My Noah is going through one of those phases again. The naughty phase. The angry phase. The phase where he flat out refuses to get dressed in the morning. Where he holds off going to the toilet for hours on end and sometimes does poo in his pants because he waits so long, he doesn’t get to the toilet in time. The phase where I have absolutely no idea what to do or how to help him.
But why? Why does he go through these phases? Yes, young children are notorious for having tantrums. But at times like this, I can’t believe that Noah’s anger, frustration, temper and aggression are within the realms of normal four-year-old tantrums. Yesterday, he pulled me across the room by my hair because I pressed the pause button on the iPad when he wanted to do it.
He has everything. What’s missing in his life that makes him so angry? What can I do to make him better? Telling him off makes everything worse. What is going on in his head? Should I go and speak to the doctor about him? Or is this just how some children develop?
I have returned to work two days a week. My Mum and Dad take him to nursery and look after him for half a day each. He is particularly difficult getting dressed for my Mum. I usually send her a message just before I go into my first lesson at nine o’clock to see how the morning has gone so far. Last week her response was “don’t ask”. When I got home there was toothpaste all over the armchair. My Mum had brought the toothbrush and flannel to him after failing to get him to wash in the bathroom. He had taken the toothpastey toothbrush and rubbed it over the chair. Yesterday he was hiding in the corner refusing to get washed and dressed when he was due at nursery any minute. I found myself standing in the middle of the staffroom shouting down the phone, “Noah, get dressed immediately or you won’t be able to watch and television for the rest of the day!” To which he replied, “NEVER! GO AWAY!”
The slightest thing can set him off. He is engulfed and powerless in the clutches of his own temper.
Last week, he picked two daisies on his way out of nursery. In the back of the car on the way home, he dropped one of them. Because I didn’t immediately pull the car over and retrieve it, he started doing his nut, kicking the seat in front, trying to get out of his car seat. When we got home, he refused to get out of the car, lashing out at me as I tried to unstrap him. “GO AWAY!” he screamed at me. So I did. I locked the car door and went inside and watched him out of the window. He stopped crying, managed to wriggle out of his seat belt, climbed into the front so he was sitting behind the steering wheel and pretended to drive the car, merrily switching the hazard lights on and off whilst he was at it. Then he suddenly started screaming his head off, even worse than before. I bolted back outside and dragged his thrashing body from the car. He stood on the pavement, frantically swiping at his eyes, his screams so high pitched I am surprised I could even hear them. He was genuinely distressed and panicked. The problem seemed to be that his eyes hurt. I didn’t know what to do. Did he have something in his eye? Was he reacting to the light? Did he have some sort of migraine? Had he developed meningitis because I left him in the car? I got him to the bathroom and bathed his eyes with a damp flannel. If this didn’t work, I was absolutely going to put him back in the car, drive him to the doctor and insist on being seen. But it did work. He calmed down. I noticed his hands were filthy. He must have rubbed his eye and got something in it. Afterwards, we sat on the bathroom floor, him gripping on to me for dear life. “I will never really go away when you tell me to,” I said. “I will never, ever leave you.”
I decided to devise a reward system for him. I went to Wilko and brought five toys costing £1 each – finger dinosaurs, glitter, a craft kit, two boxes of their own brand lego and a book. I wrapped them all up individually and put them in a bag. Then I drew lots of houses on a sheet of A3 paper. Each house has five windows and when he is a good boy, he gets a smiley face sticker to put in a window. When all the windows of a house have a smiley face in them, he gets to choose one of the presents. I thought this was a genius idea…
As I was explaining the workings of the chart to Noah, he wanted to draw on it. He picked up a pen. I stopped him: I am Controller of the Chart, not him. And that was it. All of his pens were flung across the room. He bit my hand. Everything on the table was swept on to the floor. His tower of DVDs was knocked over. He was screaming. He bit me. I felt the very blood bubbling in my veins. I was about to lose it. “Why are you so naughty?!” I asked him, not at all calmly. “GO AWAY!” he screamed. So I put him in the garden for time out. If I put him anywhere in the house, he wouldn’t stay there and his rage would continue to make his behaviour destructive. And I needed to calm down. So he sat on the back step glowering at me through the glass door whilst I picked up all the things he had thrown on the floor. He didn’t attempt to come inside. He needed a wee so he pootled over to the bush and pulled his swimming trunks down and relieved himself right there. Then he picked up his tennis racket and starting pushing stones into the holes.
We needed to leave and go to his swimming lesson (hence the swimming trunks). I didn’t tell him off. I didn’t tell him that he wouldn’t be able to watch any more television that day as a punishment (although that was his actual punishment). It was his first swimming lesson in a new class and we couldn’t miss it. I was completely drained.
When we got to the changing room and he took his clothes off, I suddenly smelt poo. Noah’s poo to be precise (I can detect it from a mile off).
“Do you need to go to the toilet?” I asked him.
“No,” he replied.
I sniffed the air. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure not.”
“Turn around,” I said.
And there was poo all over the back of his trunks.
I closed my eyes and tried to breathe, tried to think. Was this my fault? Was he so traumatised by me putting him in the garden for time out that he pooed himself? He definitely didn’t have poo on his swimming trunks when we left home because I put his jogging bottoms on over them and I would have noticed. And what the hell was I going to do? Miss the swimming lesson? Could I put his clean pants on and hope the swimming teacher wouldn’t notice?
I took him to the toilet and got the trunks off him. I wiped his bum and then wondered if I could rinse the trunks under the tap. But that was unhygienic. I might give some innocent person gastro enteritis or something from rinsing pooey trunks in a communal sink. So I drenched a wad of toilet paper in water and attempted to wipe the poo off the trunks in this manner.
We went to the poolside for the swimming lesson, Noah in soaking wet but not terribly pooey trunks. My husband (who took Noah for his swimming assessment the week before) had already informed me that they taught with floats rather than armbands which I wasn’t wild about. Then the teacher directed me to the viewing area to watch the lesson. So I couldn’t sit by the poolside and be ready to jump in and save my child if necessary. The viewing area was behind glass windows in a whole other room. I sat on the edge of my seat, craning my neck so I could watch what was going on. There was only one other little boy in the lesson. I watched Noah swim from one side of the pool to the other with a variety of floats. I was impressed. My husband has been taking Noah swimming and took part in his lessons while we were in Vienna. I hadn’t seen him swim for ages. He was leagues better than the other little boy. And then the teacher took his floats away. He started to swim across the pool with no armbands, no floats, only his two little arms and two little legs propelling him through the water. My heart was in my mouth. I stood up and squashed my nose and cheek against the glass.
He did it. He swam across the pool on his own. He can swim!
And just like that, all of his previous antics of the afternoon paled to insignificance. It didn’t matter that he had been naughty. It didn’t matter that he had taken a chunk out of my hand. He wasn’t enraged and screaming and distressed. He was a confident and brilliant little boy swimming without armbands for the very first time. And there were tears of joy and tears of pride hidden very deep in my eyes (because I’m not one to cry).
He is so very challenging and so very wonderful. And I am so very glad he is mine. I just wish I knew how to teach him to react to life a little more calmly. After all, life will test him far more than not being able press the pause button on an iPad.