Surviving Your Toddler
February 17, 2017
Posted By: Shaunescy
Written by Margot Darling
I fell in love the moment I saw my daughter. I nurtured her joyfully as a baby, kept her close, made her gourmet baby food, enjoyed all her little milestones and celebrated her presence in my life. At 2, she was so sweet. She was easy to be with, kind and compliant. I thought, “I have created the perfect child!” Such is the ignorance of first-time parenting. I had no idea what was to come.
Shortly before turning 3, she stopped calling me Mama. She would only call me by my first name and sometimes she even called me Auntie Margot. She also began the horrifying habit of spitting at me whenever I did not give her what she wanted, especially sugar. When I would say no to something she really wanted, she would look at me with fire in her eyes and gather saliva in her mouth while she waited for me to give in. I never did, and for that, I would find myself covered in toddler spit.
It seemed as if she despised me no matter what I did. Other times she would cling to me with such intense neediness and scream bloody murder when I dropped her off at preschool or with a friend. In my innocence, I thought her anger, frustration and sadness were my fault, and proof that I was not a good enough mother.
It felt like an abusive relationship. Most of the time, I feared her. Her emotions seemed so huge that I felt like I was being held hostage by her intensity. Her defiance was deep, wide and volcanic. Her needs were overwhelming and I often wondered how I would survive her treatment of me.
I loved her so deeply, and I felt devastated by her behavior. I blamed myself. I cried. I took it personally. I freaked out on her. I tried to manipulate her. Without knowing, I basically did everything possible to make things worse.
If you have had the experience of raising a toddler, you know how confusing, challenging and humbling it is. If you have never raised a child through the toddler years, I understand how easy it is to judge all the apparently wrong things parents do with their toddlers. I used to be a parenting expert. Until I had kids.
How do we make it through these trying times without losing our minds? Here is just one profound shift that we can make in order to ease the struggle. Learn to accept their feelings rather than judge, while holding loving limits on behavior.
Do you allow your child the space to be sad, mad, frustrated or angry? This is the biggest challenge we have as parents – to step back and let our children experience and express negative emotions. Yet, this is one of the most important pieces of healthy development – to be able to learn to feel and accept difficult feelings. It is not our job to make our children happy all the time. It is not even possible. We are human, and meant to experience a full range of emotions. For a toddler, this is an important time because they are just learning to express themselves and negotiate their own feelings.
The most powerful, simple and challenging thing I have learned to do with my kids is to calmly and lovingly honor their expressions, because trying to control them never works. Bribing and tricking them sometimes works but it eventually always backfires. The simple act of acknowledging and mirroring their feelings actually helps them move through them.
Acknowledging and mirroring can look like this:
“Wow, I can see you are really angry right now. That must make you mad, that you can’t have a cookie before breakfast. I feel mad too, when I can’t have what I want.”
“I know you wish you could watch a movie right now and that makes you sad. You’re allowed to be sad. It’s OK.”
“You hate your baby brother? Wow. I get that. It can be really hard being the oldest child.”
We all want to be seen for who we really are. Toddlers, especially, need to know that their feelings are real and that they are lovable no matter what. Next time your toddler is angry, frustrated or sad, try being curious. Try allowing them to be whatever they are at that moment. Let them know they are really seen.
Praise is great, hugs are wonderful but feeling seen is really where love is.
Margot Darling is a conscious uncoupling coach and divorce coach living in Bozeman. She has two amazing children and is passionate about guiding people through relationship transition. For more information call 406-209-3142 or visit darlingcoach.com for conscious uncoupling and divorce coaching or darlingtarot.com for empowerment, clarity and healing through Tarot.