I’m SO thankful for parents who speak openly about their struggles as parents, in particular as parents of children ages 3 to 4. I wish more of us would share our horror stores of toddler parenting, so that fewer of us would feel like parental failures!

You cannot convince me there is any harder, more challenging age than this. At least, I hope you won’t even try, because I can’t bear to hear there is a harder age unless you first tell me there’s a decade of sheer bliss before it!

Age 3 has been…interesting. I read recently that between the ages of 3 and 4, a child’s vocabulary explodes from 500 words to 1200 words. That’s more than double, meaning they have a whole new vocabulary for expressing all the ways in which they’re displeased! You’d think this would mean the end of the tantrums that peak between ages 2 and 3, right?

Notsomuch. At least not for us.

The other day, Jax tantrummed because I wouldn’t let him bring a dead (crispy) worm into the house to keep as his pet. The next night, he tantrummed because I didn’t eat the ginger that came with my sushi.

Reading back on those sentences, I laugh a little at how absurd these scenarios sound. But if you have a toddler, you’re probably shaking your head and saying, “Yup, sounds about right.”

Living with a toddler is like living with an adorable but psychotic dictator. You just never know when the most trivial thing will set him off and what punishment they’ll dole out when they’re unhappy. You pray it will be quick and painless. It rarely is.

One minute, they’re playing happily on the swingset in the backyard, and then suddenly they’re charging you with their fists ready to flail, and you have no idea why. And then just as suddenly and dramatically as it began, it’s over.

Post-tantrum make-up session

Post-tantrum make-up session

That’s what some days are like. Other days are perfect—although I suspect my standard of “perfect” has dramatically decreased to mean any day that doesn’t end with me in tears, hiding in the bathroom, clutching my wine glass tightly while praying for an easy bedtime.

Like you, I adore my child beyond words. I can’t spend enough time with him! I think of him constantly when we aren’t together. Parenthood has been the wildest, most awesome ride of my entire life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything and don’t regret my choice to become a parent for even a second. And I enjoy more moments than I don’t.

But that doesn’t make it any less challenging and crazy.  And when, during those moments, I vent to my friends about my lunatic child or I pour myself a second glass of wine, that doesn’t make me any less awesome a mother. It makes me normal.

Yesterday was the kiddo’s 3-year well visit and flu shot at the pediatrician’s office, which meant I spent most of my morning fighting anxiety because I anticipated more mega-tantrums. I scheduled the appointment for 3:00 pm–in other words, post-nap, when the likelihood of a tantrum is lower than usual. I made sure my purse had ample snacks for us both. I also ensured he’d recently gone to the bathroom when I picked him up from daycare at 2:30. And I did one other thing I’m a little embarrassed to admit.

I went to Target that afternoon and bought him an $11 toy–a Michaelangelo Ninja Turtle–I could use to “incentivize” (as Miranda from Not Super…Just Mom taught me it’s called) good behavior at the appointment.

On the drive to the appointment, I told Jax he had to go to the doctor for a checkup, and that the doctor would listen to his heart and look in his ears, just like Doc McStuffins does to her stuffed animals! I added that if he didn’t fuss and if he helped the doctor do those things, I would give him a special present I bought for him.

He said, “what it is, mom?” I think it’s adorable that he mixes up his words sometimes. But I digress.

Wait, I’m not done digressing yet! A few weeks ago, I hadn’t even heard of Doc McStuffins, and now my kid is obsessed with that show and the related games on Disney Junior’s website. He’s been using my kitchen utensils as his medical implements, so I think it’s time to buy him a toy set for Christmas. On second thought, that would have made a great bribe gift yesterday! I am so thankful for Doc McStuffins, because I credit the show with how well Jax handled the appointment. (I also appreciate that Doc’s mother, rather than her father, is a doctor.)

Jax was awesome at the appointment. For the first time ever, he stood on the scale the first time he was asked and with no tears. He let the nurse measure his height and take his temperature without a complete meltdown. He was pleasant to the doctor and let her complete the entire evaluation (which was way more thorough than any of his other well visits, I might add!) without any hesitation.

And then the nurse brought in the flu shot. Uhoh!

Yet even that didn’t evoke the response I had feared it would. He let me hold him–and his arms–while she administered the injection. He cried, of course, but it didn’t last more than 5 to 10 seconds. And when she put a band-aid on him, no freaking out! Amazing! I have the one child on this planet who HATES band-aids, no matter what cute characters are on them. I was nearly as afraid of his potential reaction to that than I was to the flu shot!

Of course after the nurses were done, we practically ran out to the car, where his present awaited him. I told him how happy I was that he didn’t fuss for the doctor or the nurse. I think he was pleased with himself, too.

