I’ve been getting some questions over email and I normally don’t have time to answer non-urgent emails, so I thought I could kill two birds with one stone if I answer some of these on the blog.
So here we go.
Toddler emotions / tantrums – I’m not sure if Lexi is in this stage yet, as she seems happy and engaged in almost all of your posts but my son moved into the high emotions / tantrum phase quickly after his second birthday. Hearing your thoughts on helping toddlers with big emotions and how to handle tantrums would be great. I’ve ordered some books on the topic but I would be really interested in hearing about a real mom’s experience. From what I read on your blog it seems as though you are very respectful of Lexi’s feelings – I wondered if you could give some tips on how stay calm and collected when they are having “big feelings” several times throughout the day.
I wrote about my philosophy on parenting in general which grossly applies to toddlers ( because that’s the stage we are at right now). Like I mentioned before, Lexi doesn’t really do the typical tantrum. She was more difficult, so to say, during the 18-24 months stage. Now she is just happy.
Now of course, she is a toddler, so she gets highly emotional and frustrated as well, but it seems to be very contained and involves mostly lying down on the floor face down and asking me for help, asking me for “boo-boo” or saying “You ok, mama?” trying to prompt me to pay attention and ask her if she is ok.
About a week ago, she has started this thing where if something isn’t working out, she will (again not forcefully but more for show) fling things in frustration. I am not sure how to describe it because it happens very low key, she just starts sort of dancing around whatever she was playing with and try to flip it on its side, make it wrong, all while quietly whining. It goes on until I notice it and come over to help. I usually ask her if she is frustrated and if I can help and if she needs a hug (all of which she says yes to). I explain ( every time) what to do when she gets frustrated and what her alternatives are to “destroying” what wasn’t working out . I ask her “What do we do when we get frustrated?” and she answers “We try try try again” in a sing songy voice. And that’s where it ends.With some nursing, too It’s all very sweet and contained. But this is what I’ve been doing since the very beginning so she is very much used to getting that reinforcement and validation of her feelings from me.
Once in a while, if I don’t think it’s a big deal (like she tumbled but didn’t hurt herself) and I am doing something else, I will try to talk her through it, at which point she tells me “Lexi is upset, mama! Mama needs to come make feel better“. Either way it always ends in nursing which is what always makes her feel better.
Every parent tries to assign all the good things their kids do to their parenting. I know enough not to claim that, because there is no real way to know whether it’s how I handle her upsets, the fact that she has nursing to fall back on, or it’s her personality coming into play here. Most likely it’s a combination of all three. I am learning a lot about her personality which is something I will write in detail about (I have the post written, I just need to make it read better), which is showing that it is truly a combination of their personalities with HOW we respond to their specific personalities. No one approach is correct for every child (except for love and acceptance).
What I can tell you is that when she has a breakdown, I never ignore her, I am always respectful and understanding, I ask her about her feelings and make sure she is ok and ask how I can help. EVEN when I am frustrated myself.
At first (when she was younger), it didn’t seem like it was making a difference or that she was truly grasping what I was trying to do, but now that she is highly verbal and repeats word for word all the things I’ve always said to her when she would get upset, it’s clear she understands, remembers and acts upon it. She knows mommy will make her feel better. I started all this ( talking through with her, asking questions, explaining her emotions) when the difficult age kicked in at 16 months, and I think, while it took some time, it REALLY made a big difference. Her “tantrums” are so gentle and are only there to say “Mommy, I need some help, I feel bad!“, because she knows when she lets me know, I will come. Recently when we were getting ready to go to sleep “Mama, I want boobie. Yaya is really sad, really cry-ee and really mad“. She knows her emotions and other people’s emotions.
Man, that’s the hardest thing ever, of course. I think the key to this is to really KNOW WHY you need to keep your cool. I generally have REALLY good self-control when it comes to emotions but I have to admit, there hasn’t been anyone else who has ever gotten me so mad so fast.
It’s amazing how being out of control with a child who is being unreasonable can get adults really riled up.
So while there is no good answer to how to keep calm, because everyone’s emotional system is developed differently (and depending on their prenatal environment and upbringing, could be less or more controlled), the biggest thing that helped, as silly as it sounds, is to read as many gentle parenting books to continue reinforcing how important it is to stay calm in these situations and to respond appropriately. To know why you’re doing what you doing, rather than rely on intuition alone because intuition is closely correlated with our emotions.
We tend to forget what we are supposed to do, so when I continue reading, even if similar to what I’ve already read, the material is so fresh in my mind that I am able to override my emotional response with my logical brain.
When I feel that I am starting to get more impatient with Lexi than is acceptable to me, I do some more reading which reminds me how important it is. And it’s just that.
That’s the only thing that keeps me leveled, if that makes sense. Knowing that not losing my cool is what is best for m daughter and having it fresh in my mind is the only thing stronger than the anger that toddlers seem to be able to bring out in most parents 🙂
I have recently discovered some specifics of her personality, as well, that helped me better understand Lexi and how to respond to her (which I will write about next week, I promise)