I have been feeling so uninspired to write lately, and have gone to do so many times but have felt like I’ve been straining for every word. This is why my many attempts at writing books never quite get finished – as soon as I hit a writing block, I find it really hard to break through it. I’m also really, really tired this week. Whoever said growing a human while caring for two others was easy!?
This post is inspired by a few days of Walt being sick and hence exhibiting some Typical Toddler Behaviours aka the odd tantrum. I have to start this post by reliving my toddler experience with child number one. I can honestly say that I survived hundreds of tantrums with Heike, who used to have a tantrum every single day because she didn’t want to wear clothes. Every day. For 45 minutes. And that was before we’d even stepped outside. My google search history for her entire 18 months – 3 years would read something like:
“Does my toddler have autism?”
“Early signs of autism”
“Toddler tantrums abnormal”
“Toddler tantrums Sensory Processing Disorder”
“When do terrible twos end?”
“Why won’t my child nap?”
“Same day alcohol delivery Sydney” (except I was sadly pregnant for 9 months of that time)
It’s not one of those things where you look back and it doesn’t seem so bad. I look back and wonder how the hell I survived it! I always knew there was nothing really wrong with her, because on top of the excessive tantrum-ing and bossy-ness and occasional aggressive outbursts she was also clever and kind and extremely social. But I definitely had my moments and we ended up getting professional advice. The long and short of it is that she is incredibly headstrong and always will be. At almost five she is exceptionally gorgeous and still exceptionally headstrong. And that sometimes needs to be handled with a firm hand, which mine most definitely isn’t, so we’ve had to work on that.
There are two things that have completely saved me with Walter (let’s forget the fact that he is a very easygoing kid) – one is having gone through it all before and come out the other side. So there’s always that ability to sigh and look to the heavens and decide that tonight you are having wine (unless you are pregnant, in which case wine=ice cream). The other is discovering Janet Lansbury and adopting her strategies from fairly early on.
Janet Lansbury offers a perfect solution for modern parents – her basic philosophy is to love and respect your children but take absolutely none of their crap. Okay, there is way more to it than that, but if you haven’t yet I’d suggest you read her books, follow her Facebook page and start following her blog. She is a lifesaver.
Here are my top tips for surviving toddler tantrums, a mixture of my own experience and Janet’s awesome advice:
Avoid triggering situations
This is so simple but for some reason I feel like all Mums have to learn the hard way time after time. Why, just yesterday I took a sick Walter to IKEA. Was this a well thought out decision? Um, no. The supermarket is another obvious one. A toy shop, just to quickly pick up a gift for a party. Restaurants. And so on. Obviously these places can’t be avoided all the time but sometimes you need to ask yourself if you really have to go right now or can you possibly avoid it? If only the toddler years could be spent solely at home, the beach or the park (though leaving the park is often another trigger!).
Your child is two. Or one. Or three. They have only been on this earth for such a short time and they are still figuring it all out. They are going to get disappointed, a lot. And frustrated. And because they are still ego-centric at this age, it all seems like a really big deal. I find that reminding myself of this and really focusing on it in the midst of a tantrum makes everything more bearable. It also helps me to avoid triggers as mentioned above, as I’m normally pretty realistic about what my kids can handle. ALSO my pet peeve, kids at this age have very little experience with social interaction – so why do we expect them to say please and thank you and Hi and Bye and behave perfectly nicely to one another? Accept that this generally won’t happen without patience and guidance.
Create a yes space
This is so simple – make your home child friendly. Make all your child’s favourite toys accessible and if you have any valuables left, hide them in a far off cupboard for 8 years. If your child can move freely about their own home you will find far less cause for tantrums, as you never really have to say “no”. Obviously they do need to learn these boundaries but why at home, where they could be peaceful and learning to play independently?
Ask yourself why
Whenever Walt is in the throes of a tantrum I find it’s helpful just for my own mental state to say, okay, why is he behaving this way? What has caused it? And once I’ve identified that I find I am a little more calm and accepting, and can also sportscast more effectively (see below).
Ride it out
I find one of the worst things to do in a tantrum is to “shh shh” or offer water, cuddles, treats etc. Your child is angry – let them express it. Unless obviously you are in public in which case the first thing I always do is just remove both of us from the situation and then…ride it out.
If you can! Many of the above techniques help to keep you calm. Getting worked up and angry doesn’t help anyone (and makes you feel SO FRIGGING GUILTY for the rest of the day).
This is a very Janet technique and one that sounds a bit new age and out there until you actually try it and discover…it works!!! So sportscasting is basically saying aloud what is making the child angry and why and that you understand – kind of holding a verbal mirror up to what they are going through. For example: “You are so angry because Mummy won’t let you have xyz. That is making you so mad, I know.” And then you just kind of calmly sit there and repeat variations of that until the child calms down. Okay, Janet explains it a LOT better than me. But it is so weird, it really works. I literally just did this today with Walter (he just woke up really grumpy from his nap) and after a few minutes he looked at me and just walked over and collapsed in my lap. I didn’t get angry and it ended with a positive interaction. Win!
Remove the child
As I said above if I am in public I always just get out of the situation – neither you or your child needs judging eyes on top of a full blown tantrum and it makes it easier to deal with the tantrum the way you want to. But this also works if you are at home and your child is aggressive (particularly towards siblings). Janet’s advice is to calmly say “I won’t let you hurt xyz. It’s dangerous. I’m going to sit in your room with you where you can be safe.” So it focuses on the fact that a behaviour is “dangerous” rather than bad and gives a reason why they need to be removed, to be “safe”. This saved me a lot with Heike who could be very aggressive at times, and I never felt I really knew how to deal with it. This is a very no-tolerance approach that is still gentle and kind. Janet even recommends holding their arms while saying it to physically prevent the aggression – I definitely recommend reading up more on her approach if your child can be physical.
Set Firm Boundaries
Overall Janet’s approach is very firm – behaviours like throwing toys, hitting, kicking and being destructive just aren’t allowed, even if the child is allowed to let their anger out. I think this is another thing that makes her approach so successful as it actually teaches them what’s acceptable. If a child exhibits these behaviours they should simply be removed from the situation as above.
As I’ve said there is a lot more to it but if you are going through this too I would definitely recommend reading all of Janet’s advice. I sometimes find even a visit to her blog after a hard day makes me a much better Mum for days after – firm and loving, much as I remember my own Mum being! As opposed to slightly bipolar (one minute sunshine and rainbows, the next “GET OFF YOUR SISTER RIGHT NOOOOOWWW!”).