My daughter Emma is not quite 20 months old, yet I already find myself in the throes of the “terrible twos.”
Tantrums are a daily occurrence—often in the privacy of our home, but also in public.
She yells and cries over having to wear socks with her shoes and which cup I use for her milk. Sometimes she throws herself in the corner and bangs on the floor, screaming.
I often joke that she will be an actress when she grows up, given her dramatics.
Lately, I say it as less of a joke and more of a prediction.
It’s a frustrating time for both of us. What helps me is remembering that this time is much harder for Emma than it is for me.
Emma lives in a world where she is discovering her independence, but faces many restrictions. She wants cookies; I feed her grape tomatoes. She yearns to play with a toy; I take it away because we have to get into the car to do errands. She wants to “help” me in the market by putting everything into the cart, but I won’t let her hold the eggs.
The reasons for my behavior are obvious to me, but not to her.
Emma is dragged to play dates with strange kids and told when to eat and when to sleep. She can’t pick out her own clothes. She is able to communicate, but I don’t always know what she is saying. Even when she tells me what she wants and I fully understand, often I can’t allow it for safety reasons.
This is usually how a tantrum starts.
I don’t like to complain about this stage, because Emma is a healthy, beautiful and friendly child. I am told that her behavior is normal and age appropriate. Yet, I find it exhausting. Sometimes it takes me an hour to get out of the house to attend a 30-minute story-time because she won’t put on her coat.
During these difficult moments, I strive to cultivate a deep compassion for my daughter.
She asks for water, but I give her milk. She wants her Elmo doll, but we can’t find it. She doesn’t quite understand sharing, yet, but she has to let other kids use her toys when they visit. These are all valid reasons for her behavior and her emotions quickly spiral out of control.
I know that the tantrums are temporary and eventually Emma will outgrow them. Yet, there are many days when I find myself wondering how many more meltdowns will happen before bedtime.
Cultivating compassion is difficult; to do it in the midst of a toddler tantrum is extremely difficult. Yet, I feel this is how I can best help Emma. Some might say that I spoil and indulge her. Perhaps I do, but for me, it’s the only way I can calmly handle her tantrums.
So, this is how you will find me many days: sitting on the kitchen floor with a snotty Emma screaming on my lap. I hold her and whisper into her little ear: “I hear you. I support you. I understand you.”
Aren’t these the words that we all want to hear? I need her to know that I am on her side. I hope it makes her feel less alone in this big, busy adult world.
As with most of motherhood, there is a lesson in these experiences for me, too, which I am grateful for.
Practicing compassion on a daily basis makes me more equipped to do so in other areas of my life. On the days when I lose my temper with Emma, she reminds me to practice self-compassion as a mother. I tell myself that I simply do the best that I can. This is enough.
Emma hears everything I say and sees everything I do. If I want her to grow up to be a kind and compassionate woman, I have to model the behavior for her. So, this is how I start, by practicing empathy in challenging situations. Cultivating compassion mid-tantrum allows me to be present for her while I teach her kindness.
The terrible twos are not an easy time for anyone, but these situations present a way for parents to practice empathy toward their children and help to build a kinder world.
If we want to live in a more compassionate society, we can start by cultivating compassion in our homes, to those we love.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Becky Tountas
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Author’s Own