There’s really no escape. Temper tantrums are just part of toddler life, and as a facilitator of toddler life, you’ll find they’re a part of yours. Though your child is ostensibly the one under emotional duress, you can expect your own stress and frustration to skyrocket, too. It’s hard—perhaps one of the hardest parts of parenting—trying to calm them to no avail, whilst passersby and onlookers stare and scrutinize your every action.
I’m unsure exactly when I came up with this mantra, but I know I’ve had it embedded in my mind since my first kid. It was probably concocted from a mixture of various articles I read after typing “child meltdown help” into Google. It has proved to be not only a source of calm for me in these moments of frustration, but also a source of insight. Eventually, the calming effect it brings me seems to trickle down to my child, as well. This is my two-sentence maxim when my child is going nuclear:
“He is having a hard time. I am not.”
Firstly, what this phrase does is it separates me from my child. I’m a pretty sensitive soul, so I tend to take on the emotions of those around me. Much like a boat taking on water. This is no different when I’m around my children. When they’re frustrated and angry, I too become frustrated and angry. Which basically means I am sinking just as fast, and can offer no help to my children in their moment of distress. By reinforcing to myself that they are the one(s) having the hard time, not me, I’m able to keep my cool. I am doing okay. I might be the producer of this dramatic stage performance, but I’m just standing in the wings. Over here. Doing okay.
I might be the producer of this dramatic stage performance, but I’m just standing in the wings. Over here. Doing okay.
This especially helps me when I’m in public and my embarrassment is on the rise. Repeating it over and over helps me acknowledge (and give myself credit for) the fact that I’m not the one screaming/hitting/lying on the floor right now. As strange as that may seem, it’s the first step toward keeping my composure. And it’s actually a real hurdle to jump over as a parent—understanding that your child is not you. After all, you’ve spent years tending to their every need as your own. You change, bathe, dress, feed, and put them to sleep. But: you are not your child. Their emotions are theirs. Your emotions are yours. Imagine that!
I’ve secured my own oxygen mask, so to speak, so now I can help others.
The second thing this mantra does to my brain is it lets me focus. Focus on my child. I’ve already settled myself and established that I’m all fine and good. I’ve secured my own oxygen mask, so to speak, so now I can help others. It’s time to determine what things I can do for my child. I run through the grand repertoire of techniques for deflating their rage. Distraction. Holding. Hugging. Giving them the sleep they may be lacking. Food. I explore all my available resources. If they all fail (which, let’s be honest, is the outcome 50% of the time) I generally continue on my way and let them have their hard time until they eventually reach the point where they want cuddles. My kids always seem to want cuddles after their struggle; sometimes I just have to let them be the one to initiate it.
These words also give me more empathy for my child as I remember my own ‘hard time’ moments and what helped. Going through labour, for instance. I mean, screaming just felt so much better than those stupid breathing exercises. It also felt pretty good to squeeze my husband’s hand so hard it turned all white. Now, I’m sorry if that made other people in the delivery room uncomfortable. But: I was the one having the hard time.
Consider developing your own little catchphrase for when your toddler’s technical difficulties threaten to become your own. Because in amongst the screaming, a little voice in your head that’s saying something rational can make all the difference.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.