Courtesy of Sarah Bunton

I Used The Wonder Weeks App To Understand My Son's Tantrums

You might have heard about incredibly popular The Wonder Weeks app and how it's supposed to chart your baby's developmental progress and give you an idea of when you can expect your child to experience easy or difficult days. According to The Wonder Weeks site, "the app shows when your baby makes a leap in mental development," and explains what your baby can understand and learn after graduating to the next developmental milestone. What parent wouldn't love a sneak peek into what's making their little one tick? If you've seen the movie Inside Out, then you know how awesome it'd be to get a glimpse inside your non-verbal baby's mind. Without giving any spoilers away, the premise of Inside Out is that a girl's emotions are personified and the audience gets to see how and what goes on in her head. I could only hope that this app might give me an opportunity to come as close as that.

That's perhaps one of the biggest reasons why I was drawn to trying out the app myself. I desperately wanted some type of Rosetta Stone decoder to make sense of my son's seemingly random and inconsolable tantrums. His crying, I at least had some idea of what it indicated — maybe he was tired, hungry, wet, or physically uncomfortable — but his fussiness and visible frustration left both of us feeling a bit helpless at times. So I decided that, with nothing to lose, I'd see if The Wonder Weeks app could give me a forecast for and an interpretation of my baby's development and behavior.

Essentially, The Wonder Weeks gives parents a bit of an idea of what they can expect in terms of their baby's developmental milestones, calm periods, cranky moods, and more detailed information on what their new abilities mean. For instance, in the developmental leap of "The World of Patterns," the reason your baby might seem more fascinated by details is because their brain is beginning to associate and recognize patterns now, according to the app. So I was interested to know not only when to expect certain changes, but why they occurred.

The Experiment

Since the developmental leaps were said to occur within a range ("The World of Patterns" can happen anywhere between 7 to 9 weeks of age, according to the app's information page) and I wanted to get a full picture of how my baby compared to the predictions of the chart, I figured I'd try the app out for a month. It seemed simple enough, so there really wasn't very much I needed to do to our routine except monitor my baby's chart and development, which I was already obsessively doing anyways.

Week 1: Is He Rebellious Or Researching?

Courtesy of Sarah Bunton

Though this was week one of the experiment, my son was in week 55, according to The Wonder Weeks app. Though the app begins at week 1, you can begin at any time. All you have to do is input your child's birth or due date and it will automatically tell you what stage they're in. Since my son had just had his first birthday, it was a little difficult for both of us to process situations where things required more than five seconds of attention since we were so exhausted. We were recovering (in our own ways) from the stress, chaos, and over-stimulation leading up to, during, and after his birthday party, and it was actually really helpful to pull up a chart with the swipe of a finger to calm my nerves or justify my concerns.

I had to remind myself that parenthood means you're always redefining what your limit is and perpetually finding your new normal. So, in a way, The Wonder Weeks chart was right.

Denoted by storm clouds or sunshine, in an instant the app could tell me if I could expect my son to be cranky, irritated, or happy. I'm pretty sure it's a rite of passage that every first-time parent doubt their instincts and actions at every turn. So since I was mentally, emotionally, and cognitively burned out, using the app as a guide to decipher his moodiness was particularly helpful.

According to The Wonder Weeks, Max was just coming out of Mental Leap 8, which meant that my baby could understand "programs." If that sounds confusing, here's the breakdown, according to the app:

The word 'programs' is very abstract. Here’s what it means in this context. In the previous leap, your baby learned to deal with the notion of sequences — the fact that events follow one after another. Programs are patterns of if-then decisions.

So if I ever felt frustrated that he was pushing boundaries, I had to remind myself that he was doing his baby-version of the Scientific Method and was just testing his "if, then" hypotheses. Not every experience was neat and tidy, but it was worth it just to see his face light up when he realized, "if I turn my cup upside down, then all the liquid will come out!" He also made other, more adorable, connections, like realizing that if he made a raspberry noise, it would elicit smiles and laughter from everyone he was around. He loved to entertain people with the various sounds he was discovering he could make. And the app helped me make sense of his behavior because it meant that he was just trying to learn and give structure to his own world.

Week 2: Does "Uncomplicated" Mean Smooth Sailing?

