It’s amazing to watch kids grow, learn how to speak their mind, explore new foods* (minus veggies because somehow 80% of kids are genetically predisposed to hate them), and tackle new challenges head on. The reality, however, is that at some point when kids hit toddler-hood they develop this brand new skill that no Google search, parenting book, or advice from an old friend can really prepare you for takes over. What is the name if this amazing new skill you ask?
If you have a kid – toddler or older – you know what I’m talking about. It goes a little something like this…
Me – “Okay. It’s time to get dressed for school.”
L – “I don’t want to get dressed for school.”
Me – “But we have to get dressed for school. I picked out this awesome Avengers shirt for you – everyone is going to think it’s so cool!”
L – “I DON’T WANT TO GET DRESSED FOR SCHOOL! I DON’T WANT TO WEAR THAT SHIRT!”
Tears, screaming, tantrums, anger. The party is just getting started.
You can battle but your battle just ends up with you arguing about over the fact that you need BOTH legs in the pants in order to leave – that just one pant leg is not going to cut it. “I DON’T WANT TO PUT BOTH LEGS IN!!!”
Eventually things blow over – you’re 30 minutes later for work and you’re on the verge of a complete meltdown but you suck it up and make the drive to school. Lather, rinse, repeat.
So what’s the point of pointing this out?
Well – I’ve started to realize something over the past 6 months or so as my daughter has begun to exhibit an increasing ability to showcase this amazing new skill. Although I can’t say by any means I’m an expert, I do have some ideas on ways to handle the toddler explosions without completely losing your mind.
Tip 1 – Stop Saying You’re Going to do it and Actually Be Patient
There are a lot of things we say we’re going to do as parents. Go to the gym. Eat better. Yada yada yada. A common thing we all wish we could follow through more on is our ability to be patient. Whether it’s with your crazy family member who drives you up a wall or that coworker that always seems to push your buttons – you keep telling yourself that you need to be patient…but when the time comes you lose your cool and everything goes off the rails.
Guess who also picks up on you losing your cool…
If you guessed “my kid”…ding ding ding. You win the prize! Congratulations.
No matter how frustrating or wild your kid can be – usually at the most inconvenient times – if you can’t keep a cool and level head in a situation your kid is going to pick up on your vibes and without a doubt reciprocate in some fashion.
So be cool! Yes – it can get really tough sometimes. However, if you can find ways to just wait it out, avoid raising your voice, or showing your frustrations there’s a good chance that your kid will start to learn from you and understand that it’s not okay to rage out every time something doesn’t go the way they expect.
Tip 2 – Be Consistent
My kid has a situation that is not unique – she has 2 separate households that she lives in with 2 parents that care about her but are completely different people that approach problems in a totally different way. Although that can be confusing for someone who is just starting to figure out life, I have to ensure there’s an open line of communication with her mom so that we can align on how we act towards her. The main goal of alignment is in my mind to maintain a consistent “voice” at all times with her regardless of who’s house she’s staying in that night.
Why is consistency important? Well – here’s a more fancy article on the subject – the summarized version can be boiled down to these few points –
- Teenagers (and younger kids!) can learn to use inconsistent parenting styles to their advantage – playing each parent off against the other or using examples of inconsistent parenting as a reason for pushing the boundaries.
- Lack of consistency can mean parents are questioning their own decisions and are less likely to follow through with rules.
- Poor parental ‘internal consistency’ (when a parent is inconsistent with their own approach from day-to-day) can cause children to develop attachment issues. They could find it difficult to see you as a reliable source of comfort and there can be little predictability or structure. Poor attachment can be associated with a range of social, behavioral and emotional problems for children.
My daughter is only 3, her mom and I live in totally different houses, and even SHE understands how to try and play off each of us to push boundaries. The worst part in my mind is in the last bullet point – the social, behavioral, and emotional problems. If you thought the parent game was a struggle, wait until your kid starts to push into those areas and then.
The main point – the struggles and boundary pushing is going to happen but if you maintain consistency it will help get you through. If you break down or cannot figure out how to be consistent? Well…best of luck to you friend.
Tip 3 – Listen First, Act Second
I mentioned earlier about kids and their tendency to be micro-mirrored versions of yourself. If you lose your cool often…there’s a good chance you’re going to have a micro version of yourself on your hands and this volatility could cause a lot of trouble for everyone involved. Here’s my micro version of me –
If you have thoughts or feelings about something and we feel like no one wants to hear them, how does it make you feel? Depending on your level of patience, you may find yourself feeling angry, frustrated, and/or sad about the situation – maybe you’ll even feel the need to vent your frustration in some way. Even though they may not be able to clearly articulate early on, the reality is that if you’re not listening to your kid or at least trying to talk through feelings they’re going to get frustrated and probably – or at least from my experience – show you the many ways they’ve learned to show frustration.
Even at this point, even though Leah can speak well, she still has trouble articulating feelings. I want it to be a consistent and practiced thing to voice how she feels so that as she continues to learn and evolve, we can talk through the problems instead of raging out/slamming doors and all of that other cool stuff that kids learn. One of the greatest things my parents did for us growing up was instill the idea of talking through problems and even though we had a few slammed doors as well as a few packed suitcases with threats of “I’m running away!” tucked in there, we grew to learn how to fix our problems within the house by talking to each other and always felt empowered to discuss things.
I know this is an old cliché but…your kids – especially when they’re younger – are little sponges soaking up everything in their environment. There’s a great chance that the more time you spend with them, the more likely they are to pick up all the crazy things you do or say – even though curse words (Leah’s been known to scream “Dammit!” on occasion).
Being patient, establishing a level of consistency with your interactions, and listening to your kid are three great ways to help create a better relationship and hopefully offset some of the ups and downs that they might go through.