Tales from the Toddler Side: Tantrums

We have had a rough Spring as parents. Daddy Bruss and I have parented three children already; we’re thinking we have this parenting thing figured out…and along came Otter.  She is growing us again – literally since her Birth-Day we have had to be willing to learn other ways, because very little of what worked with our other children is working with her.

Her huge tantrums this Spring all started with a transition in our home.  We switched around the use of some rooms in our home, and she got her own room.  She was totally unsettled and she could not understand how she had her own room, and was still welcome in our room (we co-sleep). Moving her clothes out of our closet and into hers, and her toy box from our room to her room; those were especially challenging.

While transitioning, the hallways and the normally empty spaces are stacked high with boxes.  This was totally foreign to Otter – she is the type of kiddos that likes her structure.  This was a total mess within the walls of her safe place.

On top of that, there was a weekend when I was gone most of the day for a training workshop.  And if that wasn’t enough, her Daddy flew out and was gone for four days, one of which overlapped with the time I was gone.

Cue meltdown.  And another one. And another one after that.  At the height of tantrum season, she was having 2-4 meltdowns a day. We had a good six week stretch where we had some pretty long and interesting days.  “Struggle” is an understatement.  I felt like the worst mom in the world.  Almost everyday, I wondered how I going to keep it together when 25 pounds of toddler was breaking me down at every turn – nothing I did, or didn’t do, seemed to abate the tears and the tantrums.

It was pretty brutal.  She was hurting herself, and lashing out at me with pinching fingers and hitting hands.  The depth of our emotions surprised me.  I knew I loved my child, and then again, I felt such resentment for the places we were going emotionally.

I have worked so hard to find my Peaceful Mama and keep Crazy Mama at bay. It was **really** hard to take those deep breaths on the days when Crazy Toddler showed up instead of my sweet baby girl.

I struggled between giving in to her demands to stop the self-harm, and shutting myself down because I could not handle it anymore.  Truth be told, it was hard on all of us. There were days when the other Sweet Pea kids acted out because they saw that meltdowns got my attention and were a priority. It was akin to that metaphor of putting out fires and never getting ahead.

There was one particular moment that stands out in that whole stretch of time.  A little frame: at the same time that we are going through all this emotion as a family, I am also doing some work on identifying archetypal voices for a class I am taking. Out of the blue,during one of the interactions with Otter when she is hitting me, this message comes through to me loud and clear, “When you hit me, I feel like you don’t love me.”

BAM. Lightening moment. I fell to the floor in tears, realizing that my reaction to her hitting is coming from a deep place of feeling rejected and unloved as a child.

For the record, I was a child in an era when spanking was the accepted form of discipline, and I wasn’t abused.  It simply was the mainstream way to do things, and in all other ways I knew I was loved.  We always had a caring home environment, food, clothing, and lots of affection otherwise.

Recognizing what was being triggered inside of me as Otter was hitting me was a turning point. In my Adult, I can reason with the Child statement and write a new story: “My parents love me, they did the best with what they knew.  My child loves me, she is acting out of a place of feeling powerless-fear-hurt-anxiety-insert feeling here.”  Knowing and being able to inner-dialogue worked really well to shut down Crazy Mama when the hitting started, and bring in Peaceful Mama right from the start.

We are on the other side of this rough patch now, and that is such a relief.  We survived because first of all, Daddy Bruss came through in a big way and acted as the fire extinguisher when things got out of hand.  No matter the time of day, he would pop out of his home office and help bring the volume level down. We were also a united front – we both gave Otter the message that self-harm was not acceptable, and that we loved her too much to let her hurt herself.

I also got a much needed “day off” to reflect on what was happening, why it was happening, and what I could do as the mother, the nurturer, to help get our family through this season of tantrums.  Here are some of the things that came into focus that day:

  1. I took the time to think about each child’s love language, and wrote down ideas on how I could meet fill their love tank on a daily basis.
  2. I took to heart Dr. Laura’s advice that we are our child’s “North Star”.  When you have four children, finding time to interact with each one intentionally takes, well, intention. So I created a system to keep track of whose turn it is to get ‘private time” with Mommy and Daddy.  Then, actually using the system – that has been *huge*.
  3. I wrote down what I expected from myself as the mother, where I was conflicted, and some steps to bridge the gaps between wanting to be a guide for our children, and actually being the guide I know I can be for them.
  4. I committed to bringing back (for myself) more of the structure that I crave. If I start the day on my schedule, then I feel on top of my game, which in turn affects how I feel about my abilities, positively impacts my emotions, etc., and that facilitates a day with Peaceful Mama at the helm.
  5. I decided that we were only going to work together in our homeschool for 25 minute stretches at a time.  This gave all of us a break from each other, and we also found that there was more fun in each day.  It has worked so well, that this is going to be the standard for our homeschool days going forward.

The good news is that we are all still in one piece, and things are much better “for now”.  Here are some resources that helped me focus on what Otter needed from me as she was struggling through all the emotions she was feeling:

Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Laura Markham


Quote from Charlotte Mason
“Every day, children need something to love, something to do, and something to think about.”

How about you? Which ideas or words of wisdom have helped you survive a toddler tantrum?