I actually love toddlers. They are old enough to really interact with you, but still young enough to be cute and cuddly (for the most part). When I threw out some polling questions to the people (my personal and FB friends) about what they wanted to know about toddlers, the overwhelming majority wanted to know 2 things: how to handle tantrums and how to stop yelling.
Both of these topics will be addressed specifically, but I wanted to cover the main thing that they both have in common: managing your own emotions.
How we respond to our child’s misbehavior is about 75% our reaction and 25% actual parenting tools/techniques. [your emotional reaction+the automatic belief it triggers+your ability govern the previous two]+[parenting tools/techniques]=your actual response to your child.
It is not enough to simply know a parenting tool about behavior management. In fact, we can know lots of tools and still not respond the way we want. So let’s look at the breakdown.
Your emotional reaction
Everything your child does will spark an emotional reaction in you. The first thing you need to figure out is what behaviors spark what emotions. If “anger” was your first thought, I want you to press in a little further. Anger is often a masking emotion (read more HERE about anger) so really pay attention to your body and what you very first feel.
Maybe you feel your heart start to race and you want to hide. You might consider if all that competing noise is really stirring up fear that just morphs into anger quickly when it doesn’t stop. Maybe you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut when your toddler refuses a hug. And what you’re really feeling is sadness, but that seems too silly so you shame/guilt your child into the hug.
Your automatic belief
That emotional reaction is often like a pinball in our brains. When it gets activated it pings all over our brains bringing up times when we have felt similarly and the automatic belief that ties them altogether. Without self-reflection, we will react out of this belief whether it is true to the current situation or not.
Automatic beliefs can sound like: I’m not safe, I’m not in control, I’m worthless. Often times it will be a variation in one of those categories. A belief is something that feels true which we sometimes know isn’t true or totally true. We will act out of our beliefs unless we make a conscious effort to choose a different behavior.
Your ability to govern ^^^ those two things
This is the hard part. It starts with identifying the emotion and pinpointing the belief that it triggers. Then it looks like parsing out what is true and what isn’t true. Maybe lots of noise makes you feel out of control, but truth is, while it feels chaotic, there are ways to tame the chaos that’s not yelling (because that is joining the chaos, not calming it).
Really drill down to what keeps you from being able to pause and choose a response instead of react. It’s different for everyone, and you may need therapy to figure it out (for real, you might, and that’s okay).
Once you can get to the point where you can actually choose a response then you can start to apply parenting techniques. And those jewels are what we’ll talk about next time. Stay tuned to see if I decided to cover tantrums or yelling first (I’m still undecided myself).