Toddlers. The messy, chaotic, unreasonable and adorable tiny ones that require near constant monitoring, and yet resist this level of inference with every fibre of their being. I’ve had a challenging week with my little toddler rebel; partly due to him being a bit poorly, but he’s also testing my boundaries. And he doesn’t seem to like boundaries. At all. Here are four ways in which toddlers are just like anarchists in miniature – at least, in my experience.
1 – They demand absolute freedom
Freedom is all well and good until someone gets hurt. So if my toddler wants to exercise his freedom by playing with traffic, jumping off stuff that’s way too high, or drinking my wine – he’s in for a battle. They want to do whatever they desire and find it incredibly frustrating when we restrict them, especially because they often struggle to understand why we need to step in. Consequences are hard to grasp for young children, and sometimes I feel a lot of sympathy for Bill when I try to explain why he can’t have ice cream for dinner, or why he can’t slither like a snake all the way to the park, or why climbing over our fence into the neighbour’s garden isn’t acceptable.
Sometimes I manage to explain my reasoning and it’s accepted, other times it’s not. And if I’m particularly frazzled I find myself saying “just because” or “because I said so”. Tiny anarchists hate this – so I often sound slightly insane when I’m talking to Bill; “I know you are a snake right now but if you slither all that way we won’t be there until tomorrow. Maybe you could be a snake that magically grew legs?!” Toddlers love small freedoms that we can allow them; like picking what to wear, although their choices aren’t always appropriate for the weather or occasion. A pink fluffy onesie on a rainy puddle walk? A Thor costume for a Christening? Your freedom to wear what you like ends when it starts being batshit crazy.
2 – They love chaos
Toddlers may enjoy organising blocks or arranging their teddies but overall I’d say they actively engage in chaos magic (Wandavision reference, sorry). They revel in it. Put a pot of paint in Bill’s grasp and he’ll put his hands in it. Leave a full box of Cheerios on the breakfast table and they might end up decorating my floor. They like to smash, splash, crush and destroy – but also create. And a lot of the chaos I end up mopping up isn’t naughtiness – it’s their way of exploring the world and the forces that control it.
3 – They don’t like to be controlled
Bill often resists holding my hand these days. That little surrender of freedom is a big deal to him; and although this is fine (if a little hurtful at times) he really does need to hold my hand sometimes, such as when we are crossing the road, or when we’re negotiating our way through a crowd. He riles against it with the passion of a hardened revolutionary – how dare I try to seize control of his hand, authoritarian witch that I am. There some non-negotiable subjects that have to be carefully controlled; when it comes to safety, for example, or being kind to others.
But sometimes a choice, or the illusion of choice, can be everything to them. I like to frame choices for him so he’s able to choose for himself safely, “Do you want to hold my hand, or Auntie Lottie’s?” “Would you like Mama or Dada to tuck you in tonight?” It’s clear he’s holding someone’s hand, and he’s going to bed – but he gets some semblance of control. This doesn’t always work though, sometimes he realises I’m attempting to Jedi mind trick him into submission. But it often does help to give him choices within limits.
4 – They are natural rebels
If Bill gets his hands on a pack of apples he would take a single bite out of each one and put them back. If that isn’t a ‘fuck you’ to society and social norms, I don’t know what is. Although he responds well to routine and accepts some rules happily, there are always a few they inevitably rebel against. Bill has always hated naps; I think he feels a fear of missing out, and so trying to put him in his tiny cot jail and asking him to power down for an hour or two was completely unacceptable. This was a battle I lost; he dropped his naps pretty young. As long as he goes to sleep at bedtime I was happy to accept defeat in that particular power struggle. Toddlers also love to question things which is kind of great in a way; we shouldn’t discourage curiosity and questioning things is healthy. But it can be exhausting for us.
Constant power struggles can be draining and frustrating, for both parent and toddler. It gets easier. Slowly. Bill is starting to shed his anarchist ways little by little; he’s potty trained, he follows (some) rules, and he even gets quite irate about other kids breaking rules in the park (“not UP the slide, DOWN the slide!”) Maybe we should lament the fact that all children start to conform. Maybe we can learn something from their rebellious spirit. Maybe not. I’m too tired to be insightful. But although toddler revolutionaries can be exhausting, they’re certainly never dull.