Its been almost a year since I created a post on toddler tantrums. At that time my youngest seemed to be having (in my mind) full blown meltdowns. There were many nights I went to bed exhausted, frustrated and felt like I was failing as a parent, so I took it upon myself to take the time to understand what exactly was happening and why. I began reading Happiest Toddler on the Block and according to author Dr. Harvey Karp, it turns out miss Millie was acting quite “normal” for her age. For toddlers, (although Amelia had just turned 4) they are often overstimulated, irrational and impulsive – all the things I thought was her acting out.
I tried different strategies and after little success something finally dawned on me. If Amelia was acting like a regular toddler there must be another problem. Turns out it was me! Yes my reaction to each tantrum, and how I handled each situation was key. When I stopped focusing on Amelia and her behaviour and looked at my own, its like everything changed. It has been really REALLY hard work on my part to change how I respond to challenging situations with my kids but having practiced over the last year, I can tell you it does get easier. With the help of parenting books I have read and parenting podcasts I have listened to, below are the top things I learned over the past year that has for the most part, ended the dreaded tantrums.
1. Validate – In the book the Happiest Toddler on the Block, Dr. Harvey Karp, talks about the fast food rule. Basically how it works is that whoever is upset talks first without any interruptions. I find this also works very well when my kids are fighting with each other. They each get a chance to talk about their feelings, to explain why they are so upset. This way each kid is heard. Next acknowledge the feelings, which is done by repeating back what each other has said. Similarly to what happens when you order fast food in a drive thru, you say your order and they repeat back. A child who is heard feels understood.
2. Keep your cool – As embarrassing as it is to say out loud I admit am a bit of a yeller. At one point I found myself raising my voice so often with the kids which always made me feel awful. My parents were yellers and I remember completely tuning out the minute they started yelling so I know first hand that the minute I raise my voice, my kids are likely no longer hearing me. I also realized that if I as the parent cannot control my emotions, how can I expect my kids to do the same? I read this amazing book by Laura Markham, Ph.D., author of Peaceful Parent, and a great takeaway from the book for me was that one of our most important jobs as a parent is to manage our own emotions and show empathy. When we empathize with our children, no matter what emotion they have, they will start accepting their feelings which is the first step in learning how to manage them. Then, after our kids learn how to manage their feelings, they can then start to learn how to manage their behaviour.
3. Be present – For me this means putting my darn phone away, like physically not within my reach. I am always so busy trying to maximize every minute of everyday and in my head if I was able to respond to text messages and emails, search Pinterest for dinner ideas and do some online banking all while trying to play with Millie, I would feel accomplished right? Wrong! So funny, whenever I talk to new moms I always say, “cherish these moments because they go by so quickly,” and there I was doing everything BUT enjoying the moments. Huge mom fail! When I am truly present with the kids, with no distractions the days seem to go smoother. Even small amounts of undivided attention with the kids throughout the day work well. I know how busy my days can be so spending hours on end with my kids is simply not possible, but giving them even 20 min of meaningful interaction at a time throughout the day keeps their buckets full.
4. Self care – So many nights I would go to bed wanting to hit the reset button and start the day over. I would end my days feeling so guilty, like the worst parent ever, and thought that maybe I was not cut out for motherhood. The more books I read, podcasts I listened to and more importantly the more moms I spoke to, it seemed pretty common to lose your cool every once in awhile. After these challenging days I found that instead of beating myself up, starting the day engaging in self care was key. Having lunch with a friend, working out or even meditating for 10 min helped ease the feelings of guilt, kept me in the right head space to tackle the day, and for me the determination to keep trying to be the best darn parent I can for my kids always keeps me going.