Had I known that one day my sweet innocent daughter would turn into a psychiatric patient, I would have taken Haldol instead of prenatal vitamins during my pregnancy. I had been forewarned by fellow parents, but assumed there was no way MY child would succumb to such behavior. Then at 15 months, my little monster reared her curly haired, bi-polar little head.
Conduct that would guarantee psychiatric commitment in the ED is apparently ‘normal’ for a toddler. Emotionally labile? Check. Flight of ideas? You bet. Decreased sleep? Of course. Violence? Unfortunately, yes. Welcome to your very own in-home mental health facility, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!
Suddenly the wrong color of sippy cup would lead to TM-rupturing screams and flailing on the floor. If she requested grapes, by the time they were given to her she wanted strawberries and would cry until her face was the color of aforementioned grapes. My husband was not allowed to touch the stroller, remote control, or baby wipes unless he was looking for an attempted bite wound. In between these outbursts, however, she was as delightful as ever. We relished the happy moments and tried to take cover when the predictably unpredictable tornadoes struck.
Our initial thoughts as first-time parents were ‘What just happened?’ and ‘What did we do wrong?’ Naturally everyone was full of advice. Friends without children enlightened us that it was simply a matter of standing your ground, which has apparently worked wonders for their non-existent children. Our parents hinted that the problem was with us, since our daughter was amazingly perfect when she was with them, and her every demand was fulfilled immediately. Standing our ground was sometimes tantamount to the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results – and giving in to her was pure masochism.
I turned to books, which gave equally confusing guidance. Some recommended distraction and comforting while others stated this would lead to escalated tantrums from children who felt like their feelings weren’t being heard. In addition, many friends warned us that three-year-olds made the terrible twos look like a relaxing vacation. For the time being, it seemed, our miniature manic was here to stay.
There were at least a few points I could apply from my adult psychiatric patients to my little one. Like adult patients, even toddlers want someone to listen to them. They need to be fed and they need to sleep. Most importantly they need to know that someone they trust cares about them and will be there for them. So my husband and I take it one day at a time and try to meet these basic but challenging needs. As with ED patients, it certainly makes for interesting stories.
Just the other day I sat through a 15 minute psychotic eruption at the zoo, instigated by a dent in my daughter’s banana. I endured the judgmental stares from other parents and the pull on my heartstrings to soothe her with whatever bribe I could think of. She finally stood up and in between tears and hiccups confessed, ‘w-w-want to be happy’. At least we have that in common.