We all know parenting doesn’t come with a manual. There are thousands of parenting books out there that still don’t have all the answers to every situation for every child. The books can be helpful or can be discouraging depending on your own situation. That’s the mystery side of parenting because each parent is different and each child is different. I know in my five years of being a parent, at times, I have had to parent my two children differently. But in those five years I have to say, I have been lucky to get this far without any true challenges in behavior until toddler tantrums started.
Now toddler tantrums are well known stage of parenting but how do you know it’s not more. How do you know when it’s just them acting out or a new phase or coming down with a cold. How do you know when to seek further help or gather more information? It’s the unknown stages of parenting that get tricky. The stage before you know what stage you’re in. It’s a grey area. And from birth to toddlerville there is a lot of grey area and guessing.
First Toddler Tantrums
First of all, don’t panic. When you have a shy, quiet, sweet child and wake up to a screaming, tantruming, loud, crying one, it can be quite a shock to the system. I panicked, against the things I knew. I instantly didn’t know what to do with this new behavior that I wasn’t accustom to. My littlest had changed over night and I couldn’t figure out what she wanted or needed from me. That’s the most disheartening thing as a parent to not be able to understand or help your child. I could see she was more than just throwing a fit, she was uncontrollably distraught, day after day.
By the fifth day, I ruled out coming down with an illness that could be the cause. I was looking for answers or excuses of why she all the sudden was acting out. Truth was, there was no answer or excuse. Her emotions were all over the place. I could have thought up a mile long list of excuses like going from nursery to preschool, or new swimming teacher, or growing spurt. There is a never ending list of “could be” excuses but at the end of the day that wasn’t going to stop her from acting like this. So we had to ride it out.
Who can help?
When you find yourself without answers find family and friends to guide you, support you or just listen to you. I vented to my mother who said it was karma from my own tantrum days. Thanks Mom. I complained to my husband who was as clueless as I was. Friends have been amazing sharing their own experiences and letting me know it’s ok to feel completely helpless which is a bigger deal than it actually sounds. I searched for advice on social media and parenting groups on facebook and all you loyal followers on my instagram and even commenting on my blog here, have been so supportive. Thank you.
That’s the thing about parenting…your child can change on you in the blink of an eye and what you are normally used to could be life of the past or just a phase and your child will be themselves again. I was so worked up that I wouldn’t get my little buddy back. I know, I should be her mother not try to be her friend but as her last year at home with me, I didn’t want this to be a year long phase in which we spent our time tantruming and fighting instead of bonding and spending quality time together. Having witnessed my niece turn into a nightmare for a whole year, I feared this would be my littlest fate too.
So all parenting advice I give my friends, I was completely doing the opposite for selfish reasons. I want to be her friend. We have so much fun together. Then she changed and it turned out to be the longest worse ten days of my life. I missed her. I was sad for her. I cried for her. I cried with her. I couldn’t help her.
Each morning, I woke up praying when I went into her room to wake her she would smile up at me and be herself again. Morning after morning, I could tell from the moment she opened her beautiful blue eyes she wasn’t back yet. She would be in a mood at the breakfast table or refuse to eat. She all the sudden was saying, no, to everything which she never had done before. She refused to walk anywhere no matter where we went. Even treats were refused that I offered as bribery to avoid toddler tantrums.
Bribing does always work!
Yes, don’t judge me, I was desperate and I bribe my children. She was just not easy to be around. I normally feel guilty for putting her in preschool a few days a week so I can work from home without interruptions but I found myself begging it to be a preschool day. Then I felt guilty about feeling like that. Parenting is a full time job of guilt, no matter what you do. I have learned more about myself and parenting in the last two weeks than I have the last year.
When the tantrums stop…
On day 11, I just accepted that I had a challenging phase of “threenager” on my hands and went in expecting her attitude and grumpy remarks and there she was smiling back at me and reaching out for a cuddle. I knew by her cuddles, she was back. Like she had been on a long holiday and woke up back at home to be welcomed back to the family.
She was bouncing with giggles and happiness at breakfast and walked nicely into preschool and waved me off. A complete turn around from the previous week where she had a hold of my gym shoe laces so tightly I had to have three nursery ladies pull her off me. Embarrassing and heart breaking at the same time. She came home that evening, dancing back to her own happy music. Over last weekend, I waited for her other self to emerge again. It’s like walking on egg shells around a sleeping baby.
How it affects the household:
In those horrible ten days of parenting, her brother was upset and confused too. He didn’t understand why his best friend and playmate was acting crazy. He missed her as much as I did. Daddy couldn’t cope and just stayed clear of interactions. I sat pondering how she changed so quickly into someone I didn’t know. There were so many screaming matches where I wanted to win to prove I am the parent and she is the child.
Parent fail number one.
Screaming and shouting only made her worse. There were so many tears from both of us.
Parent fail number two.
I shouldn’t have let her see me cry but it was just as hard for me as it was for her. We had full meltdowns in the rain in a puddle in front of the entire school, not once but twice in one week.
Parent fail number three.
I should have choose my battles better and made sure it wasn’t raining when I decided to make a point. I can’t tell you how many tantrums and crying ourselves to sleep happened in those ten days but I can say I have learned so much from it. The next phase that hits me I will be more prepared. (Although hopefully it waits a few weeks for me to recover).
It isn’t the last time I will see her alternative personality. I know it won’t be the last time she tests me or challenges me with her emotions and strong will. It definitely won’t be the last time I cry over it or feel like a failure even though I am not. She is learning to control her own emotions and feelings now too. I am learning right along side her.
Parenting is the hardest but the most rewarding job ever. It can be super hard from the start or all the sudden become super hard and either way as humans it affects us no matter how calm and patient we are. In my case, I am not calm or patient so when it gets tough I feel it. I cry with them. I feel the guilt and failure rise within me. I know I am not the only one that feels this way.
My mom always like the quote, “The days are long but the years are short”. When I am having a tough time I try to remember they are not home for long before they fly the nest and start their own life. So I will continue trying to find a balance between relationship and rules and leave space in between for these “phases” that pop out of nowhere whether it’s at terrible twos, threenagers, or ferocious fours.
Any child is going to go through difficult stages in their growing up journey. Toddler tantrums are normal and so are teenage tantrums. You will have tons of ups and downs and learning along the way. If you feel these stages are more than just your normal toddler/child milestones see a doctor. It could be more than just a phase they are going through.
Additional resource: If you are a parent of a child with special needs, visit cpfamilynetwork.org – a compassionate community that provides resources for loved ones with Cerebral Palsy.