I admitted to not always having the answers to the toddler shenanigans in my previous post. But here is something I can tell you what to do. Actually, what not to do.
Let's talk toddler tantrums and how NOT to have one too.
Some call it the terrible twos. Others adventures in threenagers. Me, I don’t like to place too many blanket labels on my kids. Because, here’s the industry secret, all children go through tough phases at any and all ages. While we all think adulting is just the worst, being a kid and growing up is super hard too. Their brains are on a rapid pace of growth filling in the nooks and crannies of how to be a person. And just when they think they got it all figured out and can handle the world alone thank you very much, a bigger person comes along and tells them otherwise. That’s enough to make anyone fall on the floor of the grocery store exercising their lungs.
Yet, no matter how prepared you think you are for this drama filled time with your little one, it is still bound to catch you by surprise that first seemingly out of the blue end of the world meltdown.
Here’s the thing, while you may not like it, a toddler’s emotional display is SO GOOD for them. It helps them learn boundaries, develop a sense of self, learn to express and relate to others.
It sounds so lovely but we all know its an ugly way to go through life.
And if you are not careful, you might find yourself joining right along in a puddle of tears.
I am not here to tell you how to prevent the tantrum, but I can offer a few pointers that sometime prove successful in lowering my likelihood of an adult tantrum.
(Note the word “sometimes.” I hope it is clear in this blog that nothing, NOTHING, is ever an absolute in raising people.)
So if you find yourself oh so deep in this stage of life, let me offer my tried and true ways to NOT tantrum along with your child.
My number one parenting strategy to avoid the grown-up tantrum...
This is a big one. One I’m sure you have heard before. Offer choices to your toddler. But this is not like “offer vegetables to your child. They will soon learn to love them.” In my opinion, the jury is still out on that one. But, the choice thing is a winning method in my work with children. In fact, if you told me parenting was the hunger games and I was only able to choose one weapon in which to defend myself, I would choose the power to use choices every single time. (And maybe sneak in a glass of wine.)
“The man is the head of the house. But the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.” - My Big Fat Greek Wedding
This favorite movie quote of mine may refer to a marriage, but it is actually perfectly acceptable in the relationship of a parent to a child. The child, they want to be in control. Always and forever. In fact, they are armed and ready every time you give them a suggestion to do an about face in the other direction, regardless the offer. Control is only achieved if they have their own ideas. You give them yours and you just guaranteed they will protest.
What you need to do is catch them off guard. And you can achieve this most often by giving them a choice.
Just when they are preparing for their big scene, instead of giving them something to denounce, you reach your hand out with the offer of a choice.
What they think: “Ha ha, silly adult. A choice? How grand! Now I get to tell you exactly what I want to do and you have to do it.”
What you think: “Ha ha, silly child. I just gave you two means to the same end that I wanted in the first place but couldn’t tell you because otherwise you would have turned yourself into a limp noodle and screamed as if your arm had been severed.”
If you try it, you can almost watch their little faces pull back in shock and awe at the power they were just granted. Relish in that face. It’s adorable to watch a child be tricked into doing something.
But honestly, I don’t think it is a trick at all. What I think you are offering to your child when you give them a choice is an olive branch. Ok, kid. I get it. You want something. And so do I. And here I am the adult with endless amounts of maturity and patience to properly assess the situation rationally. My job is to maintain a level of safety and productivity in the most effective and legal way. But you are a person too with rights and dreams and goals. So let’s work together. Let’s respect one another. Let’s get this done. And let’s maybe try not to be too emotional about it, ok?
Let’s put this into practice.
You want them to get dressed?
You could give them choices on what to wear. Or you could give them a choice to get dressed fast or slow. Or you could give them a choice to sing this song or that song while getting dressed. Or you could ask them if they want to get dressed in the bedroom or in the kitchen. Or you could give them a choice about what to put on first.
I could go on and on and on, but you get the picture. I don’t need to list every kind of choice. The point is get very creative, very specific, and very ridiculous. Children love ridiculous. Silliness is their kryptonite. They fall to it time and time again. And if they are laughing they are much less likely to be screaming.
But here is my ultimate all time most favorite choice to turn to that 50% of the time works every time...
"I do it self!"
This is the theme song to year three of this child's life. No one is surprised by this. No one. Except me of course, because we already established that my first was different than the second. My first was born sloth-like. (It's true. "It's ok, you pull me out," she said. The second was pulled out too only after he head butted me into literal knock me out pain in order to make a grand entrance into the world. But this is all another post for another day.) But the second is classic two year old with that endearing ability to want to be all that he can be by doing all of the things. Every last one. I don't believe there is a thing that must be done that he has not requested to do it himself first.
So I could see this as my kryptonite for any amount of forward progress in our day and complain until my fingers are numb. Or...
I could take advantage of this.
When in doubt, and more often than not I am in doubt of how to accomplish daily tasks with a toddler, I pull out the autonomy choice.
"Would you like me to carry you or do you want to do it yourself?"
"Do you want me to share that toy with your sister or are do you want to?"
"Do you want me to eat those Brussel sprouts or are you going to?"
(That one probably wouldn't work.)
Every time. (Just about.) His worst nightmare is having me do something for him. But if I want something to happen darn it he will make it happen if I suggest me doing it for him.
It really is an incredible tool to have at the ready.
And finally, let's end this lesson on a positive one to keep you from having a tantrum of your own.
I mean, really. Is there anything more ridiculous than the child pitching a floor pounding fit because you gave them the blue lollipop instead of the red one? Or the time you made them hold your hand so as to not be plowed over in the parking lot? Or the time you put on the wrong episode of Paw Patrol because you misunderstood the very obvious plot line they were describing?
I don't like laughing at the expense of children. Being a kid is really super hard. It is! You are supposed to learn how to be a human in this very complicated and often contradictory world while also living under a dictatorship, and to top it all off there are never enough snacks!
But sometimes as a parent, to keep yourself from crying, you have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Take a picture and text it to your favorite girlfriend who gets you and what you are going through. Look at your spouse across the room and smile knowingly. Or just throw your hands in the air and walk away for a moment because if you are not careful, you might find yourself sucked under the title wave of a tantrum with no grown up there to pull you back up, give you a hug, and hand you a snack.
If you find yourself a proud member of the Toddlers who Tantrum Anonymous group, keep some of these ideas in mind. Give choices, even ridiculous ones. Utilize their desire to do all things BY. MY. SELF. And laugh.
Hug those cute cheeks and laugh.