We’ve all been there – peacefully meandering through the aisles of your neighborhood food market while pushing a seemingly jubilant toddler in the stroller. As he proudly identifies a myriad of items on the shelves, you think how fortunate you are to have such precocious and blissful offspring. Suddenly, you turn the corner and find yourself entering the dreaded grocery aisle of doom. Kit Kats, Reese’s Pieces, jelly beans, oh my! You desperately attempt to swerve off the path, but it’s too late – he’s already recognized the wrappers prominently gleaming. He begins bucking wildly and lunging at the shelves nearby, determined to escape from the confines of the stroller and dislodge a package of M&M’s from a shelf. The delightful cherub you were amorously admiring 30 seconds ago has morphed into a demon-child, threatening a campaign of terror if not immediately satiated with chocolate. A daunting wave of panic washes over you and as the first bead of sweat trickles down your face, you may experience an overwhelming impulsion to abandon both your shopping cart and your boss baby. But this isn’t the first exhausting, melodramatic temper tantrum, and certainly won’t be the last. Parenting is much like navigating through an emotional minefield with unforeseen hazards at every juncture. And for reasons yet to be revealed to mankind, children prefer to stage such outbursts in public forums, resulting in the maximum destruction of your sanity. However, armed with patience, resilience and an aresenal of my tried-and-tested techniques elaborated below, it is possible to tame the beast and survive even the most shameful moments of public humiliation with your tantrumming toddler.
Hug It Out: Because giving your toddler a spontaneous crash course in anger-management just isn’t feasible during a mega tantrum, I often trust my most primal instinct, which tells to cradle my children in their moments of distress. It’s important, however, to take the proper precautions when attempting this maneuver by promptly removing your child’s shoes or any objects that could potentially become flying projectiles. The next best thing to a size 3T straitjacket, a tight embrace effectively restricts flailing limbs and helps restore the hormonal balance inside an impassioned child’s body. The deep pressure of a tight hug can have an immediate calming effect and can be used to diffuse even the most agitated toddler. Full disclosure – forcibly hugging a child in mid-tantrum can also result in an exacerbation of said tantrum into fiendish demonic possession, as tactile-defensive children may turn hysterical when their movements are thwarted.
Ignore It: Although it’s difficult to ignore your child’s deliberate attempts to sabotage your day and wreak havoc on your eardrums, it’s also inconceivable to fit a 28-minute tantrum into your hectic daily schedule. Ain’t nobody got time for that! In my personal experience, tantrums most commonly occur at moments a child is reminded that he is not the epicenter of the universe, like when you give him a waffle for breakfast despite his demands for ice cream with chocolate syrup (in the green bowl, not the blue one). In my personal experience, the resulting tantrum provides an excellent opportunity for moms to file their nails or indulge in at-home spa treatments while Junior exercises his self-soothing techniques. If you struggle with pervasive mommy guilt, remind yourself that this experience is laying the groundwork for your child’s healthy acceptance of limits, boundaries, and the development of frustration tolerance. If tantrums are consistently met with apathy, a child will learn that throwing a tantrum will fail to produce the desired outcome. And preventing these tantrums from reoccurring should always be your ultimate goal because hell hath no fury like a toddler who wanted a green sippy cup instead of a blue one.
Embrace the Tantrum: Tired of fighting an uphill battle? Try this novel approach. Let the tantrum wash over you and soak up all of its satanic glory. Kick back and let it run its course while you watch from the safety of the sidelines in shock and awe. As your child thrashes uncontrollably on the floor, silently applaud him on his agility and vocal range. He’s going to sleep well tonight. As you see the tantrum de-escalating, calmly ask him if he’s done yet, at which point he will most likely stand up and agree, having already forgotten about the irrational reasons for his volatile public outburst. At this point, indulge your child with affection and praise him for taking control of his emotions and conquering his existential hissy fit like a champ.
Match the Intensity: Parenting toddlers is a real-life depiction of the whack-a-mole carnival game. Igniting metaphorical fires wherever they go, my toddlers are mischievous, fearless, and strong-willed. As soon as I extinguish one flame, another one appears while the last one is still smoldering. Sometimes the inherent frustration of parenting causes us (myself included) to be dismissive of our children, especially when they unabashedly launch into inconvenient torrents of rage for reasons which seem preposterous to us. But while we may not think dropping a cookie on the street warrants a 15 minute temper tantrum, we must be careful not to trivialize our children’s feelings. “I know, you were so excited to eat it and now it’s gone. It’s OK, blah blah blah…” Most parents would suggest keeping calm and whispering words of understanding and encouragement to your child, but validating your child’s emotions alone isn’t always a silver bullet. In order to show your children that you truly comprehend their feelings, sometimes you need to match their intensity. While huffing and puffing and arms flailing, “You’re UPSET! You wanted to eat the cookie, but then you dropped it and I won’t allow you to eat it off the dirty street! IT’S TERRIBLE! That delicious cookie just lying in the street! You’re just plain ANGRY! The absolute HORROR of it all!” Such a grandiose display of emotions will show your kid that you understand precisely what he’s been trying to tell you for the past 15 minutes. Tantrum over.
Let’s Make A Deal: Move over, Houdini. There’s a new escape artist in town, and her most perilous breakouts typically ensue during the apex of her most explosive temper tantrums. Having mastered the art of shimmying free of her stroller’s shoulder straps, my 2-year-old doll-faced fugitive will attempt to kamikaze-dive out of a moving stroller when her demands for my cell phone prove unsuccessful. Because her safety is my foremost priority, in these unique situations I often resort to bargaining with the twenty-pound terrorist to prevent her from swan-diving from her stroller onto Second Avenue. I confess to promising her everything but ten million dollars and a getaway helicopter so long as she remains safely seated in her stroller. I am not at all above bribery and let’s be honest – parenting toddlers is fundamentally an amateur form of hostage negotiation.
Bait & Switch: As most parents can attest, there is a very brief window of time at the onset of agitation where steps can be taken to prevent escalation into a temper tantrum of epic proportions. But all too often we miss these tell-tale signs and instead find ourselves face-to-face with a bona fide demonic possession. Fear not – the same tactics we use to prevent a temper tantrum can also be helpful for abolishing them. At any given time, my diaper bag contains an arsenal of small toys and snacks that would pacify even the most discerning toddler. Some could crudely interpret the desperate introduction of novel objects as inadvertently rewarding bad behavior – to which I would respond – nobody likes your unsolicited advice anyways… haters. If a bag of cheddar bunnies distracts my child from a rage-fuelled burst while forcibly putting on winter jacket in below freezing temperatures, how can this be a bad thing?
Surrender: Admit defeat and give him/her your phone.
One of the most valuable pearls of wisdom I’ve acquired along this journey is that we must seek out our own moments of gratification, and that sometimes this can be found in the most unexpected places. For instance, one of my guiltiest pleasures is stumbling upon other toddlers in my neighborhood whose unabashed lack of impulse control rivals that of my own toddlers. In these moments I savor the confirmation that there are others who share my children’s penchant for gratuitous tears, inconceivable contortions and fondness for writhing on the floor. If you see me discreetly chuckling as I pass by, please rest assured – I’m laughing with you, not at you.
WHAT WE’RE WEARING: