From the moment you announce your pregnancy, it seems like everyone offers you parenting advice. You’re inundated with opinions about everything from sleeping and the right kinds of diapers to preparing you for the terrible twos. (By the way, that actually lasts from 18 months until about 3. You’re welcome.)
Actually, I believe there’s no such thing as the terrible twos. I call this age a “magical time” when many developmental leaps take place. It’s a time of significant growth and development for you and your child.
The time between 2 and 4 is foundational as kids change physically, emotionally, and intellectually. They’re also learning and becoming their own person. It’s a time to look forward to and anticipate because the skill developments in this timeframe benefit you AND your child.
Here are a few things to remember as you deal with this “magical time.”
This is a necessary stage of growth and development.
I had a friend who shared that when their child was in this stage, they believed they did something to “break” their child. Gone was the calm, sweet infant they brought home. It seemed to happen overnight.
I could bore you with all the human growth and development theories, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, this stage of development is necessary and expected. Yes, they have tantrums and cry. But it’s usually because they don’t have the words to effectively communicate what they want or how they feel. Plus, they don’t have the skills to control their emotions. This is when the magic happens.
It’s critical to decide what’s truly important versus what you can let go of during this time. Part of the magic is setting appropriate boundaries. Everything doesn’t have to be a fight or power struggle. Remember, you are the authority, so no need to struggle.
For example, safety is paramount. Things like holding hands while walking in a parking lot are NON-NEGOTIABLE. Other things, you may choose not to fight. Mismatched socks or wearing a Christmas sweater in May shouldn’t ruffle your feathers.
Try to prevent bombarding yourself with thoughts about how something makes you look to others. This is about you and your child growing and learning together. You may need to create a saying to remind you that this phase is necessary for growth and becoming the person they were made to be.
This “magical time” lays the foundation for your future.
It may be hard to believe that your child will one day be a teenager or adult. You may be wondering, “Why are you talking about the future when I’m struggling in the present?” Believe it or not, your present struggle is preparing you for the future by developing your character, strength, and skills as a parent.
MAGICAL TIME teaches you skills like:
Staying calm in a crisis or the middle of the toy aisle when your child is pitching a fit
What works best for your particular child
How to guide rather than dictate or control (because can you really control anyone?)
MAGICAL TIME teaches your child skills like:
How to identify and regulate emotions
How to make decisions (age-appropriate)
Independence and autonomy
How to speak for themselves
As you’re learning and growing, your child may still cry, yell and throw tantrums.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
You aren’t the only parent who has gone through this.
More importantly, you aren’t the worst parent in the world. In reality, you are learning new skills. So, give yourself a break!
Through these words of encouragement, I’m not trying to blow smoke or try to make it seem like magical time is without challenges or some tears from both of you.
Yes, it can be challenging, frustrating, and feel never-ending. But no matter what, it will be worth it. You’ll learn about yourself and how to be the parent your child needs. You get to choose how to see this time. Will you see it as magical or terrible?
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/pexels-william-fortunato-6392803-scaled-e1615985855992.jpg235600Gena Ellishttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngGena Ellis2021-03-17 08:58:342021-03-22 22:41:04How to Deal with the Terrible Twos
How you parent your child matters more than what others may think about how you parent your child.
Has your toddler ever had a meltdown or temper tantrum?
Does your child cry uncontrollably to get something they want?
Have you ever wished the floor would open up in the store and swallow you because of how your child was behaving?
If any of these things have happened to you, then you probably are the parent of a toddler who is in the middle of a tantrum. Inevitably, these behaviors are on full display in large public spaces like the line at the grocery store or in the middle of the aisle at a big box store. As a parent, you feel the weight of the stares and glares from the other customers and employees. Your heart rate rises. Your hands get sweaty. You may feel embarrassed or that you are the worst parent ever. All you want is for your child to please, please, please BEHAVE.
What do you do? How do you parent your toddler through a temper tantrum?
Here are a few strategies that can help you:
1. The best tantrum is the one that never happens.
Prepare your toddler before you go out. Remind them before you leave, that you aren’t buying them anything, that you have a few things to get, and incentivize their good behavior beforehand. (“If you behave, we’ll make some cookies when we get home,” or “I’ll read your favorite book to you,” or “We’ll watch some PBS Kids.”) This will help them to defer gratification and hopefully make your shopping easier.
2. Remain calm.
This may be easier said than done. When your child is losing it, as a parent you have to remain calm. Often we contribute to the intensity of the tantrum by escalating it because of our feelings of anger and embarrassment. Now is not the time to be concerned about what those people around you are thinking. It doesn’t matter what they think about your parenting. It matters how you parent your child. Keep your focus on your child and not on a bunch of people that you may never see again. Remember, you can handle this and it is normal and natural for a toddler to have a temper tantrum.
