There I was, 10,000 feet in the air with a screaming 21-month-old strapped to my lap and nowhere to go. She arched her back and refused to be comforted as giant tears rolled down her face. The flight attended patently ignored us, but I heard her apologize to the surrounding passengers. As my shoulders heaved in silent sobs, I felt utterly helpless. In that moment, and in countless others since, I knew asking for specific things during my kid's tantrum would've made all the difference. The problem? I was too afraid to actually voice my needs.
My daughter's tantrum stage hit me like a ton of bricks. The first year of my daughter's life was relatively easy. She was adaptable and laid back, and our friends dubbed her a "trick baby" (the kind that makes other people want their own). So it was a complete shock to my system when, at 15 months, my sweet cherub started throwing herself to the ground, kicking her legs and pounding her tiny fists and demanding a spoon (no, not that one spoon she always uses but some other spoon that's exactly the same just in a different color because toddlers). It didn't help that this new phase coincided with my husband's year-long deployment, either.
After a year solo parenting, I finally feel like I know how to handle my child's particular brand of emotional fits. Still, it would have been a whole lot easier if I had asked for even one of the following:
It should come as no surprise that mama needs a time out, but it is especially true when dealing with a meltdown. I didn't need help every time, but every once in a while it would have been nice for someone else to step in and say, "I've got this. Go get a latte."
Creating a diversion is a great way to stop a tantrum in its tracks. If your kid is anything like mine, though, they won't be distracted by just any old thing. If it's mom doing the hard work, the run-of-the-mill distraction won't do. If it's grandma with a cookie in her hand, or a seat partner with pictures of her doggie on the phone, however, that's a whole different ballgame.
It's really distressing when your child won't accept comfort from you, the parent, but I honestly don't care if she takes it from Uncle Tiger Daddy just as long as she stops crying. Truth be told, both of us could use a few gentle pats and some reassuring words.
When my great-grandma saw a struggling mom out in public, she'd always go up to her, rub her shoulder, and say, "Hang in there." As a mom, it means a lot when my partner or even a stranger sees me in mission minimize meltdown mode and tells me, "You're a good mom and you're doing a great job."
As a mom, it can be hard to admit that you don't know what you're doing. But, I mean, I didn't go into sleep or potty training without reading and researching the best methods, so why should dealing with tantrums be any different? The answer is, it shouldn't. I guess I felt like asking for strategies to handle my child's behavior felt like a failure on my part.
Looking The Other Way
If you're not going to help me, then at least do me the favor of looking the other way. Your side-eye does not help my situation. Sometimes ignoring a tantrum is the better part of valor. In those cases, your attention only serves as fuel for the fire. I'll thank you to complete your chip card transaction and pretend there's not a tiny human ruining your Target experience.
Permission To Step Away
OK, I'm a grown-ass woman and I don't need permission to do anything. There is something reassuring about being told that it is OK to walk away, though. Stepping out of the room can make you feel like you're abandoning your kid or not doing your job, but you need to know that removing yourself from a situation is an option. Emotions run high during tantrums, and sometimes mom needs to take a few deep breaths behind a closed door so she can return to handle the situation calmly.
Dear sanctimonious society, please consider for a second that tantrums are a normal part of child development and we toddler moms are doing the best we can. In fact, we might even know what we're doing. Parenting is a tough gig, and a little patience and understanding go a long way.