Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Bigger Picture: Temper, Temper

I have always wanted to be a mother and it's a great gig. People often ask how I am doing now that I have left my job to stay home with our son and I always say "it's the hardest and best job I have ever had". I feel blessed to have the opportunity to share every day with my Tot and watch him grow. However, the "hardest and best" job seems to have recently gotten harder.

The Tot is growing and learning to do more and more all by himself. He loves climbing the stairs. He loves feeding himself. He is incredibly proud that he can get up on the couch all by himself. He is thrilled to "help" us by picking things up off the floor or carrying small objects to and fro. Unfortunately, there appears to be a strong discrepancy between what a toddler wants to do and what they are physically able to do. In those situations when the Tot can't make it on to the couch by himself or when his hands are only big enough to hold three plastic dinosaurs instead of four, heaven help us all. He makes his frustration known immediately and LOUDLY. 

Initially his temper tantrums were met with minimal sympathy from my husband and myself because they seemed to be in response to any attempt to modify his behavior. We quickly realized that while they do seem to appear very quickly after the word "No" is uttered from an adult, they are more a result of him expressing his frustration than an attempt at defiance. It appears that having limited verbal skills makes it difficult to make your anger and frustration known to others. Hence the flopping on the floor, flailing of arms and legs and wailing at the top of his lungs. 

It's when his display is a direct result of not getting his way or being allowed to do as he pleases that things get ugly. He has gone from a sweet and easily distractable baby to a very strong-willed and opinionated toddler. He wastes no time in letting us know when he feels we have wronged him in some way. This is when being the parent feels like the hardest job. His repeated attempts at delicate persuasion (by making our ear drums bleed) to get his way can be very wearing and - I am embarrassed to say - sometimes successful. Not to mention the guilt from refusing him and causing him to cry. No one wants to make their child unhappy, naturally. 

Needless to say, the last few weeks have been a bit of a struggle with some growing pains for both of us. Yesterday, at the gym, I was reading this book and in it the author described her daughter becoming agitated with some decision she had made and going to her room to vent about it privately. The author talked about how it's okay for kids to get angry with decisions they don't agree with and even to express it (in a respectful way). All of the sudden, the light bulb clicked on for me and I realized that we were in the same boat. Except that the Tot doesn't have the ability to go to his room and close the door and fuss. He only knows how to flop down and flail about. But, it's okay for him to get angry sometimes and it's really okay for him to express it and get it out. Likewise, we need to continue to make the decisions that are best for him whether or not he is always happy about it (odds are that he won't be). Hopefully by helping him cool down and showing empathy for his feelings, as he grows he will learn that it's okay to feel upset and it's okay to show it. 

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  1. This was such a revelation for me, when I figured out that my children have emotions just like me, and I need to teach them how to handle those emotions, not punish them for having them. Good post.

  2. My girl is in a really similar stage... I've been trying to make a point of validating her feelings("I know that's frustrating" "I'm sorry this makes you mad") while sticking to my guns, and it is HARD! What happened to being able to wave a shiny toy in her general direction and have her be completely distracted??

  3. I so needed to read this; the last paragraph, especially. I want to make my kids happy, I do! But I want to remember that happiness isn't really the goal here. It's so much bigger than that, and so much stickier with good intentions and hopeful outcomes.

    But it does start now. With little ones expressing their very vocal disappointments. And us helping them to work through those disappointments without backing away from our answers.

    Kids are so darn persuasive :)