3. Assess the situation. (Create a mental game plan.)
Now that you have taken a couple of deep breaths and are calm, do a quick mental checklist:
Are they hungry?
Did they miss their naptime?
Are they not feeling good?
Did you make changes to your normal routine?
Are YOU stressed and overwhelmed?
Maybe there is no reason at all except they are toddlers.
However, if you can pinpoint the triggering factor, such as your toddler being hungry, bringing or getting them a small snack can allow them to calm down at least until you finish this errand. If they are tired, it may be in your best interest to get them home as soon as possible. If they are angry because you said “no” to something they wanted—be the parent.
4. Focus on your child.
With your game plan in mind, focus on your child. Find a quiet space in the store, if possible—if not, offer to go to the car to calm down. (Leave your cart with an employee and tell them you will hopefully be right back.) When you get to the car—look your child in the eye, speak softly and calmly, and empathize with them. (Ahh, you really are tired; I know, you are hungry.) Then give them directions. This may be the time to throw in an incentive. (When we go back to the store, if you behave, when we get home we’ll have a snack before naptime.) You are laying the groundwork for important child development pieces like learning to control their emotions, learning to defer gratification, and learning mom means business.
5. If you have a very sensitive child…
It may seem more difficult to deal with tantrums when you have a “sensitive child.” No matter the temperament of your child, it is fine to have appropriate behavioral expectations of them. It is important to remember that children respond differently to correction. For some, it only takes “that look”—others require more. The goal of discipline is to teach. A slight deviation from the normal routine could really send a sensitive child into orbit. Being keenly aware of your child’s temperament (and your own emotional state) is vital for effectively dealing with a tantrum.
You have made it through your toddler’s public tantrum.
Was it hard? Maybe. Will it happen again? Probably. I love the saying, “Once you have gone through something, you know how to go through something.”
Become a student of your child. Now is the time to think about ways to prepare for the next toddler temper tantrum. Keep snacks in your bag. Either go alone or wait until after naptime. Go to the store when it’s not really crowded.
Parenting is a HARD job, especially with toddlers. You may feel frustrated, anxious, distressed, positive, satisfied, and overwhelmed all in the SAME DAY, even on the SAME TRIP. There is no parenting handbook that has all the answers for every situation, contrary to what those judgy people in the store believe. As parents, we are not perfect, and neither are our kids. Our children don’t need Perfect Parents. They need Present Parents. Parenting a toddler is just one stage in your parenting journey. All you can do is try to do your best to meet the needs of your children for where they are developmentally.
Constantly putting yourself down is of no benefit to anyone. Practice self-care. Be careful what you say to yourself because you will believe it. Make time for yourself. Take a bath. Go for a walk. Talk to friends. In the words of flight attendants, “Put your mask on first, then help others.” We are so busy making sure everyone around us is okay, we often neglect to care for ourselves. This has a huge impact on our children—they can pick up on our stress and frustration. Be your best self so you can be at your best for your child, wherever and whenever.
When little kids have big feelings, it may require a different approach.
If you’re the parent of a young child or toddler, you know the joys (and consequently devastation) of a helium balloon. My 4-year-old, Jackie, held tightly to the string of a balloon that had been floating around the house, left over from a surprise “just because” package from work. Her face lit up with pure delight as she ran around the house with it. I warned her not to let go of the string, because if she did, it would float to the top of the high ceilings in the living room, making it unreachable. She dismissed me with a “Yeah, yeah mom,” as kids do, and continued to play as I made lunch in the kitchen.
One minute later, there was a terrible shriek. Bone-chilling. And the weeping and wailing began. Jackie had accidentally let go of the balloon and, sure enough, it had floated up to the high ceiling, out of reach. And now the world was ending. (TBH, I may or may not have rolled my eyes.) As I stopped preparing food and prepared to go comfort Jackie, I heard her younger 2-year-old sister, Maddie, attempt to comfort her. “I’m here! I’m sorry, sissy! I’m sorry!”
Jackie’s response through screams and sobs? “No Maddie, it’s not your fault. You don’t need to apologize. THE BALLOON NEEDS TO APOLOGIZE!”
If you’re the parent of a young child or toddler, this scenario seems pretty typical, right? But what do you do when this is a daily occurrence? Or even multiple daily occurrences? What if your child cries easily and often? They have multiple meltdowns a day because they are so highly sensitive. How do you handle the crying, outbursts and tantrums and still discipline a sensitive child, without crushing their spirit?
