I may have mentioned (once or twice ;)) that Monkey has been poorly over the last few weeks. When your little one is poorly and just not themself it is impossible to be as firm about some issues as you would normally be. When they are irrationally upset about everything because they don’t feel well, there are some things that just aren’t worth pushing.
You see their forlorn little face and you would do anything to make them happy and you certainly don’t want them to be more upset, so you relax some of the boundaries a little. You want to eat on the sofa? Ok darling. You want to wear your PJs all day? Ok sweet pea. You want to drink more milk (the 10th cup that day)? Of course my darling. You got loads of toys out but now want to cuddle back on the sofa as you don’t feel well? Don’t worry. You don’t want to have a bath tonight? Ok my love.
It makes sense, obviously there are some things that are never ok, but then there are things that aren’t that important. That aren’t worth causing any more upset. There are some things they are only doing because they are poorly and so little and don’t understand what is wrong with them. Your nurturing instincts kick in and you snuggle and coddle and reassure our little darlings until they feel better…
The problem is though, strengthening those boundaries again when they are well. Or rather when to start again. Where do you draw the line? How do you know they are 100% better? Or, more to the point, how do you know whether they are still poorly, or whether they are trying to pull a fast one? Toddlers are clever little mites and if you give them an inch they will take a mile and once they recognise they can get away with a little more because they are poorly they are bound to take advantage.
We have the same struggle with discipline whenever Monkey has been poorly and we have been a bit softer with him. Because he is a fussy eater and we struggle with food with him at times, food is one area where we do soften the rules when he is poorly. We still try to keep him eating healthily and keep up with his faves such as veggie burgers, but with a reduced appetite you can’t help being pleased that they are eating anything. So there has been many more occasions where he has eaten cheese on toast, or peanut butter on crackerbread (he loves the stuff) instead of something more substantial. Because he needs to keep his strength up and is just not in the right frame of mind to be persuaded to eat things he is less sure of.
But we are all too aware that we can’t let this go on for long, otherwise it undoes all of our hard work to keep mealtimes happy and we end with battlegrounds over food again. Like I say though, the trouble is knowing when to start enforcing the normal rules again. While he has been poorly we haven’t always enforced the rule aboout eating at the table, or the rule about not drinking milk right before dinner time (as he will happily survive on milk in the evening and won’t touch dinner if he has milk) as we know he needs something inside him to avoid meltdowns and keep his strength up. But there comes a time when we have to enforce these rules again.
We decided to enforce them one day last week, and in hindsight it was a day too early. I won’t go into details but it descended into carnage with our boy wailing and crying so much and both hubs and I eating cold dinners by the time we had calmed him down and done what we never do – we backed down and gave up on the naughty spot (for the first time ever it just didn’t work and was chaos) and gave him what he wanted. A cup of milk. He didn’t eat his dinner and we felt thoroughly dejected and miserable that
a) we had enforced the rules too early and he had overreacted massively which meant that
b) we had to go back on what we said and give in, which feels totally wrong. We felt like terrible parents just getting it so wrong.
I remember watching supernanny before I had kids and scoffing, thinking the mistakes of the parents were so obvious and avoidable. Little did I know how hard the reality actually was! But sometimes I think to myself “what would supernanny say?” because I can see in us the parents I had happily scoffed at back in the day. Sometimes though I don’t know what she would say. Would she say “Well of course it didn’t work, he’s not very well” or would she say “You should have persisted, you can’t give up!”
The less we enforce discipline in general, the worse Monkey’s behaviour gets. We aren’t massively strict or anything but he actually reacts really well to boundaries in general and is for the most part a good boy, but a bit of laxity from us and his behaviour can descend quite rapidly.
The day after the cup of milk incident we saw the evidence of our mistake. Monkey hit me. Not hard, but in our house, hitting is not acceptable, under any circumstances. Not by accident, not in jest, just not acceptable. I told him off, explained that hitting is wrong and threatened the naughty spot if he did it again. We are very much in the “Why” zone with him at the moment and he said “Why not?” and hit me again. I had to be firm on this so put him on the naughty spot and after only a couple of tries he did stay put and it did work. The difference a day makes as he was definitely feeling more himself again and it showed. He cried and kicked off but accepted the naughty spot and apologised afterwards.
It was a turning point and he has been a lot better behaved since. Not all the time, obviously, and we have our moments but although we have threatened the naughty spot a few times we haven’t had to use it again. So I guess our relaxing of the rules, and our mistake and failed naughty spot attempt haven’t caused any problems long term. He is back to himself and the boundaries have been restored. Will he test them again? Of course. Will we go through all of this again next time he is poorly? Without a doubt. We will keep learning at this parenting lark and maybe one day we will know what we are doing without everything being a bit trial and error!
Do you relax the boundaries when your little one is ill? Do they ever try and take advantage?