As long as I’ve known them, my husband and his family have used the phrase “to throw one’s toys of the cot” to mean what I would call, “have a hissy fit.” For example, if my husband stormed out of the house in a huff because his mom asked him to turn his music down, she’d scoff, “no need to throw your toys out of the cot.” Similarly, if a customer gets belligerent with the store clerk for some imagined wrong, my husband might remark, “wow, she really threw her toys out of the cot.” In essence, the idiom, which I suspect is British in origin because I don’t hear it often among my American-born friends, is likening an adult’s behavior to that of a toddler throwing a tantrum. I really like it, as it paints an excellent visual that captures both the frustration the person is feeling and the futility of his or her actions.
This phrase has taken on a whole new meaning now that I have a toddler of my own. In the past week or two, he has taken to literally throwing all of his toys out of his cot when he doesn’t want to go to sleep. This is no small feat, since his crib is filled with pacifiers, stuffed animals, blankets, soft books, and toys. My prior image of a child “throwing her toys out of the cot” invoked a kid just having a hissy fit and waving her arms around, thereby hurling her toys across the room. In fact, however, this process is far more deliberate. It takes my son several minutes to painstakingly gather, pick up, and toss out each and every item in his crib. He cries while doing this, his little face contorted into an exaggerated scowl. Once there is nothing left in the crib for him to amuse or calm himself with, my son really lets lose.
Usually I am watching this scene from just out of sight, trying to sooth and reassure my son as he performs this ritual. The first few times he did it, the whole thing seemed entirely self-defeating. “Why are you throwing out your binkie bunny?” I’d ask compassionately, “He wants to help you go to sleep.” It puzzled me that my son would expel his favorite items first, rather than holding on to them until the end of his demonstration. “Sweetheart, you love your blankie, don’t you want it in bed with you to snuggle with?”
Soon, however, I began to see the wisdom in this willful act of protest. By depriving himself of those things that I knew my son needed to be able to go to sleep, he was, 1) telling me that he had no intention of sleeping and/or 2) proclaiming that if I wanted him to lay down and close his eyes, I had better recover and replace all his toys. Which, undeniably, I do. Every time. Of course, this reinforces the behavior, but what is the alternative? I do not believe in the cry it out method, and I cannot bear to see my son upset without even a pacifier to comfort him.
My son has taught me that “throwing one’s toys of the cot” is not a fit of anger. Rather, it is a cry for help. It is his way of saying that he feels abandoned and helpless (as well as tired and cranky, naturally) so needs a loving hand to help bring balance and order back to his little world. I will try to remember this lesson the next time I see someone act irrationally out of frustration. My son usually calms down once I lovingly replace each of his toys, one by one. A little kindness goes a long way.
Maybe my son will also teach me where “don’t get your knickers in a knot” comes from, because I’ve certainly never seen that actually happen!