Every parent wants to catch a problem as soon as it appears. Who chooses to wait months or years while an issue festers and grows? The problem with identifying this problem was that it was impossible to tell when rages began. I’m only able to take a laborious, stop-frame look backward in time to try and detect when the first clues appeared. Other parents will agree that when they stop and remember back to the beginning…what was the beginning? It’s like trying to frame a moving…dissipating…accumulating…wall of fog.
Pre-language infants cry, wail, scream and flail. They express fatigue, hunger, discomfort, pain, despair, boredom, gas with a handful of hollers. Loving but tired, sleep-deprived and stressed parents move with difficulty through this period. However — and this is critical — at a certain point most crying/wailing/screaming/flailing nonviolent babies evolve into a less intense version of all of that as their brain functions develop with age.
That pre-language infant becomes a toddler with language, and some measure of mutual communication allows a toddler to move beyond “violent” infancy to a more evolved toddlerhood. Parent and child are able, more or less, to communicate. They can begin to bargain, reason, understand one another, and discuss in rudimentary ways.
Normal Wild Toddler or Abnormally Wild Toddler?
Trouble is that the perceptible difference from outside is too slim between the normally developing baby and the baby whose brain is not developing ‘executive’ functions, for a parent to notice. Normal toddlers throw fits. They scream. They throw things. How to tell the difference between the normal-wild toddler and the not-developing-on-schedule wild toddler? Which wildness is normal wildness and which wildness goes beyond normal-wild? I did not see the difference. It appears to me that most parents will naturally miss identifying this problem for up to a year. I defy anyone to pick the abnormally wild, wild toddler from a group of normally wild, wild toddlers.
Our toddler was growing and developing normally in all other ways. He was physically healthy, which is paramount for any parent. We were busy with our lives and with the toddler’s older sibling. The toddler threw fits sometimes — as many toddlers do — not always. How could we possibly have realized that anything was wrong?
In hindsight, it probably took a year of crazy explosions in between making breakfasts – BOOM – shopping – BOOM — leaving his brother’s school after drop-off — BOOM — lunches – BOOM – playdates – BOOM – appointments – BOOM — dinners – BOOM – BOOM – home life – BOOM – siblings playing — BOOM…before I realized something was wrong. It’s obvious only later. If only a family’s life and routines were a smooth narrative that could be viewed and recorded as if they lived behind glass in a controlled research unit!
A Family is Not Programmed Code
Additionally, a family is rarely running nicely on all cylinders. Someone’s attention is elsewhere; someone is ill; someone is travelling; parents divorcing; issues with extended family; a blended family going through bumps; someone is…someone is…someone is…and on and on. Which is to say that it takes a long time to realize that a toddler’s behavior is out of the range of normal, as opposed to a child of a different age. From my current vantage point, I conclude that toddlerhood is the weirdest, craziest, most fun and most complex period of a kid’s life.
Our family had its share of both punctuated and ongoing stress; and our older son had a health issue that took years of attention…there is no surprise that we lagged far behind the problem of our toddler’s violence. Most toddlers are wild; but, in some, there is a degree of rage that is, in fact, undiagnosed developmental delay.
In hindsight I’m amazed we managed to successfully toilet train our little one. Non-compliant over any unwanted task at home, I bribed, cajoled and made it a central family task to be accomplished. Over some weeks we were, and he was, successful. In retrospect it was a small miracle. Except for Halloween and birthdays we never had candy at home (I had wanted not wanted my kids to develop my own poor food habits). But we made toilet training-time a carnival of candy- and DVDs-on-demand. The film version of Curious George came out on DVD, and it combined the beloved character and Jack Johnson’s marvelous score…and lots of green, and yellow, suckers. It wasn’t easy: Our toddler loved the film and music but that portable DVD player was pitched across a room and into a wall. Escaped injury and another dent in the drywall: small price to pay for a successfully toilet trained, violent child! A victory of a violent child’s family.
Toilet training is probably the first specific event that I can attach to its explosion. I remember some of those 45-minute rages – but not what sparked them. I only recall them as occasional wild tornadoes, whipped up instantly. He was a feral force of nature upon us and I was the ’emergency first responder’ rushing to protect us from him, and him from himself.
So, I can pinpoint around age threeish, I think, when I started to realize that we had a problem.