Courtesy of Sarah Bunton

My little dude was in week 56 and definitely seemed to be less irritable and grumpy than he had been the previous week. That's not to say, however, that everything was all rainbows and unicorns. I would liken his behavior to the weather in Florida, where we live. It can blue skies one minute, a tropical storm the next, then back to sunshine again — all within an hour. That seemed to be a perfect comparison for his behavior. He'd be chilling "reading" a book, freak out when I tried to join him, then want a hug after screaming at me to leave not even five minutes prior.

When I consulted the app, I was informed that he was in an "uncomplicated" week. At first I was dismayed that it felt like this week was far from uncomplicated since I wondered if my parenting skills were to blame for my son's behavior not lining up with the app's predictions. On the other hand, I had to remind myself that parenthood means you're always redefining what your limit is and perpetually finding your new normal. So, in a way, The Wonder Weeks chart was right, in the same way that an afternoon storm is better than a hurricane.

Growing pains go both ways.

Week 3: Giving In To The Roller Coaster

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Since week two showed me that my definition of "uncomplicated" differed somewhat from what the app implied, I decided not to hold my breath waiting for a disaster. Sure, that meant some days I was woefully unprepared for the sh*tstorm that is a 1 year old with an insatiable appetite for independence. Yet it also meant that I didn't feel quite so anxious waiting for the other shoe to drop as the clock ticked closer to nap time and he was nowhere near sleepy yet. So when he decided he had to take his shirt off immediately, I chose to laugh along with him and applaud him when he succeeded in ridding himself of what was clearly an unacceptable fashion choice, in his opinion. The beauty of this app is that you can peak ahead to see what leap is next, glance at the chart to see when the next expected storm cloud will be, or you can even forget about it for a week and "compare notes" in retrospect. You truly have full control over tracking, learning, and preparing for your child's many developmental stages.

Though he was approaching Mental Leap 9, he was thoroughly exploring all that Mental Leap 8 had to offer. There was one night when he was fighting bedtime despite his exhaustion and he accidentally dropped his stuffed animal. And this is not just any stuffed animal, this is his main squeeze. I rushed to pick it back up and hand it to him in hopes the bear would provide some much needed comfort. However, just at The Wonder Weeks predicted, he was "in control." So he dropped his bear again only to say, "No, mommy. I get it." Interestingly enough, when he was the one to pick up his lovie, he was instantly calmed.

In the moments when I doubted the reasons behind my son's behavior, it was a relief to check an app to gain some insight into what was making him tick and why, rather than beating myself up over not feeling prepared enough to handle his various moods.

Week 4: Could It Be...? Sunshine!

Courtesy of Sarah Bunton

At first I thought I might be living in a real-life version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers because my "spirited" (code for feisty and rebellious) son was giggling, sweet, and all about cuddles this week. Upon checking the chart in my app, I found a lovely sun peeking out from behind a cloud. According to the same chart, which told me week 56 was "uncomplicated," this week was shaping up to be "sunny."

The cute animation turned out to have some layers, though. It wasn't the sun by itself, it was accompanied by a somewhat harmless, puffy cloud. True to the image on the chart, parenting wasn't a 24/7 fun fest. But that's OK. In fact, that's life. Just like an adult shouldn't expect life to be bump and detour-free, there are hiccups in parenthood, too. As my son grows and learns, tests and triumphs, fights and fumbles, so do I.

Was The Wonder Weeks App Wonderful Or A Waste?

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Even if it was just for the sense of validation and confidence The Wonder Weeks app provided, it was worth it. In the moments when I doubted the reasons behind my son's behavior, it was a relief to check an app to gain some insight into what was making him tick and why, rather than beating myself up over not feeling prepared enough to handle his various moods. Apps don't judge, patronize, or pity you when you second guess your parenting skills, and I liked that about using this app. It provided basic information, forecasted his mood, and explained some of the causes for why a child his age might be acting a certain way.

The thing I actually appreciated the most was the disclaimer. It reminded me what every parent should keep in mind when assessing their child's developmental stages: each child is different and grows at their own pace. Just like I realized in my final week of the experiment, growing pains go both ways. So if I should allow my son to learn and flourish in his own way, on his own terms, then I should grant myself the same grace and leniency.