Taming the Tricky Toddler

This is where I remind all of you war-weary moms that you are the adult in charge no matter how tyrannical the toddler. You have the fully developed brain with all neurons firing! You have the emotional maturity and ability to engage in the patience of a saint! Yes, YOU! And, yet…what?…who is that…what’s happening? Ah, yes, that indeed, is your precious toddler putting on a show of will, volume and flailing arms in the grocery store among a randomly selected audience of judgmental onlookers.

But, let me straighten your hoody, wipe the sweat from your brow, offer you a tissue to blow your nose, and tuck that piece of hair back into your ponytail. It’s going to be okay. These toddler tantrums will pass, you’ll have some respite in the elementary years…and then they’ll be mood-swinging tweens–I kid, I kid! You’re almost in the clear, hold on!

From the day my middle daughter was born she was, no doubt about it, stubborn! She was a lazy nurser, she screamed when we changed her clothes and she was very stingy with the smiles. As she grew into a little toddler, the theme continued: she was a stubborn potty-trainer, she was a picky eater and she knew what she wanted to wear and what she would not wear. I would say, in general, she was happy and content, she loved kitties and babies and I would often find her lining up her stuffed animals along the wall in order according to size. I guess you could say that from a very early age, she communicated loud and clear that she liked order, control, and independence. But, as we all know, life calls for a measure of flexibility and that was not a word or a practice she could appreciate. I was always running distraction maneuvers with her to avert crisis, like when she would say, “I want juice! P’ease!”  and I would say, “Nice asking! You may have water.” [insert her transforming happy face into a mad face] “Would you like the pink cup or the yellow cup?” Ah, the ever-lovin’ option clause that gives the illusion of control. It’s a good one. Try it out. No charge.

There were times, when she would not be lured by the options game and things would digress into what I secretly branded, “the chantrum.” It was a very specific cycle of chanting the same phrase over and over while sobbing uncontrollably, peppered with the occasional screaming spike. Come on, don’t judge me, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a classic toddler throw-down. Sometimes, after I left her in her room for a while to work it out, there would be a lull and she would check to make sure she still had an audience, and then the chantrum would resume its regularly scheduled programming. The best thing to do was to wait for it to cycle through. We would talk and hug after it was over and she would always offer up a very heartfelt, “I just am sorry for frowing a fit, Mommy!”

I’d like to tell you how I discovered the solution to the chantrums, but I didn’t. I practiced deep breathing to remain calm, made sure that I was holding the line for something worthwhile, and quietly but firmly assured her that I heard what she was saying and that when she calmed down, we could talk about it. Intense, people! Exhausting.  As I was venting my frustrations to a veteran mom, she listened to me and then said something that meant so much to me. She said, “Jenny, be patient, one day she’ll be stubborn for what she believes in and it will be her greatest strength!” It was just what I needed to hear to keep going and remember that my job as a parent was to take this amazing child, exactly as she came to me and to work with her to help her discover that with a little patience and direction, what I labeled “stubborn” could actually become unremitting perseverance and tenacity.

I will not say that that made everything all better, because toddlers can be tough and those days seem to have no end in sight, but I can say that she and I are both still alive and she is ten years old now. She is the most responsible, truth-loving, helpful, and compassionate child. The energy that once took the form of chantrums, now takes the form of a passion for justice and mercy and others and I can’t wait to see what she will do with it next.

This post brought to you by Jenny Leggett, mom and blogger.

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