Toddlers. Germ infested, high energy, snotty, tantrum throwing toddlers. God, I love mine like I’ve never loved anything or anyone before! He is a little fire-cracker, a ball of energy who never stops moving unless he is dead asleep. But even then he is still moving, as by the morning, his head is down the other end of the bed or he falls out of his bed altogether, remaining asleep. The minute he was born he was unusually alert and judging by his lack of sleep or anything that involved lying still, I just knew that he would be running before he could walk. He tells me off, whines, leaves a never ending trail of mess, always keeps me guessing and constantly makes me laugh with the weird and wonderful things he does and says. He even spreads rumours about me! I picked him up from childcare the other day only to be told that he has been telling others that “mummy has a doodle“. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to hide in the corner…hmmm. I truly love being a mother and I feel like I entered a whole new life meaning, happiness and fulfillment when I gave birth to my little guy. One minute he is sweet as pie and giving me mummy cuddles, asking for “flutterby kisses” and patting my back affectionately whilst telling me “I lob you mummy”, the next minute he is screaming bloody murder, throwing himself on the ground, and putting a drama filled soapie to shame. Split personality to the max.
“My child is not GIVING me a hard time, my child is HAVING a hard time.”
Did you know that these toddler outbursts are as normal a biological response to frustration, as a yawn is to tiredness? This somewhat confronting and discouraging response to frustration is due to the immature prefrontal cortex in our little ones. The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brains that sits behind the eyebrows and regulates emotion and controls social behaviour. It is the last area to develop and only begins to mature at the age of four. Fantastic news for parents, this means that nurture is not always to blame and we as parents can cut ourselves some slack when this inevitable tantrum occur. Win!
I must be naive. Actually, I have affectionately been told I am before and in some areas I believe I can be. I don’t look at the negative aspects of being naive, but more so the dare to dream type personality who goes against the grain of the all too common cynical realist who love playing the role of joy killer. Naivety makes plenty of room for curiosity and learning which is certainly up there in my most valued character traits for myself and allows me to constantly grow and change as a mother and as a human being. In fact, my older cousin once said that I am like a dolphin, which certainly left me laughing and confused at the time. I am generally smiling and happy, strive for genuine harmony within relationships and am consistently kind and loyal to those I meet. I always look for the best in others and naturally (or naively) assume that others do the same which can at times bite me in the bum.
So when I see a kid in the shops throwing a tanti, I am a little taken back by the idea that others would judge this child’s mother (or father) and as a result, make her feel worse than she probably already does. As a bystander (or fellow human being), I automatically try to look away and focus on something else, blocking out the situation in front of me. I wouldn’t want to give any more unwanted attention to the flustered mother who is already feeling embarrassed, judged and ridiculed by so many onlookers. I also want to swoop in and give her a hand but of course I am hesitant, as it is possible that I may get my head bitten off by making the mother feel that she is incapable of handling her children herself. Most of all, I just want to let her know that she’s got this, she’s not alone, and all mothers have been there. Unless of course you’re a mother who’s been living under a rock, your child behaves like a saint or your children have never seen the insides of a shopping centre.
Myself? When my boy throws a tantrum in public I do exactly what I would do at home. I don’t give in to what he wants unless of course it’s a non issue like wanting to press the ‘moo’ and ‘meow’ buttons in Coles in between our shop. Speaking calmly and remaining undisturbed by his behaviour (on the outside), I give a bit of air time to whatever it is that he is losing his shit over. Sometimes it is absolutely nothing and 99% of the time talking to him calmly does jack shit but hey, I give it a try as that’s my first port of call. The tantrum might be that he wants to repetitively throw the balls in the sports department of Kmart whilst I chase after them and bring them back to him 10 times over and frankly, sorry buddy, but I just don’t want to do that whilst juggling my to do list. It might be that Mr Independent so desperately wants to ‘walk’ (equivalent to his ‘run really fast!’) through a busy crowd of people or that he wants to stand alone and hold onto the scummy rails of the escalator like a big boy or that under no circumstances can we leave the playground or the bike track EVER! Or maybe it was the time in the doctors waiting room where he was running around like he was at a circus, threatening me with his cheeky grin trying to open all the doctors doors wanting to get a reaction from me, then to be put back in his pram whilst he kicked and screamed, arched his back, threw all his toys out of the pram (literally and figuratively) and not give in. I could really feel all the judgy eyes piercing into the back of me as I did not dare look up, remaining calm and somewhat in control. I am aware that I probably did not look in control of the situation. But honestly, I didn’t and don’t care. I actually surprise myself how much it doesn’t bother me what others think when it comes to situations like this. To let off some steam after the event, I like to have a laugh to myself and remind myself that my toddler is doing his job, pushing the limits like toddlers do best. I then proceed to give an update to my mum and my sister in our Viber group chat about my #mumlife kind of day with an attached photo for dramatic impact. Toddlers will be toddlers!
