The Ups and Downs of Parenting a Toddler
When I first found out I was pregnant, I was terrified, excited and happy. When I gave birth to my daughter Suzy, I was terrified, excited, and happy. When Suzy was a tiny baby and demanded my every waking and sleeping moment of attention, I was too exhausted to be terrified or excited, but I was still happy.
But when Suzy turned into a walking, running, and talking creature with her own opinions and ideas of how she was going to grow up, the terror returned with a vengeance. The excitement gave way to fear and happiness receded into a far-off place, returning only on those rare days of 2-hour afternoon naps when I was able to collapse on the couch and drink a glass of Pinot (or two).
Don't get me wrong. I love my daughter fiercely, every hair on her stubborn, rebellious little head. She's a firecracker, insisting on immediate independence before she could walk, dressing herself at age one, potty trained at age two, having temper tantrums because I won't let her use a butcher knife to cut open an avocado. I soon came to realize that I would need to out-think this untamed beast before she got the best of me.
Toddler Temper Tantrums
The toddler temper tantrum is one of those absolute constants in life, right up there with death and taxes. Many a trip to the grocery store with terrible-two Suzy resulted in screaming red-faced madness (and Suzy's mood wasn't much better). I have, as a last resort, had to abandon my shopping cart at the end of my shopping experience, right before the line up, because of the severe public disturbance this little girl was causing.
One particular day, I remember that I had not even left the car to go into the grocery store when the tantrum started. In retrospect this was actually a good thing, but I was so angry that it seemed another toddler tantrum was going to thwart my efforts to stock my refrigerator that I started yelling back at her. This, of course, only made things worse. I took a step back, took a deep breath, and tried to think of the situation from her perspective. I realized that if I was her, I would not enjoy being dragged around to completely boring, claustrophobic places like the grocery store either. Instead of going into the store, I told her, "Come on Suzy, let's go for a walk."
This threw her for a loop. Toddler tantrum disappeared and curious Suzy held my hand while we went for a walk up the strip mall to clear our heads. By some miracle I noticed a pet store that had been there all along and we went in. Suzy was overjoyed to pick out a treat for our cat and bring it up to the counter. By the time we walked out of there, Suzy swinging her pet store bag triumphantly by her side, she had become completely satisfied and sedated enough to follow me complacently into the grocery store and sit quietly in the shopping cart, clutching the pet store bag all the while and chattering about how Muffy was going to love the treat we got her.
I realized from this experience that sometimes, toddlers just need a distraction from the same old routine. By letting Suzy pick out a treat for the cat, she felt like she had some control over her situation, giving her a sense of responsibility and satisfaction. I have also started asking her to help me pick out certain things while grocery shopping, and she's always ready to help Mama. Temper tantrums have been largely averted since then.
My toddler's first word was "No." In fact, every morning she wakes up, her first word seems to be "No". Did you have a good sleep? No. Did you have any dreams? No. Do you want some chocolate? Silence. Incapable of saying yes, even when faced with a tantalizing offer of a treat. (For the record, I would never give my toddler chocolate for breakfast - unlike my husband).
This begs the question - how to overcome this defiance without simply forcing your toddler to do what you want them to? I have long since learned that I cannot "force" my strong-willed child to do anything. I cannot force her to have a nap - but I can put her to bed in the afternoon and darken the room and leave and wait (finger's crossed). Even though I do this at around the same time every day, it does not guarantee that she naps. Some days, she will roll around and mumble to herself for an hour. Other days, she will scream for me at the top of her lungs until I can't stand it anymore and have to get her before she loses her voice. And still other days, a beautiful, peaceful quiet envelopes the house, and I am free to sit down and perhaps write an article on the frustrations and terrors surrounding parenting a toddler.
I cannot force my toddler to get into her carseat - but I do explain where we are going and why, and what we are going to do when we get there. This usually is enough to placate her into getting into the car willingly without any hassle. Of course, some days, she doesn't want to go to Nana's, she wants to stay home. In cases of extreme defiance such as this, I do sometimes feel the need to dangle a carrot in front of her...because after we go to Nana's, she might be able to watch Peppa Pig. Or she might just get a small treat for being a good girl. I find this usually works quite well - Suzy may be a defiant toddler, but she knows a good deal when she sees one.
While raising a toddler can be quite challenging, to put it mildly, I find it best not to focus so much on the challenges when there are so many other wonderful, amazing things going on besides temper tantrums, rebellion, mood swings, parental exhaustion, night terrors, etc...
There is that all-encompassing joy you feel on those extremely rare times when your toddler runs to you and hugs you or gives you a kiss on the cheek and says "I love you Mommy". Or when she looks at your husband strangely and waits until he is out of the room to whisper "Why is Daddy's head so big?" Or when you leave the room for literally maybe a minute and return to find that she has located her safety scissors and proceeded to cut her Pre-K workbook, (which you purchased with her best learning interests in mind) into teeny tiny pieces.
Don't forget how cuddly and snuggly they can be at nighttime when you're reading bedtime stories together. All of this affectionate one-on-one time with your toddler is very healthy and is actually helping them to mature on an emotional level - so that one day, not very many days away, the toddler terrors will be but a blissfully fading memory.
© 2017 Jennifer Rae