When your baby is born, she or he is perfect. As they grow, and become more mobile, they get into monkey business and your primary task is to keep them from concussing themselves. That’s it.
Then there is a subtle shift when they start pushing limits, let’s say around 18 months. You might get a tantrum in Target, or at bedtime. You might see them start to grab at their sibling’s stuff because they know their antics are going to get a big reaction.
It can be fatiguing, but then you get to this sweet spot, let’s say between 24-36 months. You pretty much know what makes them tick and tock.
You start to feel like you have this parenting thing down. You’re a rock star. Your kid goes right to bed and is potty-training like a champ! You tell your friends, I don’t know why they call it the “terrible twos!” It’s really not so bad at all. Terrible twos, schmerible schmoos!
And just at that moment, while you are perhaps frying up a veggie burger, or putting in a load of laundry, you feel like you should give yourself a little pat on the back. You’re a great mom. Why do people yell at their kids? Toddlers are perfectly reasonable, that is, if you know what you’re doing.
Wait, what is that smell?
The shit has hit the fan. Literally. Because while you were busy patting and being all self-congratulatory, your toddler has shit his or her pants and smeared it on the fan and they are giggling their poopy little ass off while you are inhaling the digested waft of that veggie burger you fed them for lunch.
And that, my friends, is the truth about toddlers. Just when you think you have all the rules down, they change the entire game you are playing.
Just when you think everything is going great, it gets worse.
So much worse.
We sailed through the “terrible twos” with Jack, who is now seven. Emily has been a breeze since the day she was born, roughly two and a half years ago. All of a sudden, as she is getting closer to turning three, it is all coming back to me how wretched that year was with Jack.
At three, your toddler is bigger. Sticking a breast in their face no longer solves every problem. They are stronger, and so is their will.
My precious baby girl is doing things like spitting out her food, taunting her brother, and wildly screaming in our faces. Oh, the sleep regression and tantrums are pure bliss. Not. And to cap it off we are in the throws of potty learning.
I’ve learned a few things about toddlers which help to ground me during those Target tantrums and poopy finger painting sessions.
1.) Some days *it seems* their sole purpose is inflicting a sense of helpless desperation on their adults. I say “it seems” because it really isn’t. Their sole purpose is learning about the world and limits by bending them. Their problem solving skills are also pretty primitive, so you get tantrums and the like.
Emily heard Jack use the words “stupid idiot,” and now when she gets frustrated with me or her dad she says it to us. Of course it comes out more like, “Pooh ped dee dee dot!” I mean, what the heck am I supposed to do with that?
As a child and family therapist, I’m supposed to have answers to this crap, and to know just what to do. It is so much closer to the truth to say I don’t have a clue. This sense of helplessness triggers thoughts of frustration and self depreciation for me. Reminding myself my kids are doing typical, developmentally appropriate things and I am experiencing typical parental angst helps to empower me ever so slightly.
We do not use physical punishment, because inflicting physical pain on children just seems, well, yucky. And it is largely ineffective, so that leaves us with the ever popular TIME OUT.
2.) There is no invisible, magic glue that keeps a child with a strong will and fierce determination in “time out.” Time out means spending a half hour in a wrestling match trying to get Em to stay in her spot, long enough to “think about what she did.” A lot of the time, she responds to the counting to three or getting something taken away/losing a treat. But sometimes nothing works and you just have to ride it out as your little person asserts their individuality. This does NOT mean you did anything wrong. (See # 6 below.)
3.) There is no reasoning with a toddler, especially when they are over-tired, over-hungry, and over-stimulated. Let’s leave it at that.
4.) Toddlers are still really, freaking adorable when they are asleep. So, hold on to that, because toddler negativity can turn your life upside down well past two, and even three years old.
5.) You can’t take it personally. Easier said than done, yes, I know. But it is true. Your little person’s behavior is not really about you. It is about their learning and growing experience.
Your toddler loves you. They are not trying to make your life a living hell. She or he feels safe and secure with you which is why they press buttons and push limits with you but not their babysitter/grandparent/daycare personnel. They know you love and adore them and you won’t turn your back on them.
Your best bet is keeping your cool, taking a deep breath, and remembering you grew this ferocious, little beast from scratch in your tummy. Again, easier said than done.
6.) Somedays, you can execute every parenting move perfectly and yet nothing will work. This does not mean you suck (or at least that’s what I tell myself). It means you have a feisty little person on your hands who is searching for their own sense of self in this crazy drama we call life. Also, remember even though we grow someone out of our own DNA, they arrive in the world with their own temperaments and personalities. While we can shape them somewhat, we do not have total control. Somedays are just chock-a-block full of growing pains for your toddler, and for you as you dig deep for that parenting Zen.
At the end of the day, I believe if the love is there everything will be okay. Tantrums are normal. Tantrums end eventually. Poop can be wiped away. You are rocking this parenting thing, and your kids love you.
Do you have any tips/tricks in your parenting bag to share? What worked best? What didn’t work at all?