Tag Archives: tantrums

When I Get Advice, Maybe It’s Worth – Ahem – Listening.

Sometimes, it feels like self-sufficiency is the name of today’s mom game. We’re supposed to know how to do it all, anticipate it all, and get it all right – nevermind that it’s our first time around the block. Trying to figure out how to navigate this is a catch-22, because it seems like there are lots of people around who’ve been down this path before – namely, women of the previous generation, our foremothers – but it also seems so obvious from the neverending slew of emails to our inboxes and posts in our social media groups, that the parenting game has so dramatically changed since their day that there’s no way they would still be valuable sources of information. They’ll probably let our babies taste sugar! and sit in a wheeled exersaucer! and drive the car!

Well, I had two experiences last week that were excellent reminders for me to not fall into that yucky little trap.

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my tiny lobbyist

I was in a place where I was at the complete end of my rope, friends – with toddler behaviour. (I can hear the sympathetic groans from those of you also in the trenches of your own threenager battle from here.) Oh, the neverending resistance! It seemed no matter what I said, the first words out of his mouth, before I’d even finished speaking, were “But Moooommmmy –” or “No, Iiiiiiiiii wanted…” or just a horrifying, whiny “Eeuuuuyynnnh!” that led straight into to a tantrum. Everything had to be his way, and I was FED. UP. I was tired of not having anything MY WAY and I was, frankly, starting to act like a three year old myself.

 

Thankfully, just at this juncture, I got to speak with two quite different, very lovely women, both of whom happened to have spent a great deal of time caring for me as a small child.

One afternoon, I had coffee with my bestie from childhood’s mom, with whom I hadn’t spent much time in the last several years, but at whose house I spent countless mornings before school, weekend sleepovers, family dinners, and game nights. Our chat inevitably turned to parenting, and I described my struggles with A: “I just don’t know what to do when he gets like that, when words, reason and logic aren’t his language,” I said.  She looked thoughtful and then said, “Have you tried sending him a picture?” I was confused, to say the least, and more than a little skeptical as she explained that he might have other languages I wasn’t using. She said I could form a picture in my mind before bed, of what I wanted to see in A’s morning the next day, and then ‘transmit’ it to him (no precise instructions on how), so that we’d be on the same wavelength. I would never, ever, have even thought of something like that.

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A couple of days later, my mom was over, and it was a particularly trying bedtime. A had been resisting and whining almost constantly since dinner ended, and R was crying through an uncharacteristic and seemingly endless battle over being alone in his crib. On one of my many, defeated slumps back down the stairs between checks on my small, wailing boy, my mom put her arm around my waist as I stood next to the armchair where she was seated. I sighed and asked, “Any tips?” She paused, the way good mothers do when asked for parenting advice. “Honestly?” she said, “At this stage it’s about picking your battles. I could tell earlier tonight wasn’t the time to tell you, but you seemed to want to die on a lot of hills, honey. I’m sure you had your reasons, but you’ll probably be happier with fewer. And so will he.” She squeezed me and said, “You’re a good mama.”

When we get advice on parenting, especially from women who’ve done this before, it can be easy to feel offended or questioned, to dismissively shake our heads the moment they’re out of sight and think, yeah, whatever. But in these particular instances, I didn’t feel offended, or dismiss their wise words. Instead, I followed their leads.

After my mom left that evening, I made a decision – I was going to say “yes” the whole next day to anything Arlo asked for – unless it was unsafe or impossible. I wasn’t going to engage in any battles unless absolutely necessary. It was quite difficult, and I slipped up a few times, saying “no” reflexively when my patience was worn thin or I momentarily forgot my goal. But it was better – decisively better. Whining was shorter lived and less frequent. And no, he didn’t spend the whole day watching television or drinking chocolate milk.

 

And yes, I even tried sending A pictures. I don’t have any claims to make about whether or not it “worked,” but I do know that some of the things I focused my energy on at night, creating those pictures, did seem to run more smoothly the next day. The bigger shift, though, was a newfound consideration that maybe A and R have some other languages  I can use to communicate with them, more important than “words, reason and logic.” I considered body language, eye contact, and touch. For the next few days, when A began to wail or whine, I tried not to reason with him or convince him with words that everything was actually fine. I got down on his level and relaxed the tension from my body. I waited quietly next to him, offering him my arms as a cozy place to hunker down until his feelings passed. I spent long pauses looking into his face with all the kindness and empathy I could muster, rather than straining the words, “I know you’re mad. I’m here.” And let me tell you, A absolutely responded; I feel we are regaining a closeness that I had felt starting to slip away, which I had assumed was just part of his growing independence.

