In the last few years, with lessons I learned from my very patient husband, seasoned parents, and trial and error, I’ve become a far more patient person, who is actually pretty good at negotiating with toddlers.
I think back to a day sometime in my late 20s. I was standing in line at Victoria’s Secret about to spend loads of money on things I didn’t need, when a mother about my age and her toddler got in line behind me. Cue eyeroll. The kind started wailing like a police siren, and the exasperated mother who wanted to update her wardrobe with some underthings without holes crouched down pleading with the child to no avail. Single me with money to spend and nowhere to be stood there thinking, “Thank goodness that thing isn’t mine.”
Well that version of me is gone in nearly all respects. What I’ve foregone in money and time, I’ve gained in patience, understanding, and negotiation skills. For others’ benefit, I’ve come up with a succinct list of toddler tantrum coping techniques, in ascending order of desperation:
- Understand their motives: Little kids generally don’t explode just because. Are they hungry? Sleepy? Frustrated that they can’t communicate what they need? Understanding that they need something will help you be patient. If you get frustrated and flustered, they’ll respond with anger, but if you talk to them patiently and try to find a solution, they’ll work with you. If they need something and you don’t understand what it is, tell them to show you or point to it.
- Be prepared: In my daughter’s case, most meltdowns happen as a result of physiological deprivation – the top of the pyramid. Namely, she’s hungry, sleepy, or bored. I always have a fruit pouch or granola bar in my purse (they’ve been my saving grace on too many occasions to count), I often bring a blanket for creature comforts, and though I don’t encourage technology being your babysitter, a child-friendly iOS folder of apps and games has helped me finish my meal or get to where we’re going in a pinch. By the way, how awesome would it be if you could just start screaming when you’re hungry, and someone would shove something delicious in your mouth?
- Distract and divert: Use whatever storytelling, noise-making, slapstick trick you have at your disposal. I used to make wild monkey noises, but I learned that most tricks wear out their welcome, so you need to switch it up. Sometimes snapping your fingers or a hand-clap works. My husband does a crazy slapstick routine, because adults hurting themselves is hilarious. Need to grab that car key? Bait and switch a sippy cup or a toy and immediately ask a question about something unrelated. The other day my mini was mad and sobbing in a corner when I tried to brush her hair, so I made up some silly story with character voices about a little bee who was happy to work for the queen because then he got to eat his toast with honey, and then I asked her something random. We did a fist bump and I and brushed her hair.
- Meditate on the face: When the baby volcano is in fiery eruption, there are hot tears pouring down her beautiful little cheeks, and her mouth is agape in full wail, I channel my inner Buddhist. I accept and stop worrying about the crying, focus and observe – pure visual, and I think to myself, “Even when you’re screaming, you’re so beautiful.” And then with an open heart, I’m able to move to one of the aforementioned techniques.
- Swaddle: By the time the kid weighs 40 pounds, you may not have a blankie ready with which to swaddle, but if you hold the kid securely and use the same comforting rocking you used during infancy (with patting, shhhhing, gently assuring, “you’re okay,” or humming a lullaby) he or she should calm down long enough to being a conversation.
- Breathe: Count to 10, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, regulate your heart rate, leave the room if you need to, and with a clearer head, come up with a new idea.
- Candy: I’m also not a fan of rewarding kids for bad behavior with sugar, but if you’re at church, or at the front of the line at the DMV, desperate times call for candy. Lollipops are good (Dum Dums because they’re small) but Tic Tacs will do. Hell, breath spray, if necessary.
- Hand-off: When you’ve exhausted your bag of tricks, hand them to someone responsible until you can collect yourself or come up with a Plan B. My husband is a champion in this regard. Grandparents are good when your parenting energy wears thin and kids usually are happier with your parents than with you, daycare teachers, trusted neighbors… You get it.
Start at the beginning of this list. For any one tantrum, you may need to use all these tactics in sequence, or in some combination. Rather than taking outbursts personally, be strategic and cerebral. I’m happy to say, because my daughter knows I’m listening and want to help her, she’s generally not the obnoxious siren giving single people a deep sense of satisfaction – I have a satisfied, reasonable toddler. Sometimes.
[Header photo Creative Commons license, tantrum on the floor by me, Genevieve Gil]