Lessons learned:

  1. It’s not called bribery, it’s called incentivizing–and it freaking works!
  2. Incentives do not always have to be toys. Miranda reminded me incentives can include doing things, too, like watching a favorite show, having a cookie, or reading a book.
  3. I underestimated my kid. I’ll try not to do that again.
  4. Just because he had probably 10 tantrums last week doesn’t automatically mean he’ll have any this week (knocking on wood). Kids aren’t consistent.

Do you use incentives for your kids’ good behavior? How has this worked for you?

 

What comes to mind when you hear the word “tantrum?” Perhaps the phrase “Terrible Twos?” Or maybe you are so far removed from toddler tantrums that you chuckle and conjur up a memory of a time when your little one threw a fit over something ridiculous. If that’s the case, don’t stop reading—I need you here!

Shortly after Jax turned 3—and I do mean shortly, as in that very same week—the tantrums kicked off like a fireworks display. Actually, each tantrum is more like a fireworks grand finale!

My happy little boy now raises his voice at me and tells me daily how I displease him. Sometimes he says this outright, as in “Mom, I am SO mad at you!” Other times, he chooses to have a complete meltdown in a public place.

Here are some of the moments that produced these meltdowns:

  • I cut his grapes in half. He cried and yelled at me and refused to eat them.
  • I told him he couldn’t sleep naked because he might pee in his bed. His response? “I want to pee my bed, mom,” shouted at the top of his lungs, oh maybe 25 times.
  • I turned left at a green light. He saw the opposing traffic’s red light, thought it was my red light, and yelled at me for not stopping. He got upset until I drove past our house and found a red light to stop at before returning home.
  • I cut his grilled cheese into triangles instead of squares. After he scolded me for this, eventually he ate the sandwich because I distracted him with his new favorite show, Special Agent OSO. Whew!
  • He had to pee during a playdate at Barnes & Noble. I took him. He refused to pee there. He had his worst tantrum yet. I calmed him—eventually, out in my car (after carrying him through the store as he smacked my face repeatedly). We went back in to try again because he promised to go potty like a big boy.
  • Repeat.
  • Repeat again, this time with a lot of pee all over the place.

I think you get the gist. I have morphed from the fun mom who takes her well-behaved kid everywhere (eg, playdates, amusement parks, you name it) to a mother who is so anxious that every little thing she does will spark the next hour-long meltdown that she walks on eggshells.

I don’t want to be that mom. I want to be the mom I was when he was 2.

My usual method (which I explained in this post) of sharing a time-out with him in his bedroom works only when we are in our house when the tantrum occurs, and when we have a good 20 to 30 minutes to calm down. I need something that will quickly end the tantrum when we are out in public.

Is there such a method, or am I delusional? Is this just another phase of childhood that I have to ride out until it becomes a memory that I chuckle over in a few years?

Should I be reading a book about gentle discipline? Or should I just stock up on wine and refuse to leave my house for the next year or two?

I get why he is having tantrums, I do. And I feel bad for him. But I also feel bad for me, because being on the receiving end of this behavior is possibly the most frustrating thing in the entire universe.

Help!

photo by: · skëne ·

As Jax quickly approaches the age of 3, I’m focusing my attention more on discipline–more specifically, gentle discipline.

His tantrums (and boy do I hate that ugly word) have been few and far between, but they do seem to be ramping up lately, becoming a little more frequent, longer, and harder to bear.

He had a meltdown this weekend because he didn’t get to help me vacuum the living room area rug. He’d been upstairs playing while I did that part of my cleaning. Once I realized how upsetting this was to him, he was in full-throttle hysterics. So at that point, I didn’t want to pull out the vacuum and “give in” to his demands, even though I knew it would make everything better, because I don’t want to teach my child that behavior like that will produce the desired result.

However, it was painful to endure his crying–especially when it led to dry heaving and sobs and blotchy red eyes (just like mine when I’m crying). And then the rapid-fire thoughts came: What is the right way to deal with a tantrum? Do I even know what I am doing? Should I ignore him? Give him a time out/away? Maybe I should just drag the darn vacuum out again!

But instead of letting my thoughts run wild any longer, I took Jax into his bedroom and shut the door (I locked it, to contain my little runaway, and I pushed away the guilt I felt over doing so) and asked him nicely to sit with me and calm down. He refused the first couple minutes. But when he climbed into my lap in the glider where I used to nurse him, we talked about how he was feeling (upset with mommy, sad, frustrated, etc) and that it’s ok to feel sad but feeling happy is more fun! I asked him to take a deep breath and try to calm down. And I was silent for a few minutes while he cried a bit more, too. When he finally calmed down, we had a sweet moment together with a long hug.

I think it’s important to let kids feel what they’re feeling and not try to stop it every single time or tell them it’s “wrong” to feel a certain way or to cry. And I am trying so hard to avoid raising my voice or punish him.

But that’s just me.

Literally.

