Every once in a while, I have a moment where I sit back, pat myself on the back, and go “Man, I did good!” Often, that moment is a brief flicker before the next parenting challenge, but I relish it while it lasts.
Side note: I fully give each and every one of you permission to enjoy those moments, and to brag about them as much as you want. Call it the mom-guilt antidote.
When the “terrible two” tantrums started, my friend reminded me that toddlers have Big Feelings, and that’s why they’re throwing a temper tantrum.
Authors Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson express a similar idea in their book The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind.
I’ve just started reading the book, but already I appreciate the premise that our job as parents is to help our children integrate their logical and emotional minds in order to develop as balanced individuals.
I have been carrying with me and trying to draw upon this premise whenever possible.
Maybe it was this premise that prompted me to start asking, whenever my son started screaming and crying and carrying on, the same simple question, “Do you have Big Feelings?”
Just like that. The same question. Each and every time he threw a tantrum. It was part lighthearted joke to remind my husband and I that “this too shall pass.” It was part serious question to honor his feelings.
In his adorable, heart-wrenching toddler way, he’d sniffle and reply in a half-cry, “Yes.”
The follow-up questions is also always the same: “Do you need a hug?”
Sniffle, cry, “Yes.”
So, rather than scolding (although let’s be real, sometimes that comes once he’s calmed down), the response to the tantrum always begins with a hug, and a chance to (as Mr. Rogers taught) honor his feelings.
Apparently, I’ve also been teaching him to understand his feelings, because the other day, just as he was about to launch into a full-on tantrum about something, he instead looked at me, poised on the edge, and told me, “I have big feelings!”
It took me completely by surprise. “Oh, ok. Do you need a hug?”
And just like that, we avoided a tantrum. And just like that, my son taught me that even a two year old can have some small understanding of his own feelings.
Will it work every time? Heck no. But when it does, we all enjoy that brief moment when we have a happy kid and a quiet house!
Image courtesy of J. Leigh Photography