Remember when I shared some quiet parenting thoughts on some loud toddler behavior? Since then, the tantrums have ebbed and we’ve re-gained our sea legs as parents.
Funny how this happens with such regularity as a parent: you hit some strange and stressful phase, or wring your hands over some new behavior, and you feel the rug pulled from right out beneath you. “I don’t know what I’m doing! Why is this so hard?!” you pant. You scramble for help. You tinker. You talk late into the night with your husband. “But do you think…?” You weigh the advice of others, observe parents engaging in their own successful and unsuccessful attempts at navigating the same straits. You wonder if you’ve been doing something wrong all along. You pray.
I recall these fraught transitions with things like sleep-training (which we never really did, but still – the shift away from the bottle at bedtime, the move out of the swaddle, the tinkering with bedtimes, the calculus of when to feed the final bottle) and the earth-shaking moments where my children went from laying immobile on the ground to crawling and then walking everywhere. “How can I manage this?!” I remember thinking, overwhelmed by the sudden and dramatic transition in lifestyle, our apartment suddenly feeling more like a death trap than a home, the window of time to get things done around the house immediately shrunk to nil.
Similarly, I was wholly consumed by the ferocity and frequency of the tantrums we experienced around the holidays. I spent days and days worrying about them, talking about them, trying different tacks. My sister checked in on me on this front with regularity. How’d it go today? she’d ask, as she juggled her own two children and her pregnant belly, reassuring me that we were not the only parents to be grappling with these concerns.
And yet somehow we made our way through it, with tantrums increasingly rare and far more manageable when they do arise. Life has continued. The day came when I told my daughter it is time to leave the park and, miraculously, no outburst of defiance materialized. Of course, the only sure thing now is that there will be another unnerving and curious new behavior around the corner. But I celebrate this moment nonetheless.
I have been engaged in my own punctilious appraisal of the tantrum issue, and I still can’t quite figure out what happened.
Part of it — she is older, four tomorrow (!), more mature, more capable of reasoning. Was it just an age thing? When I unloaded my concerns to my mother, her visceral reaction was: “Jennifer? She’s three. She’s being a three-year-old!”
Part of it — we are out of the fracas of the holidays and the strange shifts in schedule. I remember her sweet voice, still round with baby lisp, asking: “But do I have school today? Am I going to school tomorrow?” We suspect that sudden disruptions to routine were particularly challenging for her and likely the source of some of her angst around the holidays, and now give her ample heads-up on things like who is picking her up from school, doctor’s appointments, and the like. We are in a more predictable regimen in general now, and we have the help of a wall calendar that is a part of our bedtime process, too, so she has a better sense for what to expect each day.
Part of it, possibly? We have aimed to spend more one-on-one time with her, affording some portion of every weekend to a small excursion to pick out a flower from the florist’s, or pick up a slice of pizza, or visit the ducks at Jackie O. Reservoir with just dad or just mom. Maybe, we reasoned, part of the tantrums was a delayed realization that her brother is not only here to stay but suddenly capable of participating in many of the activities and crafts and toys to which she alone used to lay claim. One-on-one time with each parent might be helping?
A big part of it, too: we feel better equipped to prevent and work through tantrums. We can see the storm clouds forming and know now that it helps to give her ample space — take a pace back, afford her a wide berth, drop the demands for a minute, put a pin in the negotiations — and silently love her through it. A huge turning point for me was the day I sat down on the ground next to her while she was in the throes of an enormous tantrum, not saying anything at all. After a few minutes, she moved her body next to mine, then climbed onto my lap, then cried into my shirt as I held her. I didn’t say a word. No coaxing, no reasoning, no consoling, no reprimanding — which, if you know me, required tremendous restraint. But she cried herself out of it, then wiped her hands against her eyes, and it was like the skies cleared and the angels sang, and we moved on with our day. Of course, that is not always possible. There have been high-stress moments where we have been trying to get out the door to get to school on time, and there was simply no time for a drawn out process like that. And instances where I have been already at my wit’s end and found it difficult to mentally shift into a quiet, consoling mode. And there have also been circumstances where she has needed to be disciplined for, say, hurting her brother. But in general, it has rarely failed to drop what I am doing, bite my tongue, and hold her as she works her way through things.
I have also found that when she is teetering on big emotions, it helps to acknowledge what she is feeling and admit I’ve felt the same way. There have been a few mornings where she has persistently whined that she does not want to go to school, her protests punctuating the process of getting out the door and then taking the subway and then switching lines and then standing in the drop off queue in front of her school. I tell her: “I understand. It’s OK to not want to go to school. Sometimes I have to do things I don’t want to do, too. But you made a commitment and you have to go to school.” More recently, I have added a phrase pocketed from a couple of Magpies: “You can do hard things.” I have been surprised at how well it has worked, and how honest it feels as a parent. I feel connected to her, empathetic to her emotions, rather than attempting to strait-jacket my way through drop-off. Mini will still whimper a bit but then walk right into the school. Sometimes she will peer up at me in surprise in these conversations: “Sometimes you don’t want to go to school, too?” And something will pass between us, and we re-direct together.
Altogether, I don’t know how we got through it, or how much to attribute to our parenting ploys versus her age and the circumstance of the holidays, but here we are. But I write this to telegraph auspiciousness if you are in it as a parent today. To remind you that “this, too, shall pass,” even if it doesn’t particularly help to hear it in the immediate sense of: “BUT WHAT DO I TODAY?!”
You are smart and loving and determined. You will make it to the other side. You are doing the best you can. In the meantime, know that there is a big community of Magpies right here, cheering you on, deeply familiar with what you are going through, and I am standing here in the front bleachers. You got this!
+Miscellaneous parenting dispatches from way back when micro was two months (!) old and mini was just over two herself. How much has changed…
+Love the look of this boxy long-sleeved tee.
+This racer stripe crossbody gives me major Clare Vivier vibes for a fraction of the price.
+Ordered this $108 dress for myself.
+Rave reviews of a fantastic, well-priced facial cleanser and HOLY GRAIL serum here.
+A classic shortall for a little boy here at a phenomenal price. This belongs in my roundup of classic American summer clothes for a little boy’s wardrobe.
+This railroad ticking stripe pair of overalls also fits the bill!