Tantrums, frustrating as they are, are undeniably part and parcel of toddlerhood. We've all been there. We've seen the wailing child protesting the confines of the shopping cart. We've continued to cook dinner as the baby screams at our feet to be picked up. We've suffered the fury of a tiny demon whose goldfish cracker supply has run out. While there are many acceptable and effective ways to deal with your child's meltdown, there's a lot to be learned from how mindful parents respond to toddler tantrums.
I began my mindfulness practice at the beginning of the year, when my daughter was 7-months-old. It was something I did for myself, as a way to combat my anxiety. However, I quickly realized how helpful it was as a parenting philosophy, too. I loved that it wasn't so much about tranquility (yes, that's the goal but it's not a prerequisite, which is a good thing for moms of wee ones). Mindfulness is about paying attention. I first used it when my daughter had night-wakings. I found that when I breathed deeply, tuned into my surroundings, and focused on the feel of her skin under my hands, I was less agitated. My baby seemed to absorb my calm through osmosis, too, which was nothing short of helpful.
Now that I have a toddler on my hands, I'm using mindful parenting to manage meltdowns. I remind myself that it's about responding instead of reacting. I'm the first to admit I'm not always successful. Sometimes I ignore the tantrum so as not to reinforce that behavior. Other times, I have to walk away for everyone's well-being. I think as long as you don't give in to what your toddler is whining for, you're good to go. What I've found, however, is that using mindfulness to address tantrums, more than any other strategy, makes me feel better about myself as a mom.
Mindful parents remember the importance of compassion. Sometimes your child throws a tantrum because they need comfort and attention. I realized that my daughter was throwing more fits the week she started pre-school. She just needed the reassurance of my physical presence, so I hugged her until she calmed down.
In the midst of a meltdown, mindful parents take five deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. I have found that when I bring awareness to my breath, my daughter's breathing starts to match mine. I'm also teaching her a skill for settling herself down, and that's a skill she can use anywhere at any time.
Mantras are words and phrases that are repeated during meditation and, usually, they are some kind of affirmation. Mindful parents may (read: probably) have a mantra for themselves.
Personally, I love Sarah Rudell Beach's, "The house will soon be quiet." The phrases you say in your crying child's ear may sound something like this, "I'm right here. I know you're upset. Mommy will stay with you until you feel better."
When you practice mindfulness, you learn to look at your emotions sans judgment, and you can extend that kindness to your children. Remember that your child may be angry, frustrated, or sad at this time, but those emotions don't define them as a person. In your response, look for the beloved child behind the tantrum.
Many mindfulness practices involve immersing oneself in nature. You might take a walk, carefully noticing what's around you. Often, an upset child will respond well to a change of scenery. So scoop up your sweetie, take them outside, talk about what you see, and break the cycle of the tantrum.
When your nerves are fried from your child's tantrum, it can be easy to lose your sh*t. Take a mindful pause, and prepare to respond to your child's behavior. Show empathy, but calmly explain why they can't have what they're throwing a fit for. This might sound like, I know it's hard when you can't have what you want, but we're not buying candy today.
True, the last place you probably want to be during a tantrum is in the present. Accept that this is where you and your child are, and deal lovingly with what's in front of you. The best part of using mindfulness to diffuse a tantrum? The fit will likely be short-lived, and you'll have your sweet lamb back in no time.