We’ve all been there. That moment when a look comes across your child’s face and you realize a meltdown is coming. For a child, whatever has just occurred feels like the end of the world and for a parent, at best, it’s a straight shot of embarrassment.
For me, meltdowns were something I dreaded long before my baby was even born. I heard horror stories of children throwing themselves to the ground at the supermarket. Or screaming at the top of their lungs in a restaurant. Every story made my blood run cold. How in the world would I deal with that?
I should take this opportunity to share that I am a bit of a control freak. Not in a socially-impaired way, but definitely in an “I Make All The Plans Then Make Alternate Agendas For Every Possible Thing That Could Go Wrong” kind of way. I could write an entire book on how a baby shook my world, but that isn’t what this article is ultimately about.
As my daughter grew from a tiny little baby into a young toddler her desire to explore the physical world expanded, as well as her discovery of more complex emotions.
Gone were the days where I could hand her a Wuba to soothe a little fussiness at mommy telling her ‘no.’ This was replaced by her asking ‘why?’ Nine times out of ten, my answer confused her and left me feeling just as frustrated with the results.
I found myself in a constant battle with my little girl. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t put her mouth on the shopping cart, why she couldn’t put stickers on the pages of her books, or why she couldn’t take her green beans out of the bowl to count them on the table. At 20 months, I felt as though the “terrible twos” had already crept in. I thought behavioral problems were my new normal. Mamas, I struggled.
Then, one day, my daughter was sitting on the sidewalk blocking the entrance to a store, tears streaming down her face because I had told her we couldn’t touch the decorative wreath the store had placed outside. She looked up at me with all the innocence of a child and said “sit mommy, sit.” It was in that moment, looking at her tear-stained little face, that I realized I had it all wrong.
All she wanted was to explore something different and to have mommy with her.
My daughter didn’t have behavioral issues, I realized. I was the one who had gotten into this knee-jerk reaction of saying no. I said no to everything. I said no because her actions were something unplanned, or something I didn’t want to take the time to do. When that meltdowns inevitably came, and people judged me for having a screaming child, I was too focused on trying to get her to stop crying that I wouldn’t actually hear what she was saying to me.
Sure, it’s gross to put your mouth on a shopping cart, but that’s why they offer sanitizer next to them and why we have immune systems. Yes, putting a sticker on a book inevitably leads to trying to remove the sticker and possibly ripping the page, but these aren’t priceless artifacts. Yes, putting green beans on the table leads to a mess that mommy will ultimately have to clean up, but you’re counting and learning and that calls for a celebration!
I kneeled down next to her on the sidewalk, annoyed shoppers stepping past us, and asked “Do you really want to touch that wreath?” “YES!”
So, holding my hand, she touched the multi-colored sticks that made up the wreath and then happily moved on. That was it. Had I just let her have that sensory experience for one minute, there wouldn’t have been that meltdown and in her mind, she would have had a new adventure.
I remind myself of that moment all the time. Every time I am about to blurt out “no, ” I ask myself: Is this safe? Is this something that really is fine to do? If the answer is yes, then we do it! Sure, it slows us down sometimes, and every once and a while a meltdown still occurs (sorry kid, you still have to hold my hand in the parking lot) but, hey! They happen far less frequently now, and, honestly, we have a hell of a lot more fun.
So, when you find yourself in the ‘no’ cycle, dig deep for a second and ask yourself why. You may find, like me, that the answer is hollow. With a small thought-shift, you’ll enjoy your time with your child a lot more.