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my sweet, funny, creative kiddo

Sometimes I think the momosphere would have me believe that if I have a community, it’s limited to the women of my own generation, my fellow travellers on this new and rocky terrain, who are the only ones who can really understand me and the only ones who really ‘get’ what this is all about these days. But it’s not true. Some things have changed – laws about car seats, or recommendations about screen time, for example. But what has not changed are some pretty important things, too – like connecting to and loving a tiny person who’s just figuring out the world, keeping your cool in a strenuous moment, or learning how to maintain your sense of self and to give unconditionally at the same time. How remiss we’d be to not realize that there is, for those of us lucky enough to have some foremothers in our village, a potentially vast wealth of knowledge, ideas, and seemingly-strange new things to try. What have we got to lose by listening?

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What’s a gem you’ve gotten from one of your foremothers?

 

 

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Re-Thinking “Counting to Three”: Six Months Later

So I wrote awhile back about how I was re-thinking the old “count to three” parenting strategy we’re all familiar with. I tried to re-frame in tone and body language with my toddler that when counting to three, I’m offering a slow, calm chance to cooperate willingly, with empathy for the disappointment and resistance he feels; I’m not threatening with force (even though, when push comes to shove, I will be forcing him to do whatever I’ve said needs done). It was a new strategy at the time, and I said I’d let you all know how it went longer term, so I am!

Basically Continue reading

Wait, I Got Judged for THAT!?

We recently took our first plane ride with a toddler. Super fun, right? Yep, until take-off was over. Mistake #1 from my corner was booking a red-eye with two under two… but that’s what happens when sleep-deprived people make crucial decisions. They think they’re booking an 8:30 AM flight. I tried to change it once I realized, but the fees to do so would have been astronomical. (Sidenote: shouldn’t there be some sort of grace policy in most organizations for stupid decisions their customers make during the fourth trimester???)

So yes, I made a big mistake, but apparently, that wasn’t my biggest. We’re on the plane, and our almost two-year-old is getting crazy overtired, but he can’t sleep. So he’s squawking, fussing, crying, shouting no to everything, squirming, kicking – just generally being everybody’s nightmare when they get on a red-eye. Everyone on the plane hates us. There’s a family in the row behind: mom, dad, baby, and adorable four-year old. Our kids were playing in the departure lounge before boarding, and we were all chit-chatting. They were pros at taking plane rides, the four-year-old letting me know with great pride that she had been on nine planes in her life. And when the seat belt sign went off, this family had the routine down. Cozy blanket tucked in, tray table set up with water and snacks, tablet playing cartoons propped in front of her, headphones on – and that little traveller did not move or make a peep for the whole four hours of the plane ride….

…except once to ask her mommy, gesturing to our son, “Why is he so upset?”

To which her mother replied without missing a beat, “Well, I guess some people didn’t think to bring a screen for their kids.”

What?! I thought not having a tablet filled with cartoons for my toddler was one of the mom-things I was doing okay on.  Continue reading

Sometimes I’m Mean-Mean Mommy… But That’s Actually Okay

My mother-in-law always described the dynamic in my husband’s house when he was growing up, as “mean-mean mommy and fun-fun Daddy.” I don’t think I have to do too much explaining about what she meant here. And it often seems true of my household, too. I think it might be common in many homes for Dad to be the “fun” one, and for Mom to be the one who enforces the rules, but I don’t want to make any generalizations, so I can only speak to my own experience. (If anyone else wants to share their own thoughts on this, thereby giving me something to generalize about, as well as making me feel like I’m not alone on this one, please share them!)

Usually, I try to avoid this dynamic, because it feels really sucky to be in. It’s not fun to be the mean role, obviously. But it often seems like it’s just what I’m destined to do: Continue reading

Re-Thinking “Counting to Three”

As you may remember from an earlier post on living in the moment while on mat leave, I love Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing Up Bebe (I told you it might come up again!). In her comparison of French- and American-style parenting, she mentions the old “count to three” tactic that I bet most of us are familiar with. She writes that a particular French caregiver she observes “counts to three” to get a child to cooperate, but describes a difference in the tone and attitude of this counting from what I was expecting: less a warning and more an allowance of time for the child to get on board with the program and make a sage (calm and reasonable) decision.

I remember using the “count to three” method on my brother, younger by thirteen years. When I said “I’m going to count,” or when I heard either of my parents say this phrase, there was a definitive warning tone, an escalation of the resistance and conflict between us, an implied threat of pulling out the ‘big guns.’ In essence, this phrase meant, “you are going to do what I have asked whether you like it or not, so you can either save face by doing it before I get to three or you can endure the humiliation of having me enforce it upon you.” It’s the parenting equivalent of checkmate.

Now I don’t think that either I or my parents did anything unusual or extreme in counting to three before enforcing the reality of whatever we had asked my brother to do (likely multiple times) before resorting to counting. Most parents I can remember growing up “counted,” and I bet most of us can remember somebody counting to get us in line at some point or other. It seems to be a very effective strategy overall.  My in-laws told me all they had to do was tell my husband, “I’m going to count…” for him to comply. They didn’t even have to get as far as “one.” The fear of “three” can be almighty.

But reading about this anecdote in Druckerman’s book made me think about a different counting memory, too:

Back in our early years of dating, when we were doing the Toronto-Montreal long-distance thing, my partner and I would do our own version of counting. Whenever we knew we had to do stop doing something  we wanted to do (usually snuggling under the covers in one of our freezing student apartments) in order to do something we didn’t want to (usually brave the Canadian winter so one of us could get back on a train home), we would count. We would count to ten, or twenty, taking turns saying alternating numbers. We were slow about it, breathing calmly and speaking softly. It was just a way to savour the last seconds  of doing what we wanted, of a nice moment, an experience, before resigning ourselves to the harsh, intrusive world of reality where we had to leave each other. And it really did help to make that transition easier.

So between this memory and Druckerman’s observation of the French caregiver, I’ve been trying to use counting in this light the past week with my toddler. And so far, it seems to work (though as with all new attempts at parenting strategies, I feel a need to cross my fingers as I write that!). When my twenty-month-old resists a necessary task, this is my script, said at his level, in a quiet, gentle tone that implies I have confidence he will understand the reason behind what we’re doing:

“Arlo, it’s time to cooperate now. So Mommy’s going to count to three, and then you need to [insert required action here]. One… two… three. Okay, [insert directive here].” Then I let him have this prepared chance to do it on his own.

So far, it’s worked to get him to lay back for a diaper change and stay still instead of wrestling. It’s worked to get him to let me clean his face after supper without a fuss (which normally is a drama). It’s even worked to get him to calmly place a toy in my friend’s bag that belonged to her son, and not, to Arlo’s despair, to him. I was most shocked at this last one!

When he complies, I’ve been acknowledging his cooperation with a  “Thank you,” or “You did it,” and offering him a high five, which he loves. When he still resists, I repeat gently that it’s time to do it, and talk him through the action as quickly and calmly as possible. Even in these instances, once the unpleasant is over (as happened with taking a shirt off yesterday), he hasn’t stayed mad about it or thrown a post-action tantrum the way he used to when my tone had been more forceful and demanding.

These interactions feel good on my part because I get to express empathy with my kid, instead of frustration or the sense that I’m ‘at the end of my rope.’ I’m hoping he somehow feels validation in his resistance, that he feels I ‘get’ why he doesn’t want to comply, and that I understand how much it sucks to not get your way. Because I do. We all do. And even though my job is to sometimes enforce the harsh intrusiveness of reality against whatever he might desire in a particular moment, it seems to be much less of an ordeal for both of us when I turn a moment of resistance into a moment where we’re on the same team, even if I can’t give in to his whim.

So I’m going to keep trying to “count” on this strategy with my little guy, and we’ll see how it goes. As I said, it seems to be working so far, but if parenthood has taught me anything, it’s that things can shift unpredictably and instantly, so I’ll keep you posted!

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Tiredness, TV, and Tantrums

One of the best-loved things in our house (at least by one member of the family) is Thomas the Tank Engine. We have two identical toy Thomases who ride on the classic wooden track. We have a big toy Thomas that our little guy fell in love with at the local consignment shop when Daddy was buying him waterproof mittens. Thomas comes up frequently in family conversations. Thomas often sits on the dinner table to watch our son eat, perches on the counter at bathtime, comes upstairs to read stories before bed, and gets a kiss goodnight once the stories are finished. Happy dancing ensues if we play his 30-second instrumental theme on repeat on Apple Music. If we had a stuffed Thomas, I think Arlo’s faithful elephant (“Elly”) would be quickly discarded as a sleeping companion.

Unfortunately, we’ve also made Arlo aware that there is a TV program of Thomas, which has resulted in our first ongoing struggle with tantrums. We’ve generally tried, since our wee one was born, to limit screen time to a bare minimum (ie. when he was sick, getting his nails cut, or at someone else’s house), and this has been fairly easy to do at home, since we don’t have cable (we’re Netflix people), and our only tv is in the basement, which isn’t baby-proofed and therefore we don’t spend much time with him down there at all.

But, as Mindy Wood of PurposelySimple.com observes, TV is sometimes entirely too accessible and helpful an option for childcare. As she explains, “We all know that screen time in excess can be harmful to infants and toddlers, […] so why are so many young children still watching too much TV? Well, because parents are tired! [and] it’s totally understandable to want a few moments of peace every day.”

I’m seeing lately how this is especially resonant if you’re a mom eight months into a second pregnancy… and not really able to do much mobility-wise with your toddler… or if you’re a dad and your partner is experiencing the aforementioned, so you’ve been assigned more of a single-parent role lately… and your kid is having trouble sleeping but at least when he wakes up at 5am on a work day, if you put on Thomas, you can lay down with your pillow on the couch and a blanket and pretend to still get more sleep until 6:30…

…And I’m sure many parents out there have completely different but just as valid and understandable circumstances that also, bit by bit, bring them to allow a little more screen time. It’s so easy to justify, too:

“It’s not like we’re letting him watch things with commercials.”

“It’s just a little bit here and there.”

“We’re going to let him watch TV eventually anyway, so it’s not so bad to introduce it slowly now.”

“It’s so snuggly.”

“It’s so PEACEFUL when just this short program is on!”

Even though Arlo didn’t watch every day, or even close to it, I knew things were headed out of a realm of control I felt comfortable with when one unusual afternoon, his grandma dropped him off  with me after caring for him for the day and he cried because he wanted to go straight downstairs to watch “Thomas” on the “Fee-Vee” (TV), and I told him that wasn’t an option.

A few mornings later, when Arlo decided 4:50am was an appropriate time to wake up, his Dad tried to get him to go back to sleep but eventually resorted to the Very Useful Engine (oh, so useful indeed!), as that would be less stressful pre-6am for everyone within earshot. Unfortunately, this backfired when it was finally time to get ready for the day, and Arlo threw an absolute fit about Thomas being turned off – a fit complete with wailing, leg-kicking, and ultimate despair that lasted through changing his diaper, choosing clothes, putting on his shoes, and finally getting out the door. We parents both managed, somehow, to keep our cool during this fit, and I heard myself saying, repeatedly, “Well, Arlo, if you can’t handle it when Thomas gets turned off, then next time we won’t be able to turn him on at all.”

Right now, my biggest issue with screen time for a toddler isn’t the recommendations from experts that kids under two shouldn’t have screen time at all, or that too much video-watching inhibits communication and social skills, or that it decreases attention spans or reduces kids’ abilities to explore and discover through active play. It’s that it turns my kid into a whining, wailing, tantrum-having toddler in a way that nothing else really seems to do. He simply doesn’t seem mature enough to handle screen time.

The tough part, is, of course, that in moments that are already difficult, or leaning toward a possible tantrum, screen time is a pretty surefire way to derail that train – at least for the moment. Other options for distracting, re-directing, or otherwise dealing with undesirable behaviour all seem to require a lot more energy, which sometimes, you just don’t feel you have as a parent. (Wood actually has some helpful, tangible ideas in her piece on raising a low-media child without going insane, but they do require efforts in pre-organization and maintenance that switching on a video just doesn’t.)

I’d like to get rid of Thomas (the video version) altogether as a coping mechanism for the trickier moments of parenting, but it seems unrealistic to do so. Do we really have the willpower, even in moments where we feel depleted already, to avoid that easy fix? What if we just do it even less often – is it really so bad if it hardly ever happens? Shouldn’t we really just cut ourselves some slack in this particular period surrounding the arrival of a second child into our family? We’ll have plenty of time to figure it out later, right?

I don’t have any answers today, so I’m more looking to my fellow parents for your thoughts. What are your theories on screen time with toddlers/young children? How do you use TV, or determine when your kids can watch it, and how much?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

 

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