During the “terrible twos,” every parent has a moment that they think they will crack—not knowing exactly what this will look like because, thankfully, most of us never actually go there.
We teeter on the edge of the cliff, more often than not, finding coping mechanisms that helps to get us through the day.
Ava was two and a half and I was having one of those days. The day where you seriously consider permanently changing bedtime to 3:30 in the afternoon, permanently, effective immediately.
The day where after giving your child melatonin in order to begin enforcement of the new 3:30 bedtime, your mind begins to ponder all the many, many happy hour options because it is, after all, five o’clock somewhere.
Yes, Ava and I were having one of those days.
We were in the kitchen. She just had her green smoothie afternoon snack and she wanted…Hmmmmm, well, I’m not sure what she wanted, because instead of big girl words, tears began to flow. The tears escalated at lightening speed to a full-blown tantrum in the blink of an eye.
Before I even knew what had happened, Ava had tossed herself to the ground and was kicking and screaming in addition to the high-pitched wails of a child genuinely in life or death need of, something…If only I knew what.
I calmly expressed to my writhing child that as soon as she could share with her big girl words exactly what she needed, I would be more than happy to help. Then I stepped over her flailing little body and calmly walked to the next room.
The screaming seemed never-ending. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, the screaming stopped. I waited. Eventually I saw her tiny face peek around the corner. She must not have seen me look. Next thing I knew, she walked around the corner, promptly re-positioned herself in the hallway where I could see her, tossed herself to the ground and continued her tantrum where she was again in plain sight.
I got up, stepped over her and, don’t judge, got the melatonin.
While she slept, I brainstormed how I could end this daily torture. I knew the real reason for a tantrum, any tantrum or drama, from a child or adult, is wanting attention, not feeling seen, heard or loved. I knew that really all she wanted was love and attention. I knew that she would shed one tear and if I didn’t catch that tear in time, it would start a terrible twos avalanche in an instant rendering my child too upset to express herself and me just beside myself, convinced I was a terrible mother and pondering the 2nd mortgage I would have to take out on my house to pay for her teen-aged therapy bills. This had to end.
As a first time mother, I’d read every parenting book imaginable. I knew all the tactics, read all the suggestions, tips and tricks, but my child is special. Brilliant and strong-willed only begin to describe my little girl.
The first time I ever put Ava in timeout I told her she needed to sit quietly to think about her consequences. “Consequences” then became one of Ava’s favorite words. I would say “Timeout.” point to the timeout chair and, at two, Ava would say “I’m going to go think about my consequences now.”
Remembering back to how well that worked,I decided trying to outsmart such a bright child was pointless and I should maybe try keeping it simple, logical and easy for us both.
When Ava woke up we sat down to have a “Big Girl Talk.” I told her I knew it was hard to find her words when she was upset and I told her it was hard for me to talk to her to find out what she needed when she is crying. She understood. I asked her if instead of going to that inconsolable place, we could try sitting together and calmly talking. I told her the code for needing to do that would be “Mommy, may I have attention, please?”
It was like magic. There ended the terrible twos and began the “Mommy, may I have attention, please?” phase which continues to this day. Ava is now eight and a half.
Fast forward to the biggest event of the Elementary School Year, the First Grade Valentine’s Day Dance of 2015. My children go to a public school that has uniforms which, needless to say, will not suffice as Valentine’s Day Dance Attire.
Ava comes in my room and asks me nothing short of 17 times if instead of her uniform she can wear her pink heart dress. I answer “It’s not a ‘No Uniform Day.'” calmly, 17 times.
Ava then asks an 18th time. She is now very angry and I am a millimeter away from losing my cool.
Instead of erupting into Volcano Mommy, I called Ava into my room and said “Ava, I am not feeling very seen, heard or loved right now.” (Yes, these are things we discuss daily.) to which Ava responded “Me either, Mommy.”
Then I added “May I have attention please, Ava?” HUH? I’d never done this before and she had no idea what to say. I could see the tiniest crack of a smile make its way to her face.
To which she responded, “Of course. Would you like a hug, Mommy?”
“Yes, please, baby.”
Ava then gave me a giant squeeze and instantly on release said “Now can I wear the pink dress?” to which I responded “Still no, but thank you for the hug.”
Ava instantly turned on her heels screaming at the top of her lungs “I can’t believe I EVER gave you attention!”
Although the final scene did not quite turn out as I had hoped, in my book anything that does not culminate in Sobbing Ava and Volcano Mommy having a screaming match for the neighbors to hear is an epic success.
My baby is growing fast and she is a brilliant, amazing, sassy Goddess-in-Training. I tried to memorize all the secrets, tips and tricks in the parenting books, but ultimately I learned that fostering safe and open communication with my children is the key to being seen, heard and loved in our household.
These aren’t just good parenting skills, they are good life skills. These aren’t just the things children want, they are the things human beings need to thrive. Think of all the problems we could solve in the world with open, honest, transparent and vulnerable communication and think of how much easier it would be to seamlessly transition into a new mindful way of living if our children learned to perfect this skill as they grow-up in their household.
I pray every single day that creating this solid foundation will serve us well in what I know will be the challenging teenage years—but just in case, where did I put that melatonin?
Author: Christie Del Vesco
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Author’s Own