The other day I couldn’t help but laugh at my 2 year old because she kind of reminded me of the way I act when I’m hangry (or about to get a visit from Aunt Flo). Every little thing seemed to annoy her and she couldn’t make up her mind. One second she wanted to watch Goldie and Bear and the next second it was Peppa Pig. One second she wanted milk to drink and then she quickly changed her mind to water. I gave her pancakes and grapes for breakfast, she ended up eating a wheel of cheese and eggs. I knew it was going to be a loonnnng morning so I made myself a cup of tea for some comfort. “You sit by me mama?” she said and patted the floor next to her. I put my tea on the coffee table and sat with her on the floor. “You bring your tea!” she yelled. I told her I wasn’t bringing my tea because it was too hot. “You bring your tea!” she yelled repeatedly. I tried to ignore her and she started kicking her feet on the wood floor and making some whining/grunting noises. Fine kid, you win, I’ll bring my tea. Then she decided she wanted some strawberries. That’s really great and all, but we didn’t have any strawberries. I kindly told her we didn’t have any and she yelled, “Let’s go check!” over and over again. I tried to ignore her and she kept grabbing my hand to lead me in the kitchen. Again with the stomping and whining noises. We went to the fridge and lo and behold—NO strawberries.
Now this was just a tiny snippet into the morning with ONE toddler. I realize these are just little instances and not big blow-ups, but we moms know it can still wear you out. I also imagine with more than one kid, you are downright exhausted and perhaps on the brink of insanity with each passing minute.
I got to thinking about how to handle these toddler moments and I realized that I actually do this for a living. Say what?! Yep- I help teachers and students manage behavior in the school systems so I should be able to come up with something for my own kid….right? Well, it turns out I did (see below).
Why am I saying “no”?
I try to analyze why I am telling my daughter “no” to something she wants to do in the first place. Am I saying “no” because I want to feel like I’m in charge and I can do what I want (i.e.: I’m the mom that’s why)? Am I saying “no” because I’d rather poke my eyes out with thumbtacks than listen to the “Hello Song” one more time (Sorry Mrs.Tracey)? Or am I saying “no” because the activity is unsafe or we have something else that has to be done instead?
In the case of the strawberries I was saying “no” because I was too lazy to walk to the kitchen and I already knew we didn’t have any. In reality, that’s not a great reason. Toddlers are curious and also want to feel like they have some power/control over daily events. Really, what harm is it to go look in the refrigerator?
I am absolutely not saying there aren’t days and times that you should be selfish. Just start being mindful of WHY you are saying “no” to something in the first place. My guess is there are some pretty simple things you could be saying “yes” to and avoid a power struggle all together.
Focus on what you CAN do.
I often catch myself saying “no” to my daughter and giving her no other options. This usually doesn’t end well. Let’s use the strawberry situation again. When she repeatedly asked me to check for strawberries I could have just said “no” and left it at that. Instead, I tried to focus on something she COULD have. After we went to look in the fridge I said, “Honey, we don’t have strawberries. You can have grapes or a banana.” These options take the focus off of something negative and give her back power. She gets a choice in the matter and I end up with a happy toddler. For the record, she chose hummus.
Distract. Distract. Distract.
I feel like all moms have this tried and true trick up their sleeve. Your kid is throwing a tantrum so you say—“Oh look! There’s a cardinal at the bird feeder!” or “I think I just heard your baby doll crying. Maybe you should go get her?” Quite honestly these type of distractions can work wonders. Looking back, I totally could have asked my daughter to make me a cup of tea in her play kitchen to take the focus off of my super-hot tea that she wanted me to hold. Hindsight is 20/20.
Hit ‘em with a whisper
I definitely learned this technique while working in the school systems. If a kid is yelling loudly. I respond in a whisper. Interestingly enough, a lot of the time it throws them off enough to completely stop or whisper back. Guess what? This same thing works with toddlers on occasion. When my daughter is yelling or being particularly loud, I whisper something to her and she whispers back. This has worked everywhere except in church when I REALLY REALLY need it to work. Flashback to last Sunday when my daughter straddled my husband’s arm with her baby doll and yelled “Ride it! Ride it! Here we go!” Side note: it was our first time at this church.
Don’t always try to ‘fix’ the emotion
Everyone on this planet experiences an array of emotions—happy, sad, mad, scared, nervous, annoyed, etc… The exact same thing is true for your toddler. Many times, I find myself trying to get rid of whatever painful or big emotion my daughter is experiencing. As I reflect, I realize it is important to let her feel her feelings. When she gets angry I just say “I know you are mad. It’s okay to be mad.” It’s actually really HEALTHY and OKAY to get mad (this is true for parents, too). Sometimes I empathize with her, for example—“I know you’re mad because you want to run with a fork. It’s okay to be mad. We can’t run with forks because you might get hurt.” Here’s where you can even add in a choice (#2 above)—“You could run with your teddy or insert other soft object .”
Redirect the emotion
We’ve had some stints of hitting from my 2 year old and I’ve found that if I redirect the anger towards an inanimate object it can help. I’ve told her she can hit a pillow or soft object when she is mad but she can’t hit people or our dog. It took A LOT of redirection and reminders but she’s finally started swatting at the floor or whatever non-living object is near her when she’s mad. I know it’s not perfect, but it sure is a start. Depending on the age of your child you can try coloring to release emotion, deep breathing or a calm down jar.
Give yourself a break, literally
If you find yourself getting angry with your little ones frequently or feeling like you need a break—it might be time to take one! You need some time away to re-focus and rejuvenate yourself.
Give yourself a break, figuratively
Being a parent is hard work. You are going to make mistakes and that’s okay. I am far from a perfect parent and NO, I don’t use all the tricks I mentioned above all the time. When I am in the moment, I often forget about them. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation get the best of us, not to mention ‘mom brain’—does that ever go away?
Keep on keeping on parents! Just remember, it’s healthy for your child to have structure and limits even though this may cause tantrums. They need to learn to deal with anger and frustration NOW rather than later. It’s a lot easier to contain a fit throwing 2 year old than a rage-filled 12 year old—and I’ve tried both.