Hey, GetSet parents and caregivers! We all have those epic stories of tantrums that left us feeling totally inept. We hope you enjoy this blog post by Heather Zanzig reminiscing about the tantrum years with her little ones and what she wishes she knew then!
I remember being in the grocery store one day when a woman, about thirty years older than me, stopped to reminisce about how amazing it is to have little children and how she misses the days when her grown children were toddlers. For my part, I totally agreed that children are amazing, and I very much wanted mine, but I wasn’t feeling like it was as blissful as she was making it out to be. I wanted to tell her about how our bank account was close to the red because I was staying at home with these amazing toddlers, and that one of my toddlers had just finished a raging tantrum that occurred because his banana broke off, and he wanted it to be whole. Not ten minutes before, we had been a spectacle in the parking lot and trust me, nobody near us was reminiscing about the “good old days”. I’m pretty sure they were running in the opposite direction!
It never occurred to me when I wished for children that toddlers could have such intense emotions over things like a banana being whole or not. Why did nobody tell me? And how in the world does one handle that, especially when there are multiple other stressors to grapple with in any given day?
My children are older now, and I wish I knew then what I know now. Every time I see someone struggling with their young child’s intense emotions, I want to put a hand on their back and say, “I’m here for you and it’s going to be okay.” I wonder why more people don’t stop to support one another in this way. It was during my toddler’s tantrums that I most needed people’s compassion so that I could better calm myself.
It turns out that our children need the same thing from us. They need our nurturing, calm response. This helps them regulate or manage their emotions. We are their anchors in the storm that can be created by their emotions. A young child’s intense emotions may feel overwhelming to adults, but imagine what it feels like for that child.
When a caregiver can remain calm and regulate themselves, this has an immediate effect on a child. They can more quickly calm themselves as well. If we become agitated or upset, our child becomes more agitated and upset. Easier said than done, right? But that’s the secret, really. Calming ourselves is key.
Here some strategies that I’ve found to be helpful:
- Awareness of our own emotions is important so that we can “name it to tame it.” We, as adults, must be able to recognize when we are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, tired, worried, or afraid. These feelings can often trigger us to respond in less than helpful ways to our dysregulated toddler. When we notice our emotions, we can effectively manage them rather than joining our toddler in “falling apart.”
- Take a deep breath. I know you’ve heard this a million times by now, but this is an immediate stress release and calms your nervous system.
- Use your thoughts to ground yourself. Remind yourself that you are a good caregiver and an expert on your child. Know that this moment will pass as your support your child. Your self-talk has a significant effect on your emotions and behavior.
- Use touch to help your child feel safe while they experience these big emotions. A hand on your child’s back or a reassuring hug helps your child regulate their nervous system. This reinforces your connection to them, and we all need to connect with others to feel safe.
- You can acknowledge your child’s emotions and empathize by saying things like, “You’re really mad. I know this is hard for you. I’m here for you. It’s okay to cry.”
Supporting your toddler while they experience big emotions doesn’t mean you’re giving in, negotiating, or spoiling them. It means that you are there for them as they experience a range of emotions which are real, healthy, and developmentally appropriate. You are there with them, anchoring them, and guiding them as they learn.
I know that some days are just about getting in and out of a store with your toddler as fast as possible and without incident. Most of us totally get that. Just keep in mind that each tantrum is an opportunity for you to connect with your child and help them feel safe as they manage their emotions. Yes, this usually takes more time than you’ve allotted but it matters.
You are your child’s most important teacher and learning to experience and manage emotions is a critical aspect of human development. The joy really comes into play as you see your child’s ability to cope with their emotions increase. An added bonus is that each time you practice regulating yourself, you get better and better at it. One day you will be the person who offers empathy and understanding to that caregiver of a toddler who is learning about big emotions in the grocery store, and it will make all the difference.
Babies are believed to begin emotional development around the sixth month of pregnancy, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and The Mayo Clinic. They are believed to be able to recognize love, happiness, sadness and stress.