Parenting a toddler is not for the faint of heart. Whether it's your precious 1-year-old who doesn't have the words to communicate, your terrible 2-year-old who is testing their boundaries or a terrorist, or your 3-year-old who's impossible to manage; you have your work cut out for you. It's even more difficult when these tantrums happen in public. The rude comments seem to outweigh the knowing glances. Ever wonder what your toddler is thinking during a public tantrum? I have your translation guide right here.
Sometimes, the cause of a tantrum is simpler that you think. A wise mom once taught me the acronym H.A.L.T., which stands for "hungry, angry, lonely, and tired." Nine times out of ten, I've come to realize that one of these things is causing my precious children to have some not so precious moments. The other one time out of ten, it's a mystery. Let's face it. Kids are weird.
There may even come a point when you can prevent these tantrums from happening in the first place. That's the dream, you guys. You'll find yourself sitting in the parking lot, in awe that you just took your children shopping and everyone is happy and in one piece. *high five* Other days, you'll let them fall asleep in the car and stop at the drive thru for a latte on the way home, because there's no way you're waking your hellion up and there's no way you're going to survive the rest of the day without your fourth cup of coffee.
In the meantime, use this handy translation guide for your toddler's tantrums. Just remember: never negotiate with terrorists. I mean toddlers.
"Listen To Me!"
What They Are Thinking: "Being a toddler is hard. No one listens to me, and I can't get them to do things my way or give me what I need."
Parenting Strategy: On of the first rules of negotiation is active listening. This doesn't mean giving in, but you should definitely listen to their concerns, attempt to understand, and validate their emotions. Everyone will do better if communication is achieved.
"If You Don't Listen I Will Scream Louder"
What They Are Thinking: "She just doesn't get it. I'm going to to scream louder."
Parenting Strategy: Adults do this, too. If someone asks, "What?" we almost always respond by speaking louder. I use the above-mentioned validation strategy, but add the phrase, "I can't understand you when you talk like that. Please try to stay calm and tell me what you need." Whatever you do, don't lose it. Try to stay calm, and they will almost always match your tone.
"This Worked Last Time"
What They Are Thinking: "But, this worked last time! I am so confused, why aren't they buying me candy, a toy, or a drink?"
Parenting Strategy: Try not to give in. It's so hard, but giving in to demands now will change your child's expectations, and make things harder next time. If it's possible, just leave, or try to get out of the store as soon as possible.
"I'm So Tired"
What They Are Thinking: "I am so tired, I can't function. Ugh. Why can't toddlers drink coffee? It's so unfair. I think I might just yell."
Parenting Strategy: Try to avoid this one if you can. Plan shopping trips for times when your kids are well-rested and happy. It will make everything calmer. (Because, you probably shouldn't give your toddler coffee quite yet.)
"I'm So Hungry I'm Actually Angry"
What They Are Thinking: "Me, mad. Me smash things."
Parenting Strategy: Have empathy. Being hungry makes all of us irrationally angry. Always. Bring. Snacks. If you forget to bring a backup treat, validate their emotions and get something they can have on the car ride home.
"Now I'm Going To Jump Out Of The Cart"
What They Are Thinking: "Then she will have to listen and, as an added bonus, I can touch everything in the store with my sticky fingers, or maybe even run away."
Parenting Strategy: If they are available, use the seat belt. Never use the kiddie cart that looks like a race car or rocket ship. In my experience they're not easy to steer and it is easy for your kids to Houdini out of. See also: tiny shopping carts. Not today, Satan.
"There's No Way She'll Leave A Cart Full Of Groceries Here"
What They Are Thinking: "No matter how horrible I am, mommy will never follow through on her threat to leave the store."
Parenting Strategy: Sometimes, leaving the store and trying again later is the right choice. At least after you pay for a bottle of wine.
"Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!"
What They Are Thinking: "Pay attention to me! Pay attention to me! Pay attention to me!"
Parenting Strategy: Sometimes, it seems like kids are simply annoying you out of spite. Maybe they are, but other times, they are trying to get your attention to tell you something important. Pause and listen, because the last thing you want is a potty accident or vomit episode in aisle three.
"Pick Me Up. No, Wait. Yeah, I Want To Walk."
What They Are Thinking: "I want to be carried. I am tired, and I want some snuggles, but I also want to do things for myself, and I also want to touch that shiny thing on the bottom shelf. No wait, I take that back, I want to be carried."
Parenting Strategy: Decide how many times you want to play this game and if you want to chase your toddler around the store. Set boundaries. Try, "If I pick you up, I'm not putting you down."
"I'm Going To Go Limp Now"
What They Are Thinking: "I can double or triple my weight if I go limp. Then, mommy will definitely put me down. Next, I am going to pretend I am an octopus."
Parenting Strategy: Toddlers can seem like a 50 pound sack of potatoes, an angry cat or an octopus on speed. They defy physics. With luck, previous tantrum strategies will work until you try to get them in their carseat. Good luck with that.