Impulsive toddler: The ‘terrible twos’ on steroids

I was recently reminded of a story from Joe’s toddlerhood that has more meaning from my vantage point today than it did when it happened. Nine years ago it was just a funny story. Today, I recognize it as a foreshadowing of the ADHD world to come.
Joe was demanding from the womb. I had one of those scary touch-and-go pregnancies, but the outcome was good. Things were difficult his first few months, but about six months in we hit a stride. Joe started smiling at his world, and took it on with a zeal and determination that couldn’t be missed. When he was around, you knew it.
He was walking at 11 months, and my days got even more tiring. When his seriously shy older sister turned 2, I reluctantly enrolled her in a preschool program for two half-days a week for the socialization and confidence-building benefits it would give her. When Joe turned 2, I went to that same preschool and asked how many days a week I was allowed to sign him up for. The maximum was three half-days.
I remember having to gently prepare Nathalie for her start, spending weeks reading books about going to school and talking with excitement about how this meant she was growing into a big girl and was going to make friends and have fun. We visited the school playground more than once so that it became familiar turf. Eventually, Joe was with me each time I dropped his sister off and picked her up. By the time he was old enough to officially attend, he had already laid claim to his school.
The only prep I had to do for him was to dig a small red, blue and yellow Dr. Seuss backpack out of the bottom of a closet. It was a freebie with a book order I had made a year or so earlier, but pink-and-purple Nathalie had rejected its primary colors. Joe was pleased as he could be to strap it on his first day. I dropped him off in carpool line, and still have the image of him climbing out of his car seat wearing elastic-waist cargo shorts, a T-shirt and an orange ball cap, loading on the backpack before crawling out the side door of the minivan with a big grin on his face and taking the hand of a school assistant.  
When I picked him up two-and-a-half hours later, his grin was just a big. But instead of seeing the decal of One fish, Two fish recede as he walked away from me, I saw the two yellow shoulder straps snug around the top of his body—and one of them had an envelope attached to it with a large safety pin. As he got closer, I could read, “Mrs. Murphy” written across the front.
Things were too hectic in carpool line to worry about the envelope; plus I wanted to greet Joe and talk about his first day. I remember his response to nearly every question was “Great!”  He’d had a great day.
When we got home and unloaded, I unpinned the envelope and opened it. Inside was a note from Mrs. Daugherty saying that Joe had bit a classmate at the rice table. He’d left bite marks on the child’s arm but there was no broken skin. Joe received a brief time out, and the students talked at circle time about more appropriate ways to express themselves and how to be a good friend.
Nathalie attended preschool for three years and not once did I receive a note about bad behavior. Joe arrived home with one on his very first day. Indeed, this was a different child and our school experience would not be the same. At the time, I didn’t realize how not the same it would be.
“Inappropriate behavior” would probably make our family’s Top Ten list of most often used phrases. At school Joe progressed from biting to hitting to kicking. He had trouble in lines, when other children were likely to invade his space. The incidents became more frequent about fourth grade. That’s when the boys started getting a little mouthier with each other, and Joe had more trouble controlling his angry impulses. By his onset of puberty in fifth grade, Joe had served more than one in-school suspension as hormones triggered even more impulsive outbursts.
The good news is that Joe was always remorseful. He always blamed someone for provoking him, but he never defended his own inappropriate behavior. He owned up, and always felt relief upon offering an apology.
So it is true what they say about hindsight. Just as it seems appropriate that Joe’s antsyness to get out of the womb could have been an early clue to his hyperactivity, so too can I see that his first-day-of-school biting was a precursor to his struggle with impulsive outbursts to come.
 I’m pleased to report that Joe has kept the lid on himself at school this year, though clearly that control is still a work in progress. Just tonight I had to intercede as he charged his sister with the lid to a storage ottoman raised above his head. She said something snarky, and he saw red.
But don’t worry, I told him he’ll lose all screen time for the rest of his life if I ever catch him showing that kind of aggression again. (Nice, right?)

Tammy Murphy

Tammy Murphy is a journalist on hiatus. She’s the mother of two—a 14-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son whose ADHD and related symptoms were evident practically from the womb. Tammy is a native of Maryland and a recent Georgia transplant. She started blogging about her up-and-down experiences with Joe—and life in general—as much-needed therapy.

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adhd and school, adhd behavior problems, adhd symptoms, parenting/FAMILY, Tammy Murphy, Tammy Time ·

About the author

Tammy Murphy is a journalist on hiatus. She’s the mother of two—a 14-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son whose ADHD and related symptoms were evident practically from the womb. Tammy is a native of Maryland and a recent Georgia transplant. She started blogging about her up-and-down experiences with Joe—and life in general—as much-needed therapy.

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The "ADHD Mommas" are not medical or mental health professionals, nor an ADHD coach. Any opinions shared here are just that, opinions. I, and the other "ADHD Mommas," are sharing our experiences with our own ADHD children. Please do not re-post or publish any content or photos without a link back to {a mom's view of ADHD}. Have the courtesy to give credit where credit is due. Copyright protected. All rights reserved.

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