There is a rhyme/song in Spanish that goes: Naranja dulce, Limón partido. Dame un abrazo, que yo te pido. A rough translation would be: Sweet Orange, sliced Lemon. Give me a hug, that I ask of you.
Leo loves this rhyme and no matter what he's doing if I begin to sing it he will run over to me and give me a big hug. Needless to say, I sing it often because I can't get enough toddler hugs and kisses.
Luckily, Leo is full of love these days and is eager to cuddle most of the time. He even asks for "kickes" (kisses) and will point to part of his face that he wants us to kiss. I'm making sure to soak up every moment of this affection.
Naming the Feelings Helps
The flip side is that he's entering that phase of toddlerhood where he isn't only full of love — but emotion of all kinds. He has feelings and even though his verbal skills are quite excellent he still struggles with letting these feelings out.
We've found that naming them helps, so we've been working on happy/sad/angry/scared etc. Then when he's storming around the house for no apparent reason I'll ask, "Are you angry?" and it's like a little light goes off in his head and he will say, "Yeah, I angee." He'll still rage for a little bit, but it seems to empower him to give his feelings a name.
Kisses Become Pushes
The hardest part of this emotional roller coaster to navigate is the space where aggression and affection meet. Usually it will begin with him being sweet — a cuddle, hug, kiss or caress. Then it will escalate to a stronger hug, or more of a push than a gentle stroke — until finally he clenches his jaw, balls his fists and is virtually wrestling with the object of his affection.
When he does this with my husband, jb, or me (or an adult relative or friend) we are pretty easily able to hold him at arm's length until we diffuse the situation. Unfortunately, pets and playmates aren't as lucky.
Pets and Playmates
We are lucky to have some very gentle and patient pets in our lives — both our pug, Talula, and my mother's cats will sit there calmly while Leo hugs, pets, and sometimes even tries to ride them. It's great because I feel really comfortable letting him get close to them — but it's also tricky because they don't complain even when he begins to get a bit too rough. I'm also concerned that Leo is going to think that all animals are this laid back and might push an animal that isn't used to kids to snap/scratch at him. So I'm doing my best to constantly remind him to be gentle and intervene when he gets that look in his eye.
And then there are his little friends. His poor, poor friends He loves them. A lot. He wants to hug them. And hug them, and hug them, and hug them. It gets to the point where his poor little playmates are running from him to avoid getting any more hugs. Obviously I intervene when necessary — and I'm getting better at recognizing the escalation before it turns into a choke-hold or a bop on the head — but it breaks my heart. I don't want to discourage him showing affection — it's just a bit of a grey area between loving squeeze and bear hug.
This is normal, right? (Right?!) I want him to show affection freely, but I don't want him to hurt or chase away those he loves. I want him to feel all these intense emotions he's dealing with, but I also want him to vent them in healthy and safe ways. Emotions are tough (says the pregnant lady) and toddlerhood seems to be a really challenging and frustrating age. I just hope that jb and I are able to help give him some guidance as he works out this phase.
Sandra Telep is a West Philadelphia mom of one and one-on-the-way. This post is adapted from her blog, West Philly Mama.