I don’t think my husband buys into the same methods I do. We’re having a bit of a disconnect when it comes to discipline. But enough about that, as I’m sure it’s probably normal and will get worked out over time (when he realizes that I am always right, haha).

All I can do is what I think is best for Jax. Parenting is a learning process, every single day. Although I know my son inside and out and better than anyone else in the world knows him, he is constantly changing. And these tantrums are definitely a new challenge for me.

For now, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m reading a book recommended to me by several parents of toddlers: Parent Talk by Chick Moorman. I love the subtitle so much, as it mirrors two of my discipline goals: How to Talk to Your Children in a Language that Builds Self-Esteem and Encourages Responsibility.

I also value what Attachment Parenting International teaches about “positive discipline“:

Attachment Parenting incorporates the “golden rule” of parenting; parents should treat their children the way they would want to be treated. Positive discipline is an overarching philosophy that helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Positive discipline is rooted in a secure, trusting, connected relationship between parent and child. Discipline that is empathetic, loving and respectful strengthens that the connection between parent and child, while harsh or overly-punitive discipline weakens the connection. Remember that the ultimate goal of discipline is to help children develop self-control and self-discipline.

Empathy may be the one quality about myself I most cherish and hope to teach to my son. Empathy is at the heart of gentle discipline. It should be at the heart of everything we do, ideally.

And I love what The Hippie Housewife wrote about gentle discipline, complete with tips for the rest of us!

One thing I’ve noticed–in a lightbulb moment–is that tantrums are most likely to happen when Jax is tired or hungry (duh). I can’t make him nap or eat if he doesn’t want to, but I am learning to anticipate when he might be susceptible to meltdowns and try to stop them before they start by offering snuggles & snacks (and by avoiding public places at naptime!).

I’d love to hear your tried-and-true methods for calming a tantrummy toddler!

 

Took my sweet boy to the movies–his first movie ever–on New Year’s Day. I’d been given a Klout Perk that included two free tickets to see The Adventures of Tintin.

About Klout Perks a second… So far, I’m unimpressed with them, but that could be because my first one was Secret Clinical Strength. I mean, c’mon–how does a girl who is fairly vocal about her preference for natural, organic products land that perk?! There’s no way I’m rubbing that shiz on my pits. So I gave a few away (sorry, friends, I didn’t mean to insult you!) and stashed a few just in case I take up some extreme sport that makes me sweat profusely or this mild winter gets even milder. Also, the free movie tickets? They so did not work & my card ended up being charged twice. And to this day, I’m still waiting for a response from movietickets.com. Grrr.

Jax and I ripped open the giant box from Klout, skeptical that it contained merely some movie passes, and out came a stuffed Snowy (that’s Tintin’s dog, for you non-Tintin nerds). We were elated! Believe it or not, Jax is a huge Tintin & Snowy fan, thanks to my comics-nerd husband. Jax even got some Tintin books for Christmas.

Yes, while other kids are reading–wait, what do other 2-year-olds read???–my kid is reading Tintin. I guess it’s kind of cool.

On New Year’s Day, we figured it was an optimal time to take Jax to his first big-screen flick because it would be nearly empty. From what I hear, hungover revelers aren’t really into Tintin.

There were two other families in the theater. Score!

My husband and I agreed that if Jax wanted to leave, we’d leave, even if it were only a few minutes into the movie. In other words, we set our expectations low.

We nestled in, Jax with his M&Ms, peanut butter crackers, and chocolate milk, and me with my Pirate’s Booty and water. Like a terrible wife (or, optimistically, a focused mother with a goal to tackle), I didn’t pack my husband any snacks.

After 17 previews and all my snack was gone, Tintin finally started. Jax looked pretty into it.

See? Definitely into it. Snowy, too.

He lasted an hour! And have I mentioned this was his first experience at the movies?! And that Tintin was obviously age-inappropriate a few minutes into the movie?

My kid rules.

But wait. During the climax of the movie (read: a long, dragged out scene with lots of scary bad guys), he put his head on my chest and told me repeatedly that he wanted to go home. So I packed us up and told my husband we’re leaving.

And do you know what my dear husband said? He wanted to stay and watch Tintin! He really liked it! And could I take Jax out to the lobby for the next 40 minutes while he watched the end?

Umm, NO.

We left. The minute we stepped into the parking lot, Jax lost his cool & flipped out, wanting to go back in to watch Tintin again.

Like most parents who don’t have tons of experience with toddler tantrums, we went back inside.

Jax got upset and wanted to go home. Again. So we left. Again.

And then what do you think happened when we got out to the parking lot? Again. Only this time, much worse. My cute little movie lover turned into someone else’s bratty monster for the whole ride home.

But I’m not dwelling on that part now. Now, a few weeks later, I’m already looking forward to his next movie experience.

I’d love to hear about your child’s first movie! What was it? Did he/she make it to the end?