Do you often oscillate between “Aww my child is such an angel” and “Did I really have to procreate”? Do you have a heart-melting moment with your child at one instant and a meltdown due to an irrational tantrum the very next minute? Is wrong color of cutlery for food one of the biggest catastrophes you take care of avoiding at your home? Is your child upset because he/she does not want to go out, but the fact of the matter is that you are actually not going out? Is your child annoyed because his/her pair of socks will not fit you and you cannot wear them? Welcome to toddler-hood! That phase when your child throws tantrums for the most bizarre reasons and at times you feel you are on the verge of losing your sanity; that phase when your little one surprises you and expresses love in the most endearing ways everyday and you cannot stop feeling blessed for this beautiful experience of life.
My daughter has recently turned 2 and I now realize why the term “Terrible Twos” has been coined. Toddler tantrums can make your hackles rise and can be really exasperating. There are times when I want to scream my lungs out or even spank my kid when a tantrum becomes unmanageable. There are also times when I feel like leaving everything and running away to the Himalayas. But, the only thing that helps me be a gentle parent is the constant reminder to myself that however much the tantrum seems irrelevant to me, it means a big deal for her. This is the age when kids go through myriad of changes developmentally and they start exercising their independence. If it is hard for us, it is also hard for them. In my experience, being firm yet gentle is much more effective in handling tantrums than yelling though the natural temptation is to react with the latter approach. I am not an expert but I would love to share few tips with fellow parents based on my experience which may be helpful during this roller coaster called toddler-hood.
Re-aligning our own expectations – It is very important to have the right expectations from our children as understanding that makes it easier to stay calm when we think they are being unreasonable. They are kids after all and they cannot really understand things like danger and appropriate behaviour. They do start appreciating all this slowly but they don’t have a mature memory to remember the things they should or should not do. So, before working on them, we need to work on ourselves. They are not doing anything consciously and it is all a part of growing up and learning. Also, please avoid comparing your child’s temperament with other kids. We all know that every child is different and hence the way they express their emotions will also vary. Just because you feel your child is throwing more tantrums than another kid, does not make your child more aggressive or stubborn. It is futile to expect your child to behave like some other child.
Preemptive approach – As the age old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. We learn new things about our children each day and while we cannot really predict when they would have a meltdown, we do get to know with time about certain things/acts that can trigger one. If we can avoid such a situation from occurring, it can be greatly helpful in reducing outbursts. For example, I know that on most days my daughter throws a tantrum when she is brought out of her bathtub so I plan something interesting in advance for her after bathing time so that she starts focusing on what I have planned instead of crying over not being able to play more with water.
Time-in – Personally, I do not prefer the principle of time-outs and instead indulge in ‘time-in’ with my daughter sometimes. That is when we disconnect from everything else and sit in our time-in space. I try to talk to her or just hug her if she is not in mood to stop howling or listen to me. This has enabled her to be more perceptive to what I want to communicate and also makes her feel that her emotions are being acknowledged.
Learning to calm ourselves – Learning calming down techniques so that we can control the urge to scream or spank our children can be very useful for us. Taking deep breaths and counting from 1 to 10 helps me dilute my anger so that I do not react at the spur of the moment. Also, it helps if we can identify what invokes us to be irritable or grumpy. In my case, I have realized that I tend to lose more patience when I am sleep deprived so I try to work towards the root cause and am more watchful of my actions and words on such days.
Distraction – One of the most popular methods of managing a howling or cranky toddler is distraction. Distract children by making them laugh or getting them involved in their favourite activity especially if the crying is because of something like getting bruised or anything else that is bound to happen and cannot be changed. My daughter loves nature so I take her to the balcony and most of the times her mood changes on witnessing birds and animals, or stars and moon in the sky. Or I make her laugh by some inane and funny actions and then we giggle and cuddle.
Give options and the freedom of choice – This works best in cases wherein they do not want us to decide for them. So say if your child does not like the clothes you have taken out for him/her, give options and ask your child to choose. If you know your child might end up taking out party shoes for going to the park, before that happens ask him/her to choose between the pair of shoes which can be worn to the park. This will give them the sense of independence they are looking to put into effect and an altercation over such matters can be avoided. The idea is to make them feel that they can decide for themselves. You get the drift, right?
Baby-wearing – If nothing else works, try baby-wearing if you have a toddler carrier. Apart from the other numerous advantages of baby-wearing, a key benefit is that it is known to release hormones which can have a soothing and relaxing effect on the child being worn. A friend of mine swears by baby-wearing when it comes to handling toddler tantrums and mood swings.
Don’t give in to the tantrum – It is crucial that we maintain our stand and don’t give in to a tantrum as much as possible. That’s because giving in passes the message to children that they can cry to get what they want and this will result in bouts of crying in future too when similar situation arises. Hence, it is also vital that we do not say ‘no’ to them for any and everything. Once we are sure that we are doing so for all the right reasons, we need to be firm and respectful. This may result in the crying spell to last for a relatively longer duration but it is OK. Instead of getting worked up in such circumstances, we need to let them cry it out while simultaneously hugging or comforting them. We need to tell them that we acknowledge that they are upset but also need to explain why something cannot be done. They may not understand immediately but one day they will.
Following all of the above does not mean we will always be able to remain calm and composed. Parenthood is much more complex and intricate than that. The prime reason I advocate gentle parenting is that I feel it is unfair to ask my child to not shout or hit and do the same things myself. There are days when I find it extremely tough to stick to this philosophy and I feel I cannot handle anything. But, on most days the above hacks work and help me immensely to preserve my sanity and be the parent I wish to be. Just yesterday, we were having a video call with my brother’s family who live in the US and my daughter wanted all of us – both my parents and me – to hold the iPad and obviously it was not so easy with so many hands on it. It irked me for once as it was disrupting the conversation but then I laughed it off and told my mother that I have to write about this hilarious tantrum in my next article.