Tantruming Toddlers

May 27, 2010

I felt like the cards were stacked against us today: I am sick, Calvin is cutting his canines and lately he has a propensity to meltdown and lose control.  Despite all of that, we ended up having a great, slow, lazy day. He is at such a great age; easy to care for and fun to interact with. He’s still a little bit of a baby but rapidly becoming a big boy. And with all of these life changes come a stage I had been anticipating with a bit of dread: Tantrums.

Indeed, he had quite a few tantrum-type episodes today – so many that I lost count (5? 6? more?). I have been surprised to discover that this experience is not that bad and not the big deal that I thought it would be. I try to recognize the tantrums for what they are: outbursts of emotion that are beyond his control. I try to remember that he is just a little guy in a big, frustrating world. I know that he will someday learn other ways to deal with his emotions, but in the meantime I need to let him vent his frustration.

I have found that the best way to deal with his tantrum is to sit nearby quietly and wait for it to subside. I don’t leave him while he has his moment; I can tell that he wants me there. I don’t touch him; he has made it quite clear he doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want me to say anything, either. So I just wait. It subsides after a minute or two, and then he usually has a smile on his face and he often runs over to hug me.

Code Name: Mama has written about tantrums lately and her thoughts are very similar to mine. In Riders on the Tantrum Storm, she says:

We do not believe in punishing tantrums. Children are learning how to navigate the world – oftentimes, their emotions overwhelm them. A child in the midst of a tantrum feels powerless and out of control. Punishing tantrums does not “teach” a child anything, other than the fact that they cannot trust their deepest feelings to their caregivers.

I try to remember how I feel when my emotions are out of control. I may be well beyond the toddler years but this is definitely something I still experience from time to time. When I am upset or venting to my husband it would certainly be counterproductive for him to leave the room or to yell at me or otherwise “punish” me. Often I just need to get it out and then to calm down. I don’t think that a toddler’s experience is too much different.

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It has been one of those days… Two failed nap attempts. A toddler who constantly wants to nurse.  The perpetual sounds of cranks and whines. There seemed to be nothing that would please him.

I kept it together pretty well, but late this afternoon I finally lost my patience. I missed the mark when it came to my job as a mother. It kills me to not be the epitome of the gentle, attached mother that I want to be (and that I usually am). But today (and really, all week) things have just been off track. He is extra whiny and needy, and my patience is stretched thin.

On days like this I could use more ideas for grounded, gentle and patient parenting. A few things that work for us so far…

What helps me set the tone:

  • A prayer to start the day, and intermediate prayers asking for God’s mercy throughout the day.
  • Beginning the day with a playful/joyous spirit.
  • Really focusing on him for the first hour of the morning (after my coffee is made, of course!)
  • Getting enough to sleep. Lately it’s been hard for me to go to bed on time.

What helps me try to get both of us back on track (or what helps me keep my sanity):

  • Taking the time to pay 100% attention to him for a while. Read books, play outside – whatever he wants is what we do.
  • On the flip side, letting him watch TV. Sometimes it is either this or I might jump ship.
  • If my husband is home, I am a big fan of letting them have one-on-one time. This is definitely a win-win for everyone.
  • Take a trip to the mall or Target. Take a walk. Water the plants together.

What are your ideas? If you have older kids, tell me: does your patience grow as time goes on? I sometimes wonder if I would be more patient if I had more perspective on just how young Calvin really is. I hope I don’t come off as sounding horribly impatient; my husband always tells me that he is amazed by my patience with Calvin. But when that patience cracks… boy, do I hate that.

This post is written for inclusion in the Carnival of Gentle Discipline hosted by Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries. All week, April 26-30, we will be featuring essays about non-punitive discipline. See the bottom of this post for more information.

My husband and I were both raised with a similar discipline style; a style that included spanking. We’ve always known that our parents loved us and wanted what was best for us. We thought that their methods seemed to work and were perhaps even what was best. We had good childhoods and though we can both recall instances where we were spanked, these aren’t disturbing memories and we harbor no resentment from the spankings. So we figured that we would parent in a similar way.

That was until I decided to question spanking and to look at other options. I don’t know if there was any one specific occurrence that pushed me firmly down the path of gentle discipline; instead it was a very slow process. Many pro-spankers firmly believe that spanking is the only way to ensure a well disciplined child and that didn’t sit well with me.  Some of these people seemed to equate “discipline” with children being seen and not heard. I read books such as Raising Cain and Unconditional Parenting that really challenged behaviorism and culturally accepted ways adults treat children. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I did not want to teach my child that “might makes right.”

