I have been having tantrums. I’m not screaming or crying or dropping on the floor like a wet noodle. But, I have been letting my frustration and annoyance at my typical 3.5 year old’s behavior get the better of me and I’ve been expressing it a little too loudly in front of him. Recently, it’s when he’s hitting. My immediate reaction is fight - “Omg he’s hitting the dog - he’s going to be a psychopath!” Or embarrassment - there is nothing like parenting my own 3-year-old to make me extremely humble about my profession (child development).
Sometimes I only have a minor tantrum (like raising my voice and basically whining at him to just stop!), and I can recover quickly, but there are some sleep-deprived days when I just let it all out, and I am starting to realize how scary that must be for my little guy. It’s not that he shouldn’t see that I’m human and have emotions or get upset, but I’ve been acting like his minor (age-appropriate) lapses in self-control are a way bigger deal than they are. Even the big stuff like hitting or kicking - while it isn’t good and he can hurt the baby, my big fat reaction has only been making it worse.
Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts and reading my favorite positive parenting guru, Janet Lansbury. Janet’s insight into understanding the toddler mind has been my saving grace, and I’ve started reading excerpts from her books almost like a daily devotional. Slowly but surely, her methods have begun to work their magic on me and my son.
In particular, my son has been expressing a lot of repressed feelings about his 9-month-old sister by hitting, pushing and kicking all of us. He’s currently experiencing a wonderful combination of typical 3.5 year old development, being constantly over-tired from dropping his naps, and lots of feelings about baby. Poor kiddo is letting it allll out now.
Last Sunday (Mother’s Day, yay!), it was rainy and gross, and he was overtired from a fun Saturday, and he COULD’T. STOP. HITTING. Normally in situations like this, my adrenaline kicks in and I can’t seem to remember my peaceful parenting training in the heat of the moment. But for whatever reason on that day (maybe my Mother’s Day mimosa chilled me out), I remained calm and could see that he needed my help, and I was able to calmly, but securely, hold onto his hands and tell him “I won’t let you hit. Hitting hurts.” This went on for a good 10 minutes. It was clear that his out-of-control hitting was him crying out for me to help him stop.
I realized two things:
- He needed me to physically set this limit with him because he felt so out of control. He couldn’t stop himsef.
- And he needed ME to remain calm and in control. To be his secure base to whom he could reveal his deepest feelings.
Because it’s scary for kids to feel out of control, and it’s even scarier to see their parents out of control. He needed me to be his calm anchor. And in that really difficult moment, it worked. He released a LOT of emotions and wanted me to hold him while he cried and cried. And my sweet little boy was back.
Now my goal is to take care of myself so I have enough sleep and patience that I don’t overreact when he acts out. So that I don’t feel afraid or embarrassed about his emotional outbursts. So I can realize in the moment that him pushing limits is how a 3-year-old asks for help. And so that in those moments, I can be the peaceful parent I strive to be.