I’ve been thinking a lot about toddler tantrums, aka The Terrible Twos of late. Not least because I was recently informed by a member of my family that Pixie has entered this difficult phase early (thanks Mum). I’m not certain I agree, but then where’s the yardstick for measuring that phase against a simple day below par, perhaps due to sleep-deprivation, or thanks to being in constant discomfort (teething). (No sympathy with the former – it’s not mandatory to have the whole house up for two hours during the night to play…)
Having pondered the issue objectively (on a day my daughter’s disposition was bright and sunny, obvs), I came to this conclusion:
Much like with baby sleep, the problem lies with the folks rather than the tiddlers.
Controversial, I know, so allow me to explain…
We all hate toddler meltdowns (or at least I’m yet to meet somebody who lists them as a favourite pastime on their CV). The thing is, they’re normal. And by ‘normal’, I don’t just mean common – I mean healthy: they stem from an important development in our little ones’ emotional maturity.
Q. Why Are Babies Unreasonable?
A. Because They’re Immature
Basically, our babies are born ‘too early’. Their brains are still developing (hence the first months of life being coined the ‘fourth trimester’), and they are primed to react irrationally. They don’t understand very much, but they feel a lot – very keenly. Their brains may not be mature enough to make sense of the world, but they are more than adept at producing stress hormones – in abundance… I liken it to being in a foreign country, feeling completely disoriented, and unable to communicate. I know I’d feel anxious most of the time, and stressed much of the time too. This is what our little ones have to contend with on a daily basis. Bless them.
Without getting too scientific, suffice to say that what’s going on is something pretty incredible right before your eyes, if you can only take a moment to appreciate it. (Perhaps when your little Darling is in bed would be a good time?) They are refining the connections in their brains – if we could see it, we would be in total awe!
Alas, all we do see is the result of those frustrations and hormones; which combined with a lack of experience in knowing how to deal with rage, is quite frankly, a recipe for a frazzled mum and dad. Tantrums are no fun for the parent on the receiving end. But in the same way we’re told it’s unhealthy to bottle up our feelings as adults, it surely can’t be good for our toddlers either.
Q. Why Don’t We Deal With Tantrums Better?
A. We Would If We Were More Mature…
Or at least better equipped, better prepared, better educated.
It’s essential we don’t fall into mandatorily stifling our children, lest we wish for them to become the stereotypical Brit with a phobia of confrontation. Rather than attempting to forbid a display of heightened emotion, instead we parents need to suck it up and learn how to effectively deal with a tantrum.
By which I mean: don’t (necessarily) treat our littlies as devil spawn for humiliating us in the supermarket. Unless, of course, they spit in your face, or start smashing bottles of wine. (I’d probably forgive any other glass vessel, but wine – NOOOO!) It would be far more useful to teach positive coping strategies to our children – and implement them ourselves too.
(NB. The Distraction Technique may be a cop-out, but it usually does the job. Failing that, divine intervention is pretty ingenious, as I wrote about in my lovely friend Mim’s post, but I’m unsure how reliable that is as a strategy…)
Toddler Tantrums – A Parent’s Work is Never Done
I also don’t lose sight of the fact that this is yet another of the difficult tasks on a parent’s to-do list: Teach Child How to Deal With Frustrations in Appropriate Manner. Yep, it’s our job to guide them through. And they learn by demonstration and imitation, ie. If you behave like a neurotic psychopath in the face of a difficult situation (say, for example, when you’re toddler is having a public meltdown) – well, you can rest assured that you are only serving to reinforce that behaviour as acceptable.
So since we’re the adult, we need to be, well…the adult.
Of course, there’s the other thing to bear in mind too: youngsters thrive on boundaries. So, you need to work on your Jedi training to be sure of which method to use when if you don’t want to screw up your kid. Or like me, you could simply be aware of the principles and *try* to parent accordingly.
I’ve not nailed it yet. But I am trying very hard to be mindful each time my daughter goes a little bit crazy, that much like the overwhelming urge I had to launch myself at irritating colleagues when I worked in an office, she too gets really mad sometimes. The difference being, she’s not quite learned how to manage those feelings. (In a way, I think our kids have the better approach – I’m pretty sure residual anger bubbling below the surface is not one of the principles of Mindfulness, and ain’t gonna help me be zen…)
Baby Mummy Equals a Happy Mummy Baby
I read something quite profound recently, which really resonated:
Mum sets the tone in her home.
This has pretty much become the bible by which I *try* to live my life and is a big part of the concept behind My Positivity Project, which was hugely beneficial to my positive outlook. So, impossible though it often feels in the moment, I shall continue to practice my mindfulness techniques in all areas of my life.
I have high hopes of some of that positivity rubbing off on Pixie and Elfin. I don’t want them to grow up being as highly strung as I used to be: it’s not a happy existence, and it repels people. So it’s on my shoulders to model the laid back temperament I do wish for them.