Toddler Tantrums and How We Handle Them
As soon as I knew I was pregnant I started reading everything I could about motherhood and parenting. One of my best friends introduced me to an author and speaker who I continue to learn from today. Janet Lansbury has two books entitled Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame and an extremely helpful and informative podcast called Unruffled. My sister also sent me the audio version of the book The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. These resources fundamentally changed the way I view childhood tantrums and behaviours.
Prior to becoming a mother I truthfully knew nothing about children, that is likely the reason I read so many books and listened to so many podcasts! My thoughts on toddler tantrums were that children were misbehaving to basically annoy their parents and anyone within earshot of them. That they somehow "knew" what they were doing and they were getting away with it when their parents didn't discipline them. Like I said, I knew nothing! If you don't own up to your past shortcomings I feel like you can't progress. Own your past to improve your future, or something along those lines. So I'm owning up to my absolute lack of understanding only a few short years ago.
I wanted to share two key insights that I have learned from the many parenting books I have now read. Maybe you will find them helpful? Maybe you won't believe them or agree, and if that's the case I encourage you to do your own research and come to your own conclusions.
1) Mom and/or Dad are a child's safe place.
This was something that I somewhat knew but didn't quite understand until I had Mckenna. You often hear that children are so amazing in school, and their parents can't understand why they misbehave at home. When a child is at school or even at their grandparents for example, they have to hold in most of their emotions and when they get home they let all those emotions out. It's not always easy and it's definitely not fun! When Mckenna is having a meltdown after she returns home from from Montessori school, I keep this at the forefront of my mind. I am her safe place and she needs me to remain calm and open to her emotions both good and bad.
2) Children are not misbehaving on purpose or to annoy you.
After reading The Whole Brain Child I understood that from many research studies, that a child's prefrontal cortex is not fully developed. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for reasoning, logic, focus and stopping impulses to name a few. This explains why children are not capable of controlling their emotions and therefore they are not doing anything on purpose. I know that is a broad generalization and of course there instances where older children might be testing boundaries, but when it comes to toddlers, they are absolutely not in control of their emotions.
As parents Chauncey and I are taking a different approach than we thought we would prior to having children. We thought we would be laying down the law and handing out time outs when we saw fit! That is not the case. We allow Mckenna to let her emotions out, we actually encourage it. We ask her what she is feeling and why. Thankfully she's very verbal and can communicate very well. I know it was harder for her 18 months, as she would be upset but didn't have the words yet to explain why. Now we are able to ask her what's wrong, and let her have her feelings. It's something I did so often in my yoga classes, we call it "holding space" in yoga. Basically we are a safe space for her to express what's she's feeling. We don't want her to bottle up her emotions, we want to help her work though them.
Does that mean she doesn't hear the word No? Of course not! But when she does and she has a tantrum over it, we explain why the answer was no and say something like, "It's OK to be upset about it, let it out. But the answer is still No." I have also learnt through the Unruffled podcast how important our language is. A great example she uses is when a child hits you, instead of saying "No we don't hit", you would physically stop the child (IE: take control of the situation) and say "I won't allow you to hit me". Our language is powerful and when a child is testing boundaries, even though we can hold space for their emotions we still need to remain in charge so they know that they are safe and boundaries are in place to keep them safe.
We are still learning and I'm by no means an expert but I think these resources have really helped me to understand and deal with tantrums much better. If you have any other ideas or tips, I'm always happy to hear them!
Good luck parents. Some days are definitely harder than others but I love the saying, "The days are long but the years are short". It helps me remember that this tantrum phase is so short.
Deep breaths also help!