I remind myself that my young, frustrated, angry and bad tempered little guy is not giving me a hard time, he is having a hard time. Sometimes as parents we can expect our little people to wake up each and every day and feel good and behave well, on our terms, when it suits us. I remember my mum reminding me that as adults we naturally have our good and bad days and of course children will experience this too. Gosh, I have been on this planet for a day short of 32 years and I’m still trying to work out my emotions. How can we expect our little people to have a handle on theirs? When it comes to screaming, shouting or whining, I believe it is best to remain unfazed, but stay present and wait it out. That is my attitude. I don’t let my boy’s outbursts wind me up. If I become a source of comfort in the middle of his meltdown, I am reinforcing the behaviour. Self talk reminders are crucial in moments like this. I am the adult, he is the child. Janine, stay in your lane and be the strength, emotional support and guidance that your little boy needs in order to develop his own one day.
I breathe. Breathing is my best friend in several anxiety provoking situations. I have practiced this for a long time now on several occasions. When feeling frustrated or overwhelmed after shopping, chopping and slaving away in the kitchen after a busy day, only for the food to be thrown unapologetically all over the newly cleaned floors, sometimes you just want to explode. But my go to is to breathe first. Sounds simple? It may not be to begin with but the more you practise it, just like a habit, the simpler and more normal it becomes. So when my sweet boy throws food now, I breathe, think, remove the food from his table and remind him that “we keep our food on our table”, before giving it back. I often give him another chance and if that chance is blown, the meal is over and we move onto the next activity for the day. He probably wasn’t that hungry if he chose to throw it over eating it anyway. The alternative? Yell and scream and possibly feel a split second of emotional relief and control but in the end, lose control and make matters worse. You make a mountain out of a molehill and result in feeling like a crap mum after putting your own issues of anger and frustration onto your emotionally immature child.
Hands up if you’ve been in a situation where you just needed to have a cry? You begin to cry and release your emotions only to have a well meaning, caring soul come over to you and make you smile and feel better? Kind friend they are but if you look it at objectively, your emotions and feelings have actually just been suppressed by your friend and will have to come up and out at another time in another form. Obviously there would be exceptions to this and every situation is a little different, but I remember this important fact when my toddler is throwing himself on the ground, arching his back, kicking and screaming. Sometimes we just need to let our emotions out without someone else diverting our attention, telling us it’s wrong or giving us an instant band aid solution. So when my little guy wakes up cranky and decides that the first 15 minutes of his awake time at 6am will involve lying on the floor and crying, I realise that although I want to swoop in and fix him (believe me I’ve tried), mostly because as mothers we don’t like seeing our little ones distressed, I now ask him if he wants a cuddle (he usually gets angrier by the suggestion) and let him know that “mummy is here when you need me”, giving him the space he needs. I leave the room or I sit close by and continue to remind him I’m there. I empathize with his feelings and tell him I understand. I remind myself that like grown up people, little people need to feel their feelings too. Most of the time (in his own time) he does stop and after a few mentions of my presence and cuddles once he is ready, he comes to me and calms down. Then we move on.
I am absolutely not saying that I am a parenting guroo, that I don’t stuff up or that what works for me will work for you. In fact just the other day whilst eating dinner on the couch, I had a flying toddler spring onto me out of thin air and spill my food (well it seemed that he was flying with the force I copped). Through sheer shock and frustration I yelled, “JORDAN, NO!” I really don’t feel good about yelling as I honestly don’t think it gets me anywhere and it solves absolutely nothing. I soon after apologized by saying “Sorry for yelling, mummy got a little scared” and then proceeded to talk about his actions. I am nowhere near perfect, nor do I want to be (kids need to know that us adults make mistakes and grow from them too!). I am merely sharing my learning experiences through trial and error. Love, balanced attention and consistency is key for me. And self care. Self care is actually number one. More to come on self care soon.
Can you relate? Had a similar experience? Drop me a comment below!
POSTS BY JANINE
- Coronavirus has Changed your World. It’s OK to Grieve.
- Accepting your Circle of Control during Isolation
- Work, Guilt and Motherhood
- Permission to Self Care
- Toddlers, Tantrums and Triumphs
Janine Graham is a Mum, a Primary School Teacher and a Wellness and Mindfulness Coach. Janine works with women to refocus their energy on what aligns with their values and supports and challenges them to create a greater overall life satisfaction. Janine is skilled and passionate in empowering women in issues such as body confidence, relationships, fertility, parenting, life balance and unconditional self-love. Make contact with Janine today for your free, no obligation clarity call.
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