Luana Thomas, founder of the www.getoffmyback.co.uk, is on a mission to change perspectives on parenting. A lover of all things pregnancy, birth and motherhood she talks first hand about the stresses of dealing with toddlers and how their tantrums make you question yourself as a mother. Here is what Luana had to say…
There she was screaming, kicking, hitting, crying, knocking her own head on the wooden floor on purpose. The only way to describe what I was witnessing in that moment was: disturbing.
I remember before I had kids, thinking to myself, whenever I saw a child having one of those ridiculous tantrums, mine will never be like that. Fast forward to a couple of years later, and here I am in the exact same place as that mother.
It all took a turn for the worse a week after she turned 24 months, a.k.a the terrible twos. To watch my sweet girl suddenly have these explosive tantrums was really difficult; her hurting herself, really hurt me deeply inside.
I stood there watching the whole episode in dismay. All that went through my head was “What have I done wrong? How can I stop this? Why can’t I soothe her? Maybe I’m just a bad mother? It must be my fault”
Were the tantrums really my fault? I was convinced that they were, and it certainly felt like. I was her mother, right? The one looking after her? It really bugged me, and I couldn’t rest until I had an answer. So began my quest.
It may seem obvious, but I learnt that tantrums are just part of growing up, part of the development of their growing brains. Essentially, their prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain in charge of self-control and decision-making) is still developing. Children having tantrums is the norm, I should be more worried if she weren’t testing me. It also explains why we will never be able to rationalise with them and why they are so impulsive.
So if having tantrums was a normal developmental occurrence, something they all go through, and it wasn’t my fault my toddler had tantrums, why did I still feel like a bad mother? I felt like I should be doing more to help them, to make it stop, to take the tantrums away.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out tantrums are not something you can stop. I found that trying to stop it, suggesting that they should “just get over it”, only made it worse. They don’t have the capacity to control it yet. They release big emotions when they feel safe and we are our children’s safe space.
I realised that the best way to deal with the tantrums, was not for my daughter to “get over it”, but for me, her parent to help her “through it”. The only thing that really worked for me was when I said to my daughter:
“It’s ok to cry, let it all out!” Sometimes I had to set limits though, “It’s ok to be angry, it’s not ok to kick/hit. My/your safety is important to me”. Then place them somewhere safe. I would pick her up and place her on the sofa “I’m moving you somewhere safe now”. Sometimes I had to leave the room to compose myself, as it was important to stay calm during it. Usually after a couple of minutes, I’d say:
“I’m here if you need a hug, whenever you’re ready”, and most of the time she’d accept it. Only once she let those big emotions out. They want to reconnect with you after disconnecting during that hard time. Really, it boils down to this, they aren’t giving us a hard time it’s that they are going through a hard time.
In my quest I came to learn the power of acknowledging emotions, especially the difficult ones. The point is not to ignore or avoid them, but to acknowledge, accept, and let them release them. Then you can reconnect make amends. If they damage something, they can help fix it. If they hurt someone, they can apologise.
So, to answer my question?
No, I am not a bad mother because my toddler has tantrums. Yes, I can help soothe them, but it must be on their terms, when they are ready. Our job is to keep calm in the moment and be available to reconnect once it is over.
It was only when I accepted the truth, that I cannot stop tantrums from happening, (sometimes you can avoid, choose your battles wisely), that I went from feeling like a bad mother to feeling like a really good mother. A mother who is no longer afraid of their toddler’s big explosion of emotions, especially when I’m out in the big wide world and someone witnesses my child having a meltdown. It no longer bothers me.
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