As a proud feminist, I make it a point in my life to let my children know that they're heard, that their feelings are important and that what they have to say is important, too. However, as a parent, I do find it somewhat difficult to maintain that mindset when my toddler is pitching a monumental fit because he's mad at his shoe. Still, as difficult as it can be, I continue to try. Why? Because feminists handle toddler tantrums differently, even when it's difficult, because we know that our kids are paying close attention to our behavior, too.
The list of reasons why my toddler has a meltdown is a long one. It could be something serious, like a new move that has him stressed, or something so minuscule I think I just might lose my mind, like the color of his cup refusing to change from blue to red. That's just life with toddler. They're learning how to handle their own emotions just like we're learning how to help them handle their own emotions. Sure, these tantrums annoy you and have this unique ability to test your feminist values (for example, preaching body autonomy when your kid wants to just wear underwear to the grocery store) but it will be those same tested values that get you through public tantrums and private tantrums and the tantrums that having you eyeing your front door and/or the nearest escape route.
A feminist mother understands that fleeting moments of emotional outbursts happen, and that how we choose to respond to them, even at our most frustrated, can be the ultimate learning experience. We understand that our kids are still learning, and that it's our job to teach them what is and is not an acceptable way to express emotions, while simultaneously refusing to police those emotions in a way that can be harmful or neglectful. Basically, feminist mothers just handle tantrums differently in a way that's as healthy for both parties as possible.
We Don't Yell
When our kids get upset, yelling at them isn't going to deter their outburst. Yelling at a child when they're already emotional is going to do more harm than good. Think about it, when has someone yelling at you ever made you feel any better about something? Never, right? So, why would yelling at a child, who probably doesn't understand why you're yelling in the first place, somehow soothe them? It won't. Also, when our kids see us yelling as a way to express ourselves, they're going to think that yelling is a suitable means to express their own emotions. It's not.
Will we, sometimes, fail and raise our voices? You freakin' bet. We're human beings, after all, but a feminist mother makes it a point to either leave the room or remove herself from the situation (if she can) before yelling. And honestly, after having, probably, defended feminism and gender equality against internet trolls, you'll be well equipped to deal with a tantrum or seven.
We Try To Figure Out The Root Of The Tantrum
Kids throw fits for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it's because they're bored or tired; Sometimes it's because they're not getting enough attention; Sometimes it's just because we make them put on pants and they hate pants. If we're able to figure out exactly what triggered their meltdown, we might be better able to avoid those situations or, at the very least, find alternative methods for our children to express their frustrations. We need to pay close attention to the reasons behind these meltdowns, because sometimes they might mean something more than just being tired or upset.
Our kids are always trying to tell us something when they throw a tantrum. It might be something as simple as them being upset that they can't live on the playground, or it might mean something more, like feeling neglected or scared. My sons are 15 months apart. My older son is almost three, and is able to articulate himself quite well. My younger son is around the 18 month mark and is still babbling mostly, but when he learns a new word, he goes crazy with it, repeating it over and over and over.
When he does this, my husband and I laugh because it's adorable, but our older son is paying close attention to the things that make us laugh. Sometimes he reverts to a child-like state of repeating the same word over and over again, too, when he sees that it gets his brother more attention. When he does this, I know that he's feeling neglected, and that he wants us to pay attention to him, too. He may not know how to tell us how he feels yet, but he definitely knows how to show us.
We Remain Calm
Losing our cool when our kids have meltdowns accomplishes nothing. If anything, it adds fuel to the fire, and will probably just make them more upset. Also, our kids are like sponges. They're absorbing everything we say and do, so when they see us lose our cool, they're going to think that's an acceptable way to express themselves. However, if they see us calm, they might realize that they can be calm too, and that acting that way will garner them a more friendly reaction. Our kids will mirror our behavior, so we need to conduct ourselves in a way we'd be okay with them replicating.
Simultaneously, we don't want to scare our children by acting irrationally and in a response to their emotions. Sadly, that reaction will teach them that having feelings is "bad" or "scary," and it's something they will remember. Instead of feeling like they can express themselves, even irrationally, they will bottle those expressions inside so they won't be put in a position that makes them afraid.
We Don't Feel Judged By People Who Are Witnessing The Tantrum
Public meltdowns are the worst. They can make even the most mellow person shoot steam out of their ears, and they definitely have the potential to be embarrassing, but we can't let that alter the way we choose to handle them. Feminist mothers understand that public meltdowns are going to happen sometimes, and they don't feel pressured by strangers to wrangle their kids emotions into submission so that they can appear a certain way or project a certain (unrealistic) picture of motherhood. They treat a public meltdown with the same patience and understanding as they treat them with at home.
We Don't Make Our Children Feel Like They're Bad
Yes, kids need discipline, but scolding a child for having feelings, that are probably beyond their control, is the wrong direction to go when it comes to handling a tantrum. Feminist mothers teach their children that it's not OK, but necessary to express emotions.
When The Time Is Right, We Talk About It
Even if a child is too young to be able to articulate themselves well, they're still listening and absorbing the things we say and how we say them. Once my oldest son calms down, I do my best to let him know that it's OK to be upset, but that hitting his brother or throwing things definitely isn't okay. Our kids need to understand that we love them and that we're listening to them. They need to know that just because they did something that's "bad," that doesn't mean that they're bad.
Tantrums suck, yes, but handling them doesn't have to be.