Normalize Toddler Jerks
Admit it..... I won't shame you....Toddlers can be jerks.
There was a time I announced to other parents: “If I survive until he is 4 I will have achieved a miracle.” True story. I didn’t know if I would ever see the other side of 2, 3, and 4. Parenting a toddler and early preschooler requires buckets of confidence, pools of persistence and one hell of a support system.
So how do you get said pool of persistence?
Know the enemy.
Toddlers are designed to test their parents… they are built to get out of bed 100 times and they are meant to smear snot on your shoulder after an hour of testing your will. To admit the challenges toddlers present are the very things toddlers should be doing developmentally.
So don't worry when you feel like he might be plotting against you. That's a normal feeling. No one ever proudly exclaims on Facebook: “Johnny is meeting his milestones! He has bit me twice this morning and poured hot sauce on the dog!” That’s not a thing. But maybe it should be.
Maybe if we normalized how toddlers thrive as jerks stealing all your sleep and sanity you’d feel a little less…. Alone.
So let me do that really quick for you: “Toddlers are jerks. Lovable jerks” That feels…. Better. I think. As you decide exactly how you feel, or perhaps while you search the internet for useful threads that answer “Why is my toddler throwing tantrums?” Let me give you a little something else to ruminate on:
1. Know Your Tantrum.
Margot Sunderland, author of What Every Parent Needs to Know, informs the reader there are two types of tantrums. If you know which one you are dealing with you can draw from the right tools--- you wouldn’t bring a water balloon to gun fight.
‘Nero’ tantrums- these are the tantrums children use to get their way. The more you cave…. The more they learn they can utilize this behavior to achieve their goals. These are tantrums we, as parents, feed when we reward the behaviors associated with the tantrum. Your child may argue, attempt to negotiate, give demands and so forth. These tantrums exhaust the parent.
Distress tantrums- These tantrums tell you your child is not able to work with you. The parts of his brain helping him learn reason and executive functioning are turned off. He is in fight or flight mode… you can’t work with a toddler in this state. Asking your child to “Stop It!” is futile. He cannot. This is the tantrum that tells you he has a deep pain. My motto during these: “Love him through it.” This doesn’t mean he gets a cookie. This means I need to nurture him back to the place of reason. I need to let my shoulder get covered in snot.
2. Set realistic expectations.
My BFF just called me the other day to commiserate on the fact her three year old keeps getting up at night and wakes her up at the crack of dawn. Not a morning person and already tending to an infant throughout the night, this pattern has driven her to a point of delirium. Her best parenting knowledge is out the window. She feels MAD. And there's nothing wrong with frustration but she can't stand feeling that way. Being tired can hamper our moods and the reasoning parts of our brains operate a little slower too. Sometimes parents experience their own versions of distress tantrums.
As we talked about her latest plans for managing the “Incredible Escape” she determined her answer. He just isn’t ready to be in a big boy bed. He doesn’t need to be either. Instead of forcing the issue she decided she needed to go back to what works. No shame: Revisit sleeping in a bed later. Sanity saved. Expecting our children to adapt to expectations outside their ability level seems akin to sending them to a race with flat tires. That ain’t fair.
3. Give Yourself Grace.
Reason will not always prevail. You are not Mary Poppins and no one expects you to be on your A-Game every day. If the week has destroyed morale and you don’t want to cook… don’t cook. There’s nothing wrong with peanut butter and jelly or ordering pizza. Sometimes self-care is practicing the simple art of doing nothing. Stay in your jammies, turn the living room into a fort, take a nap on the couch with your toddler, and clean the dishes later. Oh…. And turn off your phone. Leave it in the other room. Unplug and tune in to your toddler through snuggles and sweet whispers. Feeling loved helps build security for both of you.
4. Meet Moms.
Making a mom friend feels terrifying. BE SCARED, slap on some leggings and check out local mom groups. Some will repulse you, some will be fun, and some will just not meet your needs. And that is also ok. Your jerk toddler needs to practice being less of a jerk with other jerk toddlers. You can watch other moms handle tantrums. You can see how other moms use distraction or redirection in ways you hadn’t thought of. And when a mom looks up at you in despair as this week her toddler is the worst jerk of the bunch you can tell her, “It’s ok. How can I help? You’re doing great. I’ve been there.” And then BAM… friendship starts. Simple. All you had to do was show up and show empathy.
5. Call In Back Up.
If you have the luxury of family and friends that will help please let them. Call them over for coffee and tantrum interference for the day. Sometimes a new person offering the redirection helps. Who cares if the house is a mess? If they love you they won’t. Take a shower… with hot water and no toys at the bottom of the basin.When you feel lonely you might be more on edge. Your ability to determine what kind of tantrum you’re dealing with is limited. Ask a friend to come over. Chat over video with a BFF in another state. Do something to help YOU feel less isolated. Prevention can minimize the effects of the tantrums.Connections matter. Watch a clip from Super Nanny or a parenting guru you admire. Refresh your mindset to tackle the tantrum with a clearer perspective. Visualize yourself bringing your child to the timeout stair 45 times. Prepare your brain to persist calmly.
I have an extra piece of advice here. When your toddler drives you batty and you know they need to learn always check the motives behind your actions. Is your goal to punish or to teach? Is the timeout teaching him to use gentle hands or is it teaching him to take a break when he is overwhelmed? Ask yourself better questions to get to the better results. As you teach your tiny person remember... he is a person. As parents we can forget sometimes and expect blind obedience.
Toddlers are supposed to be like goofy, golden retrievers that knock everything down with each excited step. They need to test you to develop the parts of their brains to develop language, feelings, literacy and discovery and so on. They need to say NO and smear food on the tray. And they need you to guide them through these exhilarating moments. Embrace your jerk baby and remind him how wonderful, exuberant and lovable he is.
Hugs friends, Jess