For the last three weeks my house has been turned into a war-zone. You see, my son Arun has been teething and has been a little testy. No, I lie. He has been an absolute monster and at times I have been an absolute monster back to him as well. The difference is he has got an excuse, I haven’t.
Life is tough at the moment for little Arun. He is cutting his molars, his mum has just gone back to work, he has to put up with an interfering little sister and he doesn’t have the words to express his frustration. All of this comes out as bad behaviour. He is incredibly clingy, has almighty toddler tantrums, refuses to go to bed quietly and has been rejecting his food. This has made him very difficult to live with. When for the fifth time that day he starts banging his head because I have failed to predict exactly what he wants, even Mahatma Ghandi’s patience would start to wear thin.
As most of you will know, I am no Mahatma Ghandi and I have been through the range of emotions when faced with a cranky kid. Firstly, there is disappointment, then there is frustration, disbelief and finally anger.
Like most fathers, new to toddler tantrum’s and teething pains, I haven’t known exactly how to react. My first response was to think that Arun was trying it on. He was going through the phase where he needs to push his boundaries (and with it my patience) to find out just how far he can go. My initial answer was to turn into “Victorian Dad” and adopt a zero tolerance policy. Every time he mis-behaved I told him off and when he continued I would tell him off some more. I gave no margin. If he was being difficult over his food, I would keep going until he had finished it; if he was refusing to come downstairs I would stand over him until he did. My attitude was simple – I was the Alpha Male in this household and he would have to accept and respect my authority.
More experienced fathers will no doubt be able to predict how this worked out. All that happened was that Arun got crankier, more bad tempered and more badly behaved. On my part, I got crankier and more stressed too. After three or four days of this approach it was clear that as with most wars there was going to be no winner and lots of losers. I needed to change my approach.
So, after discussion with my better half I decided to use some of the more feminine character traits that are often so alien to us men. I tried to empathise with what Arun was going through. Instead of being confrontational I decided to be compassionate; I tried to be accommodating rather than assertive.
And you know what, it has worked. Arun responded to the extra love and understanding he was being given. I think he in turn understood that we were still on the same side and almost immediately his feeding and behaviour improved and we are now firm friends again. Don’t worry, Victorian Dad still makes the odd appearance (usually when he or his sister are about to do something that will cause them harm) but he is firmly locked away most of the time.
I am relatively new at this Dad business. I try to be thoughtful and balanced but the fact of the matter is that I get it wrong a lot of the time but I do try to learn. I think that is the reality of real parenting. So, in the end it turns out that it’s not just Arun that has been having teething trouble.