“Time for art class! It’s going to be so much fun. Let’s go to the car so we can drive there.” I wait as one of my two and half year old children climbs into his car seat on his own, which takes about the same amount of time as mastering a piano concerto. While I begin to strap him in, my other child bolts up the driveway and runs behind the garage that connects to someone else’s yard… and a road… with no fence. Here we go.
Click, the top strap is in, click, the bottom strap connected. I look down at my strapped in son, “I’ll be right back.” I am off and running for the other, leaving one child alone in the driveway in the car while I skirt the tiny space between my garage and tree branches, tripping over old cinderblocks poking out of leaves and squeezing myself into a space that seems designed perfectly for a toddler, not an adult. I am burning up with anger — why doesn’t he understand this is dangerous? Why won’t he just wait for me to buckle his brother in? Why doesn’t he do the thing that would be easiest for everyone? Because he is 2 and a half!
I find him behind the garage lying on the ground in the leaves covering his eyes, “hiding” from me. He thinks this is hilarious. I pick him up, duck back under the trees, over the cinder blocks and, click, strap in the top strap, click, strap in the bottom. He is now arching his back, upset that I am not letting him climb into his seat on his own, to take another eternity to accomplish what should be a basic task, as a part of normal need to leave the house to go somewhere. We are going to be late for class now. I am a person who likes to be on time. I think it is important and signifies respect and general adultness. I have to talk myself down from my anger-filled adrenaline rush from impromptu hide and seek into okay-ness. I want to scream and have a melt down, because it took so much energy just to get into the car. I didn’t even realize I had a tendency towards anger until becoming a mom of twin boys. Being alone for many hours a day with 2 extraordinarily active toddler boys has taught me I need to exert sincere effort to combat a tendency to yell or be mean to my kids. I love them so much, so why is it so hard?
In the world of the toddler, discovering new developmental boundaries is the norm. It seems there is a constant balance to be brokered between safety for my children and convenience for myself so that they can learn and I can remain sane. In order to get through my day with as much love and joy possible, I learned to create a two-pronged approach for dealing with my children. The first is through a few simple structures in my day and the second is by being aware of some “pitfall” scenarios that may face me that day, and being prepared for myself and for my kids in these scenarios. These techniques mainly rely on me adjusting my mind and then trying to create conditions for my kids that enable them a degree of freedom and fun.
How I try to combat yelling:
- I set an intention for the day. Before it all gets rolling, I try to set a positive intention for my time with the kids that day. I try to spend 5 minutes focusing on developing a mind of love, or a wish for me and the kids to be happy that day, then let that love fill my mind for as long as possible.
- Connect through play. I try to make sure at least twice a day we get in a good child-led play session where they determine the activity and I do whatever they want inside of that activity. It helps me feel connected to them and like I am a good mom for paying such close attention to their learning. I notice when I feel like a competent mom, I feel less agitated by their toddler tendencies.
- Throughout the day I find time for myself. I am fortunate that they still nap for a few hours, so I have a cup of tea, diffuse some essential oil, and do nothing for at least a half an hour before attacking the sink of dishes and dinner prep.
With these simple structures in place, it’s now up to me to keep an eye out for some pitfall scenarios that will surely lead me into a mind of anger with the only solution being yelling over and over, “No, stop!” or, “You aren’t listening!” or, “Why don’t you listen?” When these scenarios start, I know it’s time to keep a look out for the yells:
When I repeat myself 5,000 times.
When they touch the air conditioner repeatedly, crawl under tables in public spaces, eat crayons and put things in their mouth at the park, over and over and over, it gets pretty frustrating. Are you kidding me? Am I still talking? Here I come, up against the eternal battle of boundaries and the frustration of not knowing when they should just “get it” and questioning my own parenting skills because of their behavior.
I tell myself their main motivation at this point is the drive to learn and understand the world and find boundaries along the way. I try to use the understanding of myself as their teacher and coach to keep myself grounded when I have repeated myself 5,000 times. It helps me to remember that they are not trying to make me angry, their motivation is relatively pure at this point. Basically everything they do is in an effort to learn.
When it comes to brokering boundaries and my sanity in order to combat yelling, I try to remove the object (if I can) that is causing me to repeat myself 5,000 times. For example, I lean a cardboard cover over the air conditioner when they won’t stop trying to press the buttons. Out of sight, out of mind! If there are particular toys they mistreat I take these away and then try to introduce them again a few days later, checking any progress and seeing if they are “getting” the boundary. I don’t know if it helps them or not, but it helps keep me sane!
When they don’t understand danger
I get particularly enraged when we are in a situation like in a parking lot, or near the street and they do not cooperate. I am on edge by virtue of proximity to danger. I feel they should just automatically know that it is dangerous and they should cooperate. When they don’t seem to understand the danger at hand it makes me angry. It is based on a fear of them getting hurt of course, which is a very useful quality, however the anger that fills me in this situations doesn’t provide me with anything useful other than yelling at them, “Why don’t you know this is dangerous!?” Because you are a toddler!
In an effort to combat yelling in order to create safe circumstances I remind myself that I am the adult with many years of experience at regulating my emotions. I am the one responsible for controlling my feelings and behavior so they can learn their emotional regulation from me. How can I teach them about safety if I am enraged? When I can, I just grab them and move them to safety and then deal with them when safety is imminent. Refraining from yelling is useful because when situations arise where screaming is the ONLY solution at hand, ie. when a ball goes into the road and they are determined to run after it with me a hundred steps behind, a belting scream can work wonders. I want to reserve the screams for the most crucial moments.
When I expect to accomplish a task in a manner convenient to me.
Here is where my anger emerges as a matter of their toddler-ness representing an inconvenience to me as an adult: I like being on time for things, I like to do the laundry without chasing my kids around the dark creepy basement, I like cooking dinner without my children trying to take apart my oven.
In situations where I am trying to accomplish a task with a timeline or with efficiency when I have my kids with me, I simply expect the worst. I expect that they are going to act amuck and not do anything the way that would be easy or convenient for me. When it happens I can respond with a degree of levity, rather than being “caught off guard” by their behavior. I know that if we are going to the car, they are going to take a lot of time walking down the steps, they are going to want to lick the railing and play with all of the things on the ground. I may have to pick them up and carry them kicking and screaming to the car. Ok, here we go. That’s how it is now, for now, just expecting them to be crazy people.
I try to anticipate how they can help me, or how I can augment the task to make it less annoying. For example, on most days I give up on trying to get the boys in the car individually. I open the rear door of our hatchback, put them inside, close the door, and let them climb into their car seats. It still takes a while, but at least they are captive and I don’t have to worry about their safety. When doing laundry I give them a job that forces them to want to stay near me instead of running all over the basement (I am totally creeped out by my basement); one of them gets to pour the detergent in, the other gets to press start, etc. I try to zero in on my source of anger for the particular task and augment the task based on that.
As they border on three years old I am constantly questioning if they should be “over” impulsive type behaviors. I find when I want to control their behavior it is so I can feel good about myself as a parent. This is an external measure for what I think good parenting looks like. That external measure of a “perfectly” behaved child feels out of reach a lot of the time. Instead, I ask myself, are we learning? What do I think we are learning? Am my doing my best to teach them how to love and respect people and the world around them? That’s all I can do for now in order to get through the day and feel like I am creating a life I am proud to call my own. I am hoping the railing licking works itself out.
Melissa Ruopp is a mom to almost three year old twin boys. She is currently a stay at home mom who is interested in practicing meditation, exploring the role of arts in learning, and trying to see things from her childrens’ point of view. For more Twiniversity articles by Melissa, click here.