Thursday, August 4, 2011

Toddlers...When Things Get Ugly

We all know all too well that toddler have a tendency to freak out.  Sometimes they scream at the top of their lungs in the grocery store when we're in a hurry.  Sometimes they decide that they're not going to walk when we're in the mall, and sit down...showing us just how stubborn a person can be.

It's easy to get mad when they don't cooperate, or when they ignore our pleas to "be good", or "behave".  But the fact is, they're children.  They're going to act like children, whether it's convenient for us or not.  I've seen way too many parents get angry and start screaming at a crying child, telling them to "stop crying", or "just stop!" That doesn't work.  And it's not fair to your child.  Everyone has the right to feel their emotions.  Children just don't have that need (or ability) to mask their feelings like adults do.  They don't have the worry of embarrassment if they start crying in a huge group of people.  And when they feel something, they let those feelings fly.  No matter where they are.
Toddlers are a strange species.  They look like our babies, just taller.  But they act completely different.  They have a mind of their own, and are learning what they like and dislike.  Also, they are starting to feel things they have never felt before.  They are just suddenly full of feelings, and it's something that can take you back a bit if you've never had to deal with a toddler (or two, in my case) before.  It's something that needs to be approached with an extreme amount of love and compassion.  They aren't old enough to know what to do with the feelings they suddenly have...but that doesn't stop them from having them.  It's our job as parents to acknowledge them, and to help them work through them.  Even if we're shopping.  Because it's about THEM, not US.

The feelings I speak of are what are almost always the cause of "tantrums".  But other things can be that they're tired, hungry, bored, or not feeling well.  Sometimes we pull our children along with us, not really worrying about how they're feeling emotionally.  Sometimes we think that because they're not sick, they are physically okay to join us on our errands.  But that's not always the case.  I know that I have days that I just don't feel like doing things, and children are the same.  Children also thrive on routine.  When we break it up, they can sometimes (very loudly) let us know that they are not happy about it.  You can help prevent the impending tantrums if you make sure your child is not only physically able to join you that day, but also to take their emotional state into account.  Try telling them your plan before you go.  They don't seem to like surprises much, unless they include presents and cake.  So don't set yourself (or your toddler) up for disaster.

Sometimes, despite all of our best intentions, things go bad.  The toddler(s) start going crazy while we're out.  This is NOT the time to lose control.  This is when you are going to have to dig deep...pull out the patience you know you have in there, and use them.  This is the time to put the disaster plan into effect.

In my experience, most tantrums are best dealt with the same way.  This is our "disaster plan":

  1. Acknowledge their feelings by telling them what you know they're feeling.  "You're upset because you don't want to be here shopping right now."  We all feel better knowing that someone "gets" what we're feeling, and generally, that stops the tantrum right away.
  2. Tell them that you are sorry that they feel that way.  Sometimes there's nothing we can do to fix, or change, a situation.  (If you need groceries, you can't just abandon your cart and go home.)  "I'm sorry that you're upset about being here."  It not only tells them that you understand their feelings, but that you don't wish them to be upset...that it wasn't your intent.
  3. Explain the situation.  Usually we're so busy in our day that our toddlers are just pulled around with us.  Very few people take the time to go over the plan with their's something that's easy to forget, or overlook.  "We are here getting groceries because we need some food at home.  I'm sorry that you're upset that we're here shopping when you want to be doing something else, but we'll be done soon."
  4. Give them something to look forward to.  "When we're done shopping we'll go home and put away the groceries.   You can help me.  And when we're all done we'll....[go outside, read stories, etc.]."  Giving them something to look forward to can change the whole scenario into one that is more positive.  You can talk with them about the things you're going to do when you're done shopping, while you finish getting what you need.  I've found that if we talk about what we're going to do at the park, what they like best, how fun it will be, they  seem to forget how unhappy they were and focus on the future.  Children are amazingly optimistic.  We just need to give them the chance to use it.

Please never forget that if we raise our children with not only love, but with understanding, it will give them the opportunity to feel exactly how they need to feel, to feel heard and loved, and to use their natural optimism.  Being mean to your toddler because they have feelings is no better than someone yelling at you for being upset about something.  Treat them how you want to be treated...and how you would have wanted someone to treat you when you were a child.  It might take a little practice, but practice makes perfect!  

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