Recognize That Emotions Are OKAY.
Many of us were taught at a young age to suppress our emotions, whether it was our parents’ intentions or not. Telling a child, “You’re fine… don’t cry…” when they’re upset minimizes their feelings. Instead of building a connection and safe space for them to process through, it actually tells them that their emotions make you feel uncomfortable, angry or annoyed and can slowly chip away at the sense of security they feel with you. We are often triggered by our children’s behavior, taking us back to how we were parented. So be intentional about allowing their big emotions and responding with connection instead of reacting as if they are wrong. Make space for them to feel, no matter if you see their emotions as logical or ludicrous. Try switching up, “You’re fine… don’t cry…” to “I can tell you are feeling ____. It’s okay to feel that way. I’m here.”
Help Them Learn Emotional Intelligence.
ABCs and 123s are great for our children to learn, but what about emotional intelligence? Children are not born knowing how to regulate their own emotions. It’s absolutely a skill that needs to be taught! So help your child learn to recognize what they are feeling by giving them the vocabulary of emotions. Talk about your own feelings, read books about naming and dealing with emotions, and above all, be there for them without judgment of their emotions. Then, help them find effective calming strategies like: Count to 10, Take Deep Breaths, Read a Book, etc. Often if your child is acting out, or “misbehaving,” it is most likely due to an underlying unmet need like being hungry, tired, or feeling disconnected. Grabbing a snack solves 97% of our household meltdowns. (Because yes, kids get HANGRY, just like Mama!)
Practice A WHOLE LOTTA Patience With Your “Orchid Child.”
Human development specialists W. Thomas Boyce and Bruce J. Ellis explained the opposite ends of the human temperament continuum using two Swedish words, Orkidebarn, which translates to “Orchid Child” and Maskrosbarn, which translates to “Dandelion Child.” Where Dandelions are known for surviving the most challenging circumstances and still thriving, Orchids require “just right” conditions to flourish and grow. Children who show more of an “Orchid child” temperament are just the same. They need more time, patience and help at learning to self-regulate their emotions. So hang in there! Be the calm in their chaos, and show empathy and compassion for their big feelings. It’ll take time, but they will learn how to process through their emotions more quickly and effectively as they mature.
Have Confidence In Disciplining Without Damage.
For many parents, the term discipline has been confused with punishment. We want to discipline (aka teach) our children in order to prepare them for the real world. However, neuroscience shows us that children’s brains are naturally impulsive and lack the self-control of adults. Many times children simply cannot (as opposed to will not) follow through with our demands because their brain doesn’t yet have a fully-developed frontal and prefrontal cortex, both of which are crucial to regulating self-control. However, parents often try to force their children to learn to obey through consequences, time outs and other methods that serve to control the behavior. And these types of discipline can absolutely get our children to conform, but that may not necessarily teach them what they truly need to be successful in life: self-control.
In order to teach self-control to our sensitive child, we need to:
First focus on responding with connection. Get down on their level, or try to make eye contact with them. Acknowledge, name, empathize and validate the emotion they are feeling. For example: “I can see you are upset because you don’t want to stop playing. That is very difficult. I understand.”
Then, stay calm and caring while still maintaining control of the situation.Avoid raising your voice, pointing fingers or threats. Make space for them to feel angry, upset, frustrated, sad, etc., without trying to “fix it.”
Next, provide a simple directive on what needs to happen.The fewer words you use the better. An example may be: “It’s time to leave,” or “We are leaving now.”
Then, firmly hold the limit you’ve set.Avoid trying to explain your reasoning or rationale at this moment. For instance, don’t say, “We have to leave right now or we’ll be late and then we’ll miss the whole appointment! Hurry up!”
Finally, once the emotion has been regulated(through the help of naming the emotion and working through it using calming strategies), we can come back full circle to discuss step-by-step what happened, without blame or shame, and provide ways to handle a similar situation better next time. (Ask your child what they could do differently next time. If they aren’t sure, provide some options such as using a specific calming strategy and talking about what they are feeling. Be sure to end the conversation with encouragement for next time and remind them that you love them, no matter what!)
★Bottom Line: You’re NOT Doing It Wrong… It’s Just That Hard
No one has this parenting thing down to a “T.” You know, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. A sensitive child can be extremely draining… but rest assured, you are not alone. Connection is the key to handling a highly sensitive child, or any child for that matter. You’ll just need to cultivate a bit more patience with your Orchid child. Helping your sensitive child learn how to self-regulate their big feelings will take longer, since their brain needs to be more developed (i.e., older). But give it time and you will see tremendous growth! Meanwhile, keep those tissues handy.