Nightmare! We went a few weeks ago, at a friend's kind suggestion, to a local Baby and Toddler Group. I thought we were both ready to branch out and try some new things. PJ had been with me for 3 months and the routine of going to her new Nursery was by now established and she was more settled and happy there. The socialisation skills she will learn and the opportunity to play will be great, I thought. And I will have the chance to play with her there as well as get to know some other Mums too, I mused. Bonus. Besides, my friend Sarah, who had suggested we go, also helped to run it. She had a little boy too, Harry, about PJ's age and we had met them a few times at our church. It is all about connections with PJ, to help lower the anxieties, to calm the fear. I thought that telling her we would be going and that we would see our friend Sarah and her little boy, Harry, would help allay any fears she might have. We will have a lovely time, I reassured her. It will be a nice and calm and chilled morning out, I told myself.
How wrong was I!
It was a battle ground.
She went into fight and flight mode and ran around like a whirling dervish.
Toys, babies or small toddlers on the ground, beware. PJ ran through them, into them and over them. I did my best to catch her, but she thought it was a game and ran faster. I did eventually catch her and sit her down.
I did my best to talk calmly, soothingly. You know, all the stuff I have read about and experienced in the past in my job context. She seemed still. She got up and did the same again.
Running at great speed, she went for the slide. A tiny tot was tentatively tottering at the top. He didn't see her coming from behind. They slid down dramatically, together. I grabbed her halfway down to steady her and to slow her down. The baby cried. PJ screamed and hit and kicked. All the Mum's glared, or so it seemed, at me. I wanted to curl up and die and for the ground to swallow me up, right there. I did my best to say sorry to the wee tots parent and to stay focused on talking through the event with PJ and to remind her of being kind and steady and the need to share toys and take turns.
Snack time was a disaster.
She made a bee line for the comfy sofas around the edge of the room and ran around, shrieking with delight, bouncing on and off, without a care for anyone or anything, or if she might hurt herself, or them. Talking to her, using a stern voice, or warning her of consequences wouldn't work either. She is in such a state of heightened high arousal at this point that she ain't hearing me.
A warning of a consequence would fall on deaf ears and then she would simply fail, which would be unfair on her. Holding her in a hug for her safety and the safety of others is what she needed and got. For whatever reason, past trauma or fear or memories, or this Baby and Toddler Group simply being a new place, this experience had triggered the basic fight instinct in PJ.
The Queen of Aggression and Fighting was in the room.
And she was going to win.
Let Battle commence.
She doesn't yet have the skills to calm herslef down or the skills to keep herself or others safe. That is my job. I needed to intervene and she needed reassurance that she was safe with me and that I would keep her safe. She wasn't feeling safe in the Baby and Toddler Group. New is scary, even if she portrayed a very over confident and aggressive exterior.
The second week was worse.
And the third week. Or so it seemed to me.
She seemed to go for particular children and hit and kick them.
When I withdrew her from the situation each time she did this and held her safe in my arms she screamed, kicked and hit me and headbutted me. Well, she tried to.
One lady came over at one point whilst I was holding PJ sobbing and yelling: get off me Mummy, and asked me if I was OK.
I'm fine I said, as PJ lay, now calm in my arms quietly sniffing.
During the third week, PJ was yelling to me that she wanted to go home.
Home was safe but here was not.
Would I take her home and give in?
I wanted to. After all, I had had what felt like weeks of other Mum's glares and the unspoken words of: haven't you got your 3 year old under control by now?
I wanted to yell out to everyone that: She has only been with me 3 months, this is all new for her, she has been through hell in the past. This is regression. We will get there. Once she has settled she will be fine. She loved her previous Toddler group and has now settled into Nursery. We will get through this, please give us a chance. But of course, I didn't say anything.
I didn't bring her home early either.
I simply said we were going to stay here and play together and that if she hit or kicked again I would bring her to the side again and we would stay together until she had calmed down. She didn't like it. It was hard work. We were both emotionally exhausted by the end of Baby and Toddler Group.
Week 4 was much better and we had talked a lot during the week about the structure of the Baby and Toddler Group and the toys and being kind.
She said: maybe I won't hit Harry. Maybe I will.
Maybe you won't, I said.
She didn't hit Harry.
She arrived and said: do you want to play Harry?
Yes he said.
Week 5 was the Toddler group Christmas party.
She did great!
She even won some of the dance games. I was delighted and so was she.
Then we had 2 weeks off for Christmas.
I was dreading going back last week, I admit.
Would we be back to square one, I thought?
She said she didn't want to go but I told her again of the structure of the group and reminded her of the toys that would be there.
It was a dream.
She played happily and calmly.
I even got a chance to sit and chat with some other mum's there too.
The battleground of Baby and Toddler Group has been worth persevering with.
Resilience resumed. The ability to bounce back.
We go again today.