About two blocks from our house is our local elementary school, complete with two beautiful playgrounds. They're in part my favourite because of the cushioned ground and because they're just challenging enough for my 2-year-old without being stupidly dangerous, but I also love their proximity. While normally the two blocks are an enjoyable stroll, when I had to throw my kicking and screaming son over my shoulder, I begrudged every inch of footpath.
Tantrums pounced on us, entirely unexpectedly. Previously he had always been a joyful and fairly rational child, or at least as much as a toddler can be. Stupidly, I thought I had been blessed by the one child who wasn't going to fall into the temper tantrum nightmare. Now, at least a handful of times a week, sometimes multiple times a day, I find myself losing a battle of wits with a 37-pound-child.
People warn you that tantrums are hard and that they suck, and everyone is quick to share what works for their kid. Yes, tantrums are hard on the child, but they take a special toll on the parents, and I wish someone had warned me about what exactly to expect.
- All those "been there" comments don't really help. I know people are trying to be supportive and helpful, and normally I appreciate the sense of camaraderie among parents. However, when I'm trying to provide a safe and quiet zone to quell his little freak out, what I don't need is people coming up to talk to me about how it will get better and, "Man, aren't twos the worst?" No, actually, I'm really enjoying this age, and unless you want to magically turn into a giant train for him to play with, your presence is not helpful.
- Tantrums will severely impact activities. Some days, you have a plan. In the afternoon, you're going to run some errands, and if you're able, you'll stop by the playground so they can burn off some energy. Despite your best intentions, toddlers get in the way. Part of dealing with this is knowing when to push them, what needs to happen that day, and when to be flexible.
- You'll become a master at trying to avoid tantrums. In my purse at all times is a small lollipop, to be used only in case of emergency. I've become fairly adept at reading my son and sensing when a big tantrum is sneaking forth, ready to explode. Before I let him get to that point, I find a moment where he's being good and reward him with a little treat. Sure, his dentist will probably yell at me the next time, and there's always the risk that I'm reinforcing negative behaviour, but in the world of trying to avoid tantrums, anything is worth a shot.
- There isn't a panacea to get rid of them. I wish more than anything that I could tell you all that I've figured out this special cure to make them all go away and never return. If I did have one, you can rest assured I'd be making millions working the talk-show circuit. While there are some tricks to make them better, like acknowledging how they are feeling and distracting them with something else they can have, there's nothing that's just going to scrub away the tears every time.
- It's OK to just walk away. For a while, I felt like to be a supportive parent, I had to be at my son's side for the entirety of his fit. I'm not sure if I'm just a particularly weak individual, but his screams get to me in a very visceral way. Once I realise that fit isn't going to go away with me talking to him, comforting him, or giving him preferable options, I've found it's best to just walk away. Imagine if you were really upset and someone just kept trying to distract you and talk about your feelings. I know that would make things worse for me, so I don't want to do that to my tiny human.
- You'll never not feel really bad for them. Tantrums create a well of emotions for me. Of course, there is frustration and anger. Embarrassment also shows up if it happens in public. Despite these feelings, I always feel terrible for him. Life is hard for a 2-year-old who is learning about the world around him. It must be incredibly frustrating and I wish, more than anything, I could make that temporary pain go away. While I'm helpless to do so, I'm always there to dry his eyes when he's ready for a hug.