Toddlers can be more fractious than a feral cat cornered by a dog, while it's raining, and her kittens are in a box on the other side of the dog, and the dog keeps looking between her and the box and growling, and she's pretty sure she's about to cut a bitch, literally.
They kick you and twist around like a crocodile in a death roll when you try to change their diaper. They scream like sirens in their car seats, and run like idiots towards oncoming traffic while laughing and swinging their arms like they think they can fly over those cars at the last minute. They eat your books (seriously, mine took a library book, grabbed a page with her teeth, actually growled while tearing it out, and then chewed and swallowed that sucker while I yelled and ran toward her in horror).
|Moira eating paper. Because, why not?|
If your child is settling in for a huge display, try these steps to prevent your own violent meltdown, and offer comfort instead of more fuel for the fire:
1. When a child starts to throw a fit, stop a take a breath, get down on their level, and name their feeling. "You're mad that I took that thing away/said that it's time to leave the park/can't put your coat on by yourself/can't make two blocks stick together/can't make the planets reverse order."
2. If you are in the middle of a store and your own embarrassment is starting to dictate to you how to act toward your distressed child, take even more breaths, and block out the world from your bubble of calm. Worrying about what others think, instead of how your child feels, is going to backfire and make things worse.
3. If you had to take something away, quickly offer an alternative. We can't use this steak knife, how about this butter knife? I can't let you eat the butter at the grocery store, but I planned ahead and brought you this container of grapes, because I know you freakin' love grapes. That toy belongs to that little boy, but I have this fun app in the ipod you can play. That pen is permanent, take this washable crayon.
4. If your child doesn't want to leave somewhere, or have something done, such as a diaper change, try to do it in stages. First we need to get our shoes back on. Now we say goodbye to the swing set and the squirrels in the tree. Now we fly around like butterflies, and when we fly, we fly toward the car.
5. Ask yourself if you forgot to think something through. Are you shopping during a time when your child typically naps? Did they have a high sugar snack recently? Have you been running a lot of errands all at once, and spending a long time in and out of the car? Is the flu going around, and perhaps your child has an illness coming on? Some of this might be easily remedied. Maybe you can finish your errands later, take them to a park to run off the sugar, or go home for some snuggles on the couch.
6. If a total breakdown is unpreventable, and you've named their emotion and offered sympathy to show that you are on their side, offer a hug or kiss, and wait. This might be in public, and you might worry that everyone is watching you, and they probably are. Screw them. It is really hard to be a toddler. They have reached a moment where they have no control over what is happening, and that's a scary feeling, even for adults. Wait gently if you can, and when they are ready, offer a hug and some comfort.
7. If the breakdown is inevitable but you can't stop for it, such as when you have a baby to tend to, or are driving in the car, at the very least don't make it worse by sending them away or screaming at them. I'm not perfect here, but I try to remember that a toddler deserves to be able to express their feelings, even if that expression is uncomfortable for me.
To a child, the things that seem little or petty to us are major moments for them. It's like someone offering you a glass of water on a hot day, and then taking it away from you right before your first swallow, or all your friends throwing a party and not inviting you, or reading the part in Harry Potter 6 where Snape kills Dumbledore. Toddler feelings are HUGE. They're still new at this. It's overwhelming.
I'm on my third toddler. She's ferocious. I do get angry and frustrated with her. However, the responsibility rests on me to see things her way, not the other way around. She's not developmentally capable of seeing things my way, yet. Insisting that she try will not teach her or train her; it will crush her.
Last night, she woke up and started screaming for me. She was in our bed next to daddy. I came in to breastfeed her back to sleep, but she kicked me. Girl, if you didn't want me, why are you calling for me? I tried to put a blanket on her, she kicked it off. I tried singing her favorite lullaby, she screamed for me to stop. I offered a hug, she turned it down.
Finally, I did nothing. I resisted the urge to leave. I sat there in silence. She reached a foot out until it touched my hip, and kept crying. It got quieter. More slow. It diminished to a whimper. Then, she took a deep sigh, and all her muscles relaxed. She sat up, curled into my lap, and fell back asleep.
We've been sick, so maybe she's fighting it. Maybe she had a nightmare. Maybe daddy is stinky. I have no idea why she fell apart. I just know she needed me so that she didn't have to deal with it alone.
Here are additional resources for navigating the toddler years with gentleness:
Managing Your Toddler: Tantrums!, by Dr Laura Markham
When It All Falls Apart: Toddlers, Tantrums and Turmoil, by Lauren Lindsey Porter
Toddler Ten Commandments, by Dionna
How to Solve Toddler Tantrums: Think Like a Neanderthal, by Meredith F Smalleredith
|"My child is not giving me a hard time, my child is having a hard time."|