What Tantrums Teach Us

Dayen, who is almost 22 months (although, I'm normal, so I prefer to refer to it as "almost 2") is at the funnest age right now. I know, I've said that through every age of his life, but I think so far, this is my favorite.

He's learning to talk, and every day he surprises me with the funny things he will say that I didn't even know he knew. (His latest favorite is to tell me "I pooped." every morning when I get him out of his crib. He's usually lying.)

He loves to sing, and his little off-key voice is the cutest thing I've ever heard.

He will sit and play with you for hours, and when you build a tower out of his blocks he's really encouraging and says, "good job!" or dramatically yells "oh noooo!" when they fall down.

He's still obsessed with letters and numbers. He likes to count on his fingers, and he always says, "one, two, three, four, HIGH FIVE!, six, seven..."

He loves to pick out his own clothes, and his favorite thing in the world is shoes. If I don't put shoes on him in the morning he asks about them all day. "Shoes? Shoes? Socks and shoes?"

He's not very adventurous (he doesn't even like to go down the slide on my lap) but he's very observant. Today we were at the park when a little girl and her mom were going down the slide. Dayen, watching them carefully while eating his sandwich, whispered, "Ready? Set? Go!" and when they didn't go he said a little louder, "Go. GO!" As they went down he said "wheee" and when they got to the bottom he smiled and said, "Fun." We were cracking up.

Everything he does is either adorable, hilarious, or adorably hilarious. This age is so, SO much fun.

(of course there's a but. You think I would write a blog post just to brag? No, I'm here to complain, as always.)

This age is also famous for it's tantrums.

You know what I'm talking about. They don't call them the "terrible twos" for nothing. I have watched a lot of kids over the years, all who possessed varying degrees of naughtiness, but no one, and I mean NO ONE, escapes the terrible twos.

And I will admit it: I have not been known to have the most patience with it. As a nanny, it was easy. I loved the kids I nannied, but it was my job to help them be well-behaved and fun to be with. Then I went home at 5:00 and who knows what they did. For the most part, because I wasn't their parent, the kids would listen to me. But, oh, those terrible twos.

And now, just a little early, Dayen has entered this same wonderful time frame that I was naive enough to believe he might just skip. He's always been such a sweet, easy kid. But just the last week or so, he has been so whiny. Everything pushes him over the edge. And I mean everything.

For example: say we're playing with blocks. He is having a great time stacking them up and watching them fall, when suddenly a tower falls and it is just the end of the world. He can't handle it. We stack it back up, and he gets even madder. There is just no consoling him.

So me, being the fantastic mother that I am, I just get more and more short tempered. Soon, every time he starts to cry I get frustrated. Because it is so unnecessary! Because the things he is upset about don't matter, or don't exist! And because it is just never ending.

Which brings us to this morning.

Caleb works from home twice a week, so he was on the laptop working and I had some things I needed to get done for my job. So I was on the computer in Dayen's room for probably half an hour or so. Dayen was playing by himself for awhile when he started to get frustrated with his toys for no apparent reason. Then he came over to me and whined for a second, and when I told him to stop, he threw some toys behind the computer, like he knows he's not supposed to. I thought, I know how to handle this, I'm a good mom. So I calmly grabbed his hand and said, "Dayen, no no."

I could not have picked a worse thing to say. He threw himself on the ground in complete hysterics. Knowing where this was heading, I moved him to his crib. I let him cry in there for about a minute, then let him out and asked if he could be happy now. Again, he threw himself on the ground. That's about the time Caleb came in, and we both tried to gently calm him down and distract him, while also letting him know it wasn't ok to be screaming like that. (This is a super effective form of parenting that always works. Not.)

I finally put him in the rarely used time-out corner and let him cry. He sobbed for another few minutes, and would occasionally look back at me, but with his eyes squeezed tightly shut because he didn't want me to see him.

Finally, finally, I knelt down a few feet away and reached my arms out to him. Instantly, he crawled over and climbed onto my lap. He buried his face in my shoulder and within seconds he had calmed down.

And my little mommy heart completely shattered.

Because I finally understood what the tantrum was about. He wasn't just being grumpy. He wasn't just being two. He wasn't even really being unreasonable.

He just wanted some attention. He wanted me to play with him, and he didn't know how to ask.

He had played quietly all morning while I took care of the house and got ready. Then, when I finally came in his room, I was completely distracted staring at a screen and still making him play all alone.

He doesn't understand that I have to work. He doesn't understand why I would tell him to go play when I'm here, perfectly capable of playing. And he doesn't know how to express it when he gets upset.

He's not even two yet. He will learn to be more patient. He will even learn the heartbreaking truth that sometimes, mom and dad can't entertain him. But for now, he just needs to know that I am here for him when he needs or even just wants me. He needs to know that no matter what he does, his mom will always be here, always loving him, always ready for a hug when he is.

So, we're working on it. I am trying to teach him to say, "Play, please?" instead of crying or throwing a fit. But more important, I am trying to teach myself that toddlers are not adults. (Duh, right?) They aren't going to be perfect. They are going to cry, that is going to happen. But next time, I am going to be a lot quicker to be the open arms to comfort him, rather than the scolding hand trying to force him to grow up.

He is the smartest, sweetest kid I know. But just like his dad, he sure has to exercise a lot of patience with me.

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