to “act out” or have little impulse control. Let me reiterate that this is NOT acting out; most of the time he performs these acts with absolutely no malicious intent whatsoever. He also understands what dangerous means and why many of these acts are dangerous. He is simply gaining the stimulation he so desperately needs. When I ask him to turn off the television and get ready for bed and he has a tantrum, well, that is acting out. When he dumps an entire glass of water on the floor (for the HUNDRETH time) because he likes the way his hands feel when he is splashing the newly formed puddle in my kitchen, that is an example of atypical, sensory seeking behavior.
I’m just beginning to understand what makes him tick. I’m starting to accept that he is not going to “grow out of it”, that this is who he is; it’s in his genetic makeup. I have also stopped beating myself up, this is not my fault and I am a good parent. As a good parent the best thing that I can do for him is admit that he has some challenging behaviors and that they are outside of my scope. I need to turn to professionals and get their guidance on how best to approach this. If my efforts have been unsuccessful, I need to find someone better at this then me. In this case, good parenting is admitting that I, his mom, cannot help him in the way he needs to be helped. As hard as it is to accept it’s the first step in helping my entire family.
Before this post comes to a close, I want to make sure that you understand that this is only one aspect of Man’s little personality. He is extremely loving and caring. He is the first person to comfort one of his friends if they are crying. He is brilliant and beautiful. He makes me (and others) smile and laugh every day. I had no idea what love truly was until I was blessed to give birth to him. He is my beloved first born, and as his mom, I will do everything in my power to make him the best Man he can be.