Another aspect of this is that I am a Christian. As a Christian I believe that children are made in the image of God. As an Orthodox Christian I believe that babies/young children are icons of innocence. As such, I think that children are deserving of the same respect that we would show any other individual – no matter their age, their size or their mental capacity. It’s a very basic ideal that many of us believe in – but too often we do not extend it to children.

There are a lot of Christians who spank their kids, and they do so because they really, honestly believe it is the best thing to do – that it is what the Bible tells them to do. I disagree with them. I believe that spanking is totally inconsistent with the way that Jesus treated children and with the way that God treats his children. I don’t believe there is any grace in a “you did wrong, now I will hurt you as a punishment, then I will show you forgiveness.” If you want to research what the “spare the rod” Bible verses really mean, I would recommend Thy Rod and Thy Staff Comfort Me by Samuel Martin. A free copy of this book can be found here.

All that said, I want to be crystal clear that we bear absolutely no ill will towards our parents who spanked us. In some ways I feel audacious in saying that we are going to do things differently. I worry about challenges that I won’t be able to handle. I dread judgment and lack of support from those that disagree with us. But the more I think about it and the more I read about it, the more I’ve come to believe that gentle discipline is the only option for our family. I pray that my husband and I would demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit in all areas, parenting included: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.


Gentle Parent - art by Erika Hastings at http://mudspice.wordpress.com/Welcome to the Carnival of Gentle Discipline

Please join us all week, April 26-30, as we explore alternatives to punitive discipline. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the USA and April 30th is Spank Out Day USA. In honor of this we have collected a wonderful array of articles and essays about the negative effects of punitive discipline methods, like spanking, and a myriad of effective alternatives.

Are you a Gentle Parent? Put the Badge on your blog or website to spread the word that gentle love works!

Links will become available on the specified day of the Carnival.

Day 1 – What Is Gentle Discipline

Day 2 – False Expectations, Positive Intentions, and Choosing Joy (coming Tuesday, April 27)

Day 3 – Choosing Not To Spank (coming Wednesday, April 28)

Day 4 – Creating a “Yes” Environment (coming Thursday, April 29)

Day 5 – Terrific Toddlers; Tantrums and All (coming Friday, April 30)

On Lactivism

April 17, 2010

Lactivism is the advocacy of breastfeeding. I consider myself a lactivist which should come as no surprise since I am nursing a toddler. Lactivists come in all forms and I try to remain mindful that I want to be the nice, helpful, non-judgemental kind of lactivist. I am unconvinced that militant lactivism is of benefit to anyone.

I wanted to share a few great lactivist links that I recently came across:

Newborn Breast Crawl – This is a really cool video of newborn babies crawling – yes, crawling! – up to the breast. Breasts shown, so you may not want to watch this one at work. Watching this I was reminded that babies are born to be breastfed.

Why Seeing Breastfeeding is Important – I’ve always nursed in public, though I find myself cutting back just a bit now that Calvin is getting older. I do believe that breastfeeding anywhere and everywhere is an important step in normalizing breastfeeding. I think nursing in public paints nursing in a very positive light: a content baby and a mom who can be anywhere she pleases.

Take the Risk and See – Give Extended Breastfeeding a Try – There probably aren’t too many first-time moms who plan to be in an extended nursing relationship. My personal set-in-stone nursing goal was to nurse exclusively for six months and to continue to nurse until the first birthday. After I made that goal, I would evaluate and move on from there. That was seven months ago and I haven’t even thought about weaning. Why would I stop giving him the perfect food? Why would I give up the ability to comfort and soothe him at the breast? And of course there is one of my favorite side benefits – why would I want to lose my ability to consume a little extra junk food?

If Calvin doesn’t show some interest in weaning soon, then I think I may end up tandem nursing. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about it. But I feel that the downsides to tandem nursing don’t even compare to the downsides of forcing a milkaholic toddler off the breast. The average human weaning age is somewhere between two and five years old. While I probably will not pursue a 100% child-led weaning method, I will certainly continue to use gentle techniques that show respect both to Calvin and to the nursing relationship that we have established.

