8, 2001 - Wednesday
Harry had a meltdown tonight at dinner that eventually caused me to remove him from the table. Yet, it ended with a surprisingly revealing glimpse at the powerful self-awareness already at work in a 20-month old boy.
It started with potato chips that Harry saw being poured into a bowl. He wanted some and we gave him one. That was our mistake, because no one can eat just one potato chip and that went for Harry, too. Since his mother and I were concerned about him eating too much junk food before enough of his main course, we held out a little and didn't give him more chips right away. We did realize that not giving him any more chips wouldn't work in the long run, so we thought we might at least slow the chip eating by getting him to ask politely for more chips and say "please." He had the "more chips" part down without any trouble, but the "please" part was not as forthcoming.
Now, Harry has said "please" before on more than one occasion, so we wouldn't have thought that there would be much drama to the whole thing. Unfortunately, this time there was and he simply refused to say it. Who knows why that is? It wasn't that he didn't understand what we were saying, nor was it that he didn't understand that if he said it he would get more chips. He knew both, but he was also apparently aware that saying please would be giving in and losing control of his environment. Those type of mind games are quite common in adults and older kids, including Harry's dad, but isn't a 20-month old boy, just learning the ropes, too young for that kind of self-pride? Clearly not and he became more entrenched in his position and more adamant with his demand for more chips. Every now and then in a moment of lesser fortitude, he would recoil into a hidden smile that belied his mask of a narrow, focused desire and expose his understanding that we were trying to get him to say a word he didn't want to say.
With neither his parents nor Harry given in, Harry eventually descending to a point when, for all concerned including the greater company of relatives, it seemed best to take him away from the situation. He wasn't eating much anyway and I kind of thought he might well have been done anyway. But, I've never so directly and markedly removed Harry from the dinner table before it's been fairly clear he was ready and I don't think he liked this new approach. His meltdown continued long after I brought him to our room and set him down on the couch for our effective time out. In fact, I set him down there twice before we would return to the table. The second time was after it seemed he had calmed enough to return to the group. But, after I picked him up, he began to aggressively demand a return to dinner. While we both wanted the same thing, somehow it just didn't seem like he was ready. Initially, I held him on my shoulder for a while and walked around the room, but his mood only deteriorated again and eventually I put him back on the couch.
The first time I had put him on the couch he had lay down as if we were going to have a story and started saying "lie down" and calling for this new favorite mouse book that we'd been reading a lot. Since, I didn't really think I ought to be obeying his orders just then, I did not read him the book and simply encouraged him to calm down, walked away for a spell, and tried to follow our normal method for dealing with these occasional outbursts. However, this second time I put him on the couch, after several minutes of crying and not seeming to get him any calmer, something changed. Harry again said, "lie down," as if to say "Harry, lie down," then "mouse" for the mouse story, and "daddy, lie down" in quite a declarative manner. I again did not read Harry a book, but this time I did lie down next to Harry on the bed, effectively obeying his order. Like a switch being tripped, Harry's mood changed. He became visibly more relaxed and within moments he and I were on our way back to the table to finish dinner.
I know Harry is smarter than his words. I know Harry has emotions, wants, and desires. I even know that he needs to get his way. But, I guess I never really thought about him needing to save face so overtly. In hindsight, I guess that's what was going on at the table when he tried to hide behind his shoulder at the suggestion he might say "please." But, by lying down with Harry of his bed, I gave him a victory he needed in the face of feeling chastised at the table. That gave him a hint of control and, in turn, a peace of mind to move forward.
After we got back to the table, there were several more mini-victories Harry demanded and I ceded. He asked for more corn. I gave it to him. He told me to eat his partially eaten piece, I did. And, with that, it felt as if we were bonded like friends reaffirmed after an ended quarrel. He smiled. He ate a large dinner, excluding even what he had eaten before the trouble started. And, we played together happily after the meal was over.
We try to be nice to Harry. We try to care for him and I think we treat him well. Of course, we try to teach him the things he should know. Those things are obvious, really. But, at 20 months just as with 20 or 38 years, Harry needs to feel good about himself, too.