Week 7 Lesson
Parenting a toddler is an emotional roller coaster ride, akin only to the first few weeks of caring for your child as a newborn. One minute, you’ve overtaken by pure joy and adoration; the next, you’re frustrated beyond exasperation. Seeing your child’s brilliant mind develop, watching his darling body toddle through the world, and experiencing the profound interactions the two of you have each day endures you forever.
But you would not be alone if, when your toddler throws tantrums, you felt the beauty of your relationship and the strength of your bond were overshadowed by those unpredictable, ferocious emotions. You’re already stressed and tired from your regular parenting duties: It is completely normal to feel out of control, yourself, as you watch your child dissolve into a weeping, fist-pummeling heap several times a day—heck, it’s what you feel like doing too, right?
Over the last seven weeks, you’ve been introduced to some new skills for responding to meltdowns. That doesn’t mean that while in the eye of the next stormy tantrum, you’ll recall every one and respond effectively—in fact, we know how taxing it is to have learned something that could be really beneficial in a specific instance, only to be so overwhelmed you can’t recall it.
In these moments, resist the urge to one-up your child’s tantrum with your own. Watching you react loudly or violently is a definite Don’t, one that won’t shorten this current fit of your toddler’s or prevent the next one. Instead, just surrender. This doesn’t mean give in to your child’s demands—that’s not exactly best practice either, as we learned last week. Rather, simply stop whatever you’re doing, sit down, have a glass of water, breathe deeply, and let the moment pass. Put on some soothing music, call a friend who will just listen (and not offer any advice), and eat an energizing snack. Stay close to your child—you can be in the same room or at the same table, even—but say and do nothing else until you collect yourself. Even if you’re going to be late for work or an appointment and your child will be late for childcare, just keep sitting quietly near your child.
In a minute or two, you’ll discover what to do next. Your mind will clear and you’ll be ready to continue with your day, your grace and dignity in tact. It seems too simplistic to work, but trust us (and trust yourself): It will.
Week 7 Project
Notice when you feel stressed to the max and are most likely to blow your parenting top. Is it when you’re trying to get out the door in the morning? As the family is returning home from work and childcare and you’re starting to fix dinner? Right before bedtime each night? Or is it only when your child throws a tantrum? If you can see a pattern emerging, then you can devise a plan to sidestep it, creating new routines that eliminate your own emotional meltdowns.
Don’t Purge Your Emotions
Truly flipping out won’t serve any positive purpose for you or your toddler: You’ll feel even more spent and embarrassed afterward, and your child may flee from or fight with you—at the very least, she’ll be frightened. When you feel your barometer plummet, say, “Mommy’s feeling frustrated, I need to sit down. Come and sit with me. I’ll read you a story.”
When you do have a tantrum (and you will), once calm, apologize and explain very simply what you were feeling: “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted at you. I was feeling very frustrated. I love you very much.” Then, move on with your day and reject any guilty feelings that creep up. Why? Not to put too fine a point on it, but parenting is hard. There isn’t a parent on the planet who at some point while raising kids didn’t lose her cool in front of them. Forgive yourself, then continue working to integrate new parenting approaches that will prevent such explosions from occurring.
The next time you feel comfortable self-reflecting again, think about whether your child’s tantrum habits changed over the last seven weeks and how. Again, it can feel rewarding to write down your observations and your reactions as to what progress you saw and what you wish you would see. Even if you didn’t notice much change this time through the seven-week course, having your notes to look back upon may give clues to future triumphs if you decide to revisit the steps again. And we certainly recommend that, whether you re-read the weeks in succession or just review the parts that were most meaningful or helpful (or hopeful!) to you.
Whatever your tantrum-taming trajectory is now, we wish you the best of patience and luck!
Read all seven steps in this series: