There you are, pushing a cart through the grocery store, unaware that a child meltdown is a brewin'. Your cart is full, there's no turning back, and it starts. Over what? Sometimes you don't even know. They want a certain kind of cereal and you say no. They want to leave and you can't leave yet. Whatever it is, it kicks off an almighty torrent of toddler terror aka the tantrum. The screaming, the crying, the throwing of selves down onto the floor and kicking and screaming and flailing and it feels like every single eye is on YOU. And them. And they're just waiting to see what you're gonna do. So what do you do?
For today's Mamaste Challenge, I want to challenge you to do nothing. That's right, nothing. Nada, zip, zilch. Zero reaction. At least, not at first.
Before you do anything, just breathe. Yes right there in the aisle, while they are screaming bloody murder, just breathe. Taking a few deep breaths, even for just 10-20 seconds, can have a huge impact on your stress level. It can help calm you down and give you the space you need to handle the situation differently, better.
Then, again, before responding, pay attention to what you’re experiencing, and why you’re upset. Keep in mind that your child is not their tantrum. Separate that little lovable light of your life from the tantrum or the behavior that is making you upset. By doing this, you can be more compassionate towards your kid as opposed to getting angry. Take note of your physical response. Unclench your fists, soften your jaw, relax your shoulders.
The best thing to keep in mind? Your embarrassment over what you might think will be the public perception of your child’s tantrum should not interfere with your response to it. Who CARES who sees the tantrum? Who cares what those strangers think?! This is your child, you know your child, they don't, so just let 'em look if they want to be nosy and rude. Being nosy and judgmental? That's on them, not on you. In my mind during moments like those I am telling them silently "Keep it movin' folks, nothing to see here". Or something along the lines of "What? You've never seen a two year old lose it in the toy aisle before? BEAT IT!". You know, something nice and sweet like that. Said with love. Right??
But really, put your focus less on what’s happening around you and more about what’s happening in that moment with your child, so that you can be more helpful to yourself and to them. Do not let your perceived feelings of failure overtake you. You are not failing as a parent. I repeat, you are not failing. You are parenting. That is all. It's all part of it: the good, the bad and the screaming and kicking in the toy aisle.
Remember that children are taking their cues on how to handle emotions from us (ALL the time). Adding in your own anger and frustration to the mix when they are already losing it is just a recipe for disaster. If you can model calm for them in their storm of tantruming, they might just pick up on those vibes. You make the choice of what you want to add to the mix: make it better or make it worse, but that power is all in your hands.
Avoid asking your child to explain their behavior. Saying things like "Why are you acting like this?" can sometimes just make things worse. Through their tantrum and screaming and crying they are expressing their feelings already, just on their own level, and most likely that level does not include the ability to articulate in so many words WHY they are feeling that way, especially for kids 6 and under. Furthermore, handing out an ultimatum by telling them they'll be punished can also escalate their already out of control emotions. Think of adding a punishment into the mix as being like adding more onto their mountain that they can't scale. They are upset, they're trying to communicate that to you, and you are adding more fuel to their fire by throwing in a threat of a punishment.
For a minute, think about how difficult it can sometimes be for you to process emotion yourself, and you are an adult. Sometimes you're just in a mood, or upset, and you can't quite put your finger on it. If it's not always easy for you, imagine how hard it can be for a little one, who might also be hungry or tired or getting a cold.
So just breathe, wait it out, keep them in mind, not their behavior, and help them get through it by modeling calm behavior. Keep your own needs in mind as a parent as well. Sometimes you just need to bail and regroup in order to think more clearly, and that's fine. Paying attention to how you are feeling and responding is all part of it.
Is it easy? Uh, in a word, NO. But it's a practice, and just like anything else you want to get good at, you need to practice it, a lot (and quite often your toddler gives you no lack of practicing). Sometimes you won't get the results you want from modeling calm behavior, but you just have to keep at it. You are teaching them through your response how to behave, how to calm themselves down, and how to cope.