Monday, February 1, 2016

Parenthood: Week 138 - Leaning In To The Screams

“I know honey, sometimes it’s really hard to be a toddler.”

When Ollie is confused and he doesn’t understand the world, Diana will often give him a hug and express this thought of empathy to Ollie. These moments are important reminders to me that Ollie and other toddlers have very real challenges in life.

As an adult the toddler life seems really amazing. Toddlers don’t have to worry about finances, chores (the ones we get them to do are done in the context of play most of the time) and they are completely ignorant of the challenges of trying to live a positive and optimistic life in a world so permeated with hate, ignorance and prejudice.

With all of that not on a toddler’s mind, it’s hard to understand why some things like not getting to drink out of a certain cup because it’s in the dishwasher causes such major meltdowns. A toddler should just enjoy the ride, I mean, all they have to do is play all day long and have things done for them.

That’s now how toddlers see the world. From their perspective everything is bigger than them, literally and figuratively. They live in a world that isn’t made for them. While Ollie impresses us every day with his language skills, there are still more concepts and ideas that he cannot understand and express to us than ones that he can. A lot of the time when I explain something to him, it’s the tone of my voice that gets him to calm down, not a cognitive understanding of the logic that I’m explaining.

But this shouldn’t try, because these calm explanations are what helps these little people know that you are with them, not against.

If you tell your kid that they can have one cookie and then they demand another one, you should say no. If this is followed by a tantrum, parents should hold firm, so that the child learns that there are boundaries when it comes to sweets and that screaming about something is not the way to get what you want.

This can be done multiple ways. You can fight with fire and be stern, and raise your voice. Let’s be honest, there are times for this, but more often than deescalating the situation with a calm explanation with get the child to chill out. For example, “I hear that you want a cookie and we aren’t giving you one, and this makes you sad and frustrated. So we will calm together and take some deep breaths.” The desire to want more of something that you can’t get will never go away, but being to able to deal the emotional power of this feeling is one of those requirements of being an “adult” (which not all people are taught by the time they are “grown-ups”).

This is that digging deep thing, because the worst tantrums happen when you are tired, emotionally drained and lack patience. It’s really hard to empathize with another human being who appears to be screaming about something that is not a big deal, doesn’t really matter in the long run and sometimes doesn’t make sense with through adult logic. Here’s the thing, you’ve had these moments to and when people don’t validate your feelings when you are in that tsunami of emotions, all it leads to negative self-talk that poisons our own relationship with ourselves.

Do you the best you can in these moments to remember that toddlers need empathy. Sometimes there are screams are of anger, but most of the time, they are cries for help. So get some earplugs if necessary, and lean into the screams with love and calmness.

Toddlers aren’t terrible. They are wonderful. Toddlers see the world with such a beautiful sense of discovery. Today, Ollie saw a piece of scotch tape on our doormat and thought it was the coolest thing ever. This mindset, not knowing the world also creates frustration and confusion. Sometimes it helps to remember that the hard moments of parenting a toddler comes from the part of them that we love so much.

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