Why My Toddler Is Crying
This isn’t a new idea – I’m totally copying someone else, but these are the reasons my 2 year old has had meltdowns this week:
• Wrong sippy cup provided
• Wants to open and shut an umbrella repeatedly inside, with no regard to hitting other people/things/animals
• Wants the hair tie currently in my hair (20 minutes on this one)
• Doesn’t want to go to bed
o Needs more milk (3+ sippy cups worth)
o Needs different blanket
o Didn’t kiss all of the stuffed animals/blanket/sippy cup/pillow in his crib goodnight – twice
o Wants to go potty
o Wants a new diaper
o Needs a different pajama top/pajama bottom
• Wants to watch “maid”, aka The Little Mermaid, on repeat
• Shirt won’t fit on his legs
• Shorts won’t fit over his head
• Doesn’t want to leave the playground/go inside/go outside
• Saw a playground out of his window as we were driving by and wants to stop
• Wants potato chips for breakfast/lunch/dinner
• Can’t play with a plastic bag
• Can’t play behind photo counter at Walgreens (knockdown, dragout, kicking and screaming while waiting in line with the world’s slowest checker)
There are more. Many more. At times I feel like my life has become one imminent meltdown after another. Where will it be? Who will be watching and judging? I picture myself cowering in the corner, just waiting for the next one to erupt. Picking my battles has an entirely different meaning. Take the hair tie example. He keeps ripping hair ties out of my hair and I finally had to set a limit. He wasn’t happy about that. It would have been so-o-o-o-o much easier to just give him the hair tie – I didn’t need it that desperately at the moment. But doing so would only reinforce that if he screams and kicks loudly enough he will eventually get what he wants. Every time I say “no” I run the risk of a meltdown. It’s exhausting. It’s also simply where he is at right now and what he needs to be doing to figure out this part of his world.
Our bodies are actually designed to deal with stressors the way a child does – to erupt, get it out of our system and then move on as if nothing happened. We’re conditioned as we grow to control these emotions, where sometimes screaming and kicking a punching bag would be much more effective. A toddler, for starters, just doesn’t have all of the verbal skills to be able to work this out with them – yet. They will, and until they have it we have to keep talking to them as if they do, because that’s how they will learn what our response will be and that’s how we teach them how to safely express their emotions in a way that is acceptable in our society. During a tantrum, you’re supposed to stay near your child, comfort them, let them know that you are right there beside them to support them and to help them through that wave of emotion. Not everyone agrees with that, but that’s the current line of thinking and I actually do agree with it. I try really hard to practice what I preach with my own child, but it’s really difficult, and like I mentioned already, absolutely exhausting. My son happens to not want to be touched or really comforted when he is having a tantrum. Telling him “I see that you’re angry” only angers him more. I still say all of the things I’m supposed to, in the hopes that one day it will “click” and he’ll tell me “I’m angry right now!” Until then, I have to standby at an arms distance and wait it out until he is ready to come to me. Ugh. He cried so hard about the hair tie that I honestly thought he was going to make himself throw up, but I was at the point of no return and had to follow through with what I said (side note: He now asks if he can have my hair tie, which is an improvement. I now always say yes, out of fear that the meltdown will happen again - we’re both a work in progress).
So, pick your battles and let the little things go. Remember that your expectations of them might be more than they can actually manage. They aren’t going to sit still at a restaurant. Why on earth would they want to leave their favorite playground? Toddlers see things very much in black or white – in the moment that hair tie was probably the most important thing in his little world, and to be told he couldn’t have it was devastating. He wasn’t faking it. He wasn’t being dramatic for the sake of being dramatic. His feelings got too big for him to manage and he responded in the only way he knows how to at his age. When it was over he felt better and moved on. The good news is that this stage won’t last forever. Riding out the storm now and teaching your child what those firm boundaries are will help you both later on. When you say no, mean it. But teaching your child that you are there with them to ride out that storm together sets forth a much stronger message: That you’re there to ride out any storm with them, no matter how big it may be.