Just because you tell your kids there’s nothing they can do to make you stop loving them, doesn’t mean they won’t try to make you prove it.
Whether you have one kid or ten kids, there are moments as a parent when your sanity is stretched so thin, you question the very fabric of space and time. Most of them occur when your child becomes a toddler.
Setting the record straight
Whoever coined the little phrase “terrible twos” obviously never had a 3-year-old yet. Once your kid has to use both hands to get three fingers up, you will pine for the days when they proudly threw up deuces to silently display their age.
Three-year-olds are bigger, stronger, faster, sassier, and have an expanded vocabulary. Two-year-olds have barely mastered walking without biffing it on a rogue stuffed animal or knocking their dome on the corner of the dinner table (Ouch!)
However, regardless of the age of your miniature progeny, you need to be prepared for the mind games or you’ll lose your cool.
1. Pick your battles
When it comes to a battle of wills, no opponent is more formidable than a toddler. Despite their small size and limited grasp of gravity, toddlers possess a mental resolve disproportionate to their attention span.
There was a particular evening this summer when #3 wanted Daddy to drag her gargantuan teddy bear upstairs to her room. Because I was sleep deprived, I chose to go toe-to-toe with her and refused to help.
Staring defiantly up into my eyes, #3 took it upon herself to drag the beer caveman style up the stairs and into her bedroom.
I lost fair and square.
Life as a parent means that 99.9% of the time, you are right. However, that doesn’t equate to winning 99.9% of the time. Sorry, but the odds are never in your favor against the little ankle-biters.
Toddlers will fight you to the death on everything. Teach them to how to gracefully accept the inevitability of bedtime and vegetables by picking your battles on stuff that really doesn’t matter.
2. Be consistent
Good parents want the best for their kids. We want them to be happy, healthy, and give us lots of hugs after a long day at work. Sometimes, this manifests in us breaking the rules for them and introducing unnecessary chaos.
Perhaps that long day at work leaves you wanting to cuddle on the couch and watch a Disney movie with your little munchkin after dinner. Or your energy is tapped out and you really don’t care if the bedtime routine happens on schedule.
Exceptions are fine until a rarity becomes the rule.
This year, #3 is at a new daycare center. That means new room, new friends, new teacher, new schedule. Kids are resilient, but #3 isn’t coping with the changes very well because she isn’t napping much the last two weeks.
That right. I just said a toddler has missed most of her naps the last two weeks. (Chew on that for a minute). Let’s just say the evenings have been a little tenuous since school started.
We’ve tried the soft route and let “lights out” slide to accommodate her sporadic attention span while getting ready for bed, but it just feels like the witching hour is that much more intense.
Kids need our grace and patience, but they also need accountability.
Despite their behavior to the contrary, kids crave structure. We all need boundaries to define the constraints within which we can be successful. Letting our kids do whatever they want introduces unnecessary chaos and sets them up for failure.
Clarify expectations with your kids and hold them to that standard. Especially when you’re tired and don’t feel like it.
3. Keep calm and carry a tune
Have you ever experienced the sanity-splitting phenomenon of trying to speak calmly and rationally to a toddler who’s screaming her head off while her limbs flail around like a possessed rag doll?
You feel like the crazy person, right?
Toddlers hate bedtime with every fiber of their tiny being. And that’s on a good night. Throw in a new routine after being home with Mommy all summer and #3 turns into a gremlin at the drop of a hat.
A few weeks ago, in a moment of pure exhaustion, I said these words as straight-faced as possible while she proceeded to lose her little mind and cry hysterically:
We brush our teeth every night.
We get in our PJs every night.
We go to bed every night.
We sleep every night.
You’re going to do this every day for the rest of your life.
Get used to it.
Which, as you can probably imagine, was met with grunts and kicks.
So, I sang a couple of lullabies (drowned out by #3’s theatrics)
Afterwards I said, “Good night. I love you.” and left.
Even if your mind is about to snap, go ahead and sing those songs. No one might be able to hear you, but it’s hard to go berserk on your kids while singing Ba Ba Black Sheep (not impossible, but difficult).
Cut yourself some slack
We have four kids ranging from a smiley infant to a sweaty teenager. After years of parenting experience, you’d think I would have most of it figured out. I’ve changed countless diapers, watched endless baseball games, kissed owies, killed spiders, chased away monsters, and sang more lullabies than I can remember.
I’m still learning. I still lose my cool and yell at our kids sometimes.
But tomorrow is a new day and time is immutable. You may not emerge from the toddler years unscathed, but your kids will grow up and continue to give you great material for blackmail later.
How do you handle temper tantrums? What do you do to keep your cool around your kids? Share in the comments.
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Also published on Medium.