We were warned. Many parents who’d gone before us told us that our sweet angel baby wouldn’t always be so sweet. They smirked the kind of arrogant smirk that professional parents can give. We scoffed. No way our giggly girl would throw a tantrum. Sure she has “big feelings” and seems to be fiercely independent at a young age, but she could never completely lose control. And even if she did how bad could it be?
We were wrong. Like, so very, very wrong. The tantrums came on hard and fast just before her second birthday. It was almost like storm clouds quickly settling over her sweet head. I was stunned during the first big outburst over something seemingly innocuous. I did a lot of scrambling to try to make her feel better and calm her down. Lots of acknowledging her feelings, which a Mommy and Me leader had told me to do. We acknowledged. Over and over again. And it actually seemed to piss her off even more.
I’ve tried time outs. One minute for every year of her age. So 2 minutes, in a corner, watching her writhe on the floor like a crazy person while I gently tried to acknowledge her feelings and get the train back on track. Then I tried being firm. Making it clear to her why the time out was necessary. She did everything but tell me to fuck off. Which I completely believe she would do if she knew the power of that word. Now I have something to look forward to.
I tried deep breaths. They worked for a hot second then she was on to me. “No deep breaths!” Ok. How about just deep breaths for mom then? When venting my struggles to other parents a common answer I get is “just ignore her.” You mean like, walk away? Pretend she doesn’t exist when she’s screaming her head off in a mall or parking lot? Is that an option? Chan’s storms seem to move in at the most inopportune time. The grocery story, a parking lot, when I’ve just opened a bottle of wine… She is so sweet and silly and then it’s like a light switch gets flipped. This girl that I love so much gets so overpowered by her emotions that she can’t stop them from taking over. The experts say to try to stop the tantrums before they happen. Yeah. Okay. If I could do that I wouldn’t be bitching about Tantrum City on this blog. Even on days when she’s well-rested, well-fed, and got all the pee and poo out of her system, sometimes she’s just a jerk. There. I said it. Sometimes my beautiful love child is a jerk. And yet I love her so much it breaks my heart that sometimes I just can’t help her get back in control of her feelings
Ultimately though, I know it’s not really her fault. When the tantrums started, I read this great book called The Whole Brain Child and it was beyond enlightening. It explains that kids at this age can’t really stop the wave of strong emotions that flood over them. Their brains aren’t quite fully developed yet to know when to get upset and how to calm down. Their little neurons are still growing and synapses are still fusing together. As parents we’re supposed to help by acknowledging their feelings, setting limits, and sit with them for comfort until the storm passes. I remember thinking, yes. This makes sense to me. I’m totally going to do this. But when you’re in the shit of a tantrum, it sure seems like a lot of hippie BS. When your toddler is pulling away from you and screaming “get off me!” as you hold her hand to safely walk her across the street, it’s hard to reach down deep inside and tell her “Mommy hears that you’re upset. But we have to walk safely across the street together.” The mantra in my head quickly goes from, “Her brain is still growing. Her brain is still growing. Her brain is still growing” to “She has no brain. She has no brain. She has no brain.”
Deep breaths Mama. Deep breaths.
I’m told that these outbursts can last until they’re 5, and beyond. Dear God, why did we visit Bonetown only to end up in Tantrum City? I know why. Because we got this smart, deep-feeling, loving person out of that visit. Plus, I figure it’s a rite of passage. Someday we can be those smug parents who look at the shiny hopeful faces of a new mom and dad and say, you just wait suckers.The tantrums are coming. But here’s the nuggets of wisdom I will add: You will survive. Your kid has a brain. You will need extra bottles of wine.