We put Nico in “time out” for the first time last night. We’d threatened before, Do you want to be castigada, we’d say in Spanish, which to me always sounds way more severe than time out (and in fact is*). And at first when we threatened, she laughed and said yes. I think because before whenever we asked if she wanted something that something was almost always pleasant:
Do you want some fruit after dinner? Do you want to read a book? Do you want to go walk Finn? etc.
Something about that shift in expectations made me a little sad. Here we go, I thought, the moment when our daughter learns to dread the future. Gone are the days of thinking the world is only bubble baths, snuggling, and books about animals.
But counteracting that romanticism is the reality of what some call the “terrible twos.” I’ve never liked that term. It implies that children at that age are terrible or that time period is terrible, which I don’t really think it is. What I see is that Nico is unhappy more often. Or more accurately, she’s dissatisfied more often. But usually it’s because she wants to communicate something to us and we can’t quite understand, given her limited pronunciation skills. And I get that feeling. I’m a writer after all.
There are other moments when it’s clear she doesn’t even know what she wants anymore, but she’s started crying and isn’t going to stop until she’s cried out (which really only ever takes a minute or two). And I totally get that, too. I often feel like I want something I can’t quite name and that all I know is that I haven’t got it and that makes me want to cry.
But, even as much as I identify with Nico’s fits, I’ve always known that castigos will eventually be a part of our parenting approach. Mostly because I’ve seen them work so well for other families, particularly Marta’s brother’s.
So tonight, when she was refusing to put down her fork and knife and wash her hands before dinner, after we had tried to bribe her with her favorite, sweet potato (which she inaccurately calls papas dulces) as motivation to wash said (very grimy) hands, we finally told her she was going to time out.
Before we actually put her in time out, of course, we had to explain to her what it was in a way that she would get it (and not think it was a game). You will go stand at this spot in the wall and be alone for a little while until you can calm down, we said. It was the word alone that got her. Nico pretty much hates to be alone.
She shrieked when Marta picked her up and put her by the wall and she continued to cry for the whole minute of time out that Marta felt comfortable using, but then when we went back to get her and explain why she had been put in time out, she did finally calm down and go wash her hands.
Which was kind of a small miracle.
Because, although one may identify with the general sense of dissatisfaction that one’s two year old at times feels, one can also get very tired of managing frequent outbursts of said dissatisfaction: Just eat the banana kid. I know you wanted mango, but there is no more mango. Mango is dead!
*We use the word castiga because, well, Marta uses the word castiga, but it was only in writing this blog post that I realized there must be a more equivalent term in Spanish. And, according to the wordreference forums, there is. Tiempo fuera is used sometimes, a term that literally means time out/away, and another option is pausa obligada, which I kind of like. I suppose, then, Marta and I will have to talk and decide on a term that works for both of us. The argument against castigada is that it literary means punished, and time out, in theory, is not supposed to be a punishment. It’s a time to calm down and think. But if you think about it, it really is a form of punishment. But this is clearly a blog topic for another blog.