So-called discipline

March 4, 2010

“When a child hits a child, we call it aggression. When a child hits an adult, we call it hostility. When an adult hits an adult, we call it assault. When an adult hits a child, we call it discipline.”Haim G. Ginott

If this is something that I myself can’t reconcile, I don’t see how I could ever possibly expect a child to understand that spanking was acceptable and even beneficial as some say. All of my life I have been told that it’s unacceptable to hit someone to get what I want – but somehow it becomes ok once I am a parent? I just don’t think so.

5 Reasons to Comfort Nurse

February 13, 2010

1. Nursing comforts a baby. Do we really need to say more?

Apparently we do…

2. Nursing shows the baby that he can turn to his mother for comfort. He can connect with her when he needs that.

Nursing does not teach the baby to turn to food for comfort. Try offering a nursling a snack when he is in need of serious comfort – my own nursling would certainly push any food away.

3. The breast is the ultimate pacifier.

Most people would not have any problem with giving a child a pacifier when they were upset. If he’s not sucking on the breast, he will find something else to meet the need. Instead of a plastic baby soothing device – why not use the part God gave you?

4. Nursing takes the baby’s mind off of pain.

A nursing baby is a relaxed baby.

5. Nursing fosters a sense of security.

When he is attached to his mother, he knows that no harm can come to him.

Nursing isn’t just about imparting nutrition to the nursling. Connection and comfort and closeness are also important parts of a nursing relationship.

My son is 17 months old and while we don’t comfort nurse nearly as often as we once did, it is still an important element of our nursing relationship. As a toddler he gets his fair share of bumps and bruises and I can quickly comfort him when it becomes clear that he needs something more than a hug. When he is tired or overstimulated I can rejuvenate him with a quick nursing session. When he is bored and I need him to sit quietly for awhile, nursing is the go-to solution.

Thank you God, for creating such a wonderful way for me to connect with my son. I really cannot imagine what I would do without this handy solution for most any problem.

The Cult of Crunchy

February 8, 2010

I was so thrilled last week when my post on SIDS was featured on one of my very favorite blogs, Peaceful Parenting. I’m really trying to get in the writing habit and being able to share something that I wrote has helped keep me motivated.

However, as I was waiting for my piece to post on the blog, I was consumed by a strange fear… Am I crunchy enough? What about the times when I have been far from the model AP model? What if someone found out that I was a fraud? Surely the PP readers were far crunchier than I was, and who was I to tell them anything?

I had to tell myself to get a grip. Yeah, I rarely co-sleep these days. I eat too much junk food. Sometimes I let Calvin watch cartoons in the very early morning while I lay passed out on the bed. I don’t babywear nearly as much as I did six months ago (did I mention that Calvin is closing in on 30 lbs?). These are just some of my sins. Do they negate my AP/crunchy status?

While I love AP philosophy, I think that one problem APers tend to face is that of groupthink. We become so focused on accepted methods that we tend to forget the underlying philosophy. There are those who will overthink the use of strollers. There are those who will act like co-sleeping is the only right way to sleep regardless of circumstances. There are some who will look down upon you for night weaning. These are just a few examples – there are certainly many more. We all have strong views and that truly is great, but we must be careful as we balance what is absolutely important (parenting our children in a respectful way, fostering an atmosphere of trust) with what are undeniably good things but may look different between individual families (co-sleeping, extended nursing) with what really is entirely preferential (unassisted birth, elimination communication). To quote one MDC poster: “I think there’s a lot of judgement about what is or isn’t AP, when in reality I think the main goal is to listen to our children while we try to make it through every day.”

I think that good AP philosophy should meet us where we are. AP isn’t a list of rules but is rather an attitude – an attitude that will slowly but surely permeate our family’s psyche. I’ve witnessed this transformation especially with my husband. (It started when he agreed to leave our son intact. It continued when he began to understand why I wanted a natural childbirth. And as of late he’s even become a bit of a lactivist!) We should never have to worry that we aren’t AP enough, as though parenting perfection is somehow within our grasp if we just use certain methods. We should be careful to not view natural living as a competition that we can somehow win; we’re all on this journey to varying degrees. 

The great thing about attachment parenting is that much of it is evidence-based. If we lose that and are instead AP just because it is the thing to be, then we have really lost the main justification of AP over other philosophies. If we start to succumb to this type of groupthink then all we’ve done is create another set of cultural norms that is based in certain methods rather than an all-encompassing philosophy.

So if I ever come across as crunchier-than-thou, then please accept my apologies. I assure you that I am not. Remember that some elements of AP / natural family living are a process and not an overnight goal. I’m still working on it and I hope you’ll join me.