Your children were put on this earth to love you, fulfill you, entertain you, care for you in your old age, and annoy the living daylights out of you. Especially your toddlers. It says it right there in their contract. And, while you might like to pretend that your toddler’s antics don’t really phase you, the truth is they can be really infuriating. At least, that’s how I feel anyway. But before you totally fly off the handle, there are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Remember that it’s normal to feel angry
Um, so normal. The most normal. The normalest. I mean, really, you’re living with someone who looks like a human being but hasn’t actually figured out how to be one yet. That’s really, really frustrating. Like, why won’t he just put on his coat? You need a coat if you want to go outside. He wants to go outside. Put on a coat! But no. We’ll talk about putting on a coat, but we’ll only put one arm into the wrong sleeve and run around for a while whining about wanting to go outside. Oh look, there’s a pine needle on the floor! Put on the freaking coat. Suddenly things that parents say on sitcoms make their way to our own lips. How many times do I have to tell you? Why can’t you just . . .? If I have to tell you one more time . . . And we feel so guilty for feeling this way. Because he’s just a toddler. We know, intellectually, that he’s just being a little kid. But, oh, it makes us so mad! Of course it does. We’re only human.
2. But remember that it’s not personal
It feels personal. It feels like the most personal thing on the whole entire planet. I mean, any other time in your life when you’ve just asked someone nicely not to pour juice all over the floor and they walk purposefully up to you with some juice, make eye contact, smile, and dump the juice on the floor, it’s personal. And here is your wonderful, sweet little kid treating you like garbage and ruining your carpets. And you’ve been nothing but nice to him!
But your toddler isn’t doing this stuff to frustrate you or get back at you, he’s doing it to test you, and there’s a difference. He only feels safe if the rules are the rules and the boundaries are really where you say they are. So if you tell him that if he spills juice on the floor you’re going to take away his juice, then he’s got to spill his juice on the floor. Just to make sure you’re really going to take away his juice. And he’s got to do it again, and again, and again to make sure you’ll always take it away. So, even though it’s frustrating, and even though it feels like he’s doing this just to make you mad, and even though there’s an alternate version of you inside your head screeching “What have I ever done to you?! Just leave the juice in the freaking cup!” and bursting into flames, you’ve got to just take the juice away.
3. Remember that you don’t have to feel calm to act calm
If your kid is pushing your buttons, chances are you’re seeing red. Because you’re a person having her buttons pushed and that, by definition, makes you angry. But, as much as we might like to think it does, yelling and screaming at our kids all the time doesn’t actually work. And it makes us feel bad. At least it should. So we’ve got to present a calm, clear, and consistent front to our kids. Which is hard when what we actually want to do is scream, “the potty is not a cereal bowl!” (or something more relevant to your particular situation) and run out of the room and slam the door. But it’s okay (if unpleasant) to feel like doing those things as long as you actually don’t. If you can manage to speak in a calm voice (even if you have to grind your teeth to powder in order to do it), and enforce a suitable consequence, it doesn’t actually matter (to your toddler) how you’re feeling on the inside. And if you feel like you actually can’t behave calmly, then your best bet is to do nothing at all (unless your child is actually in danger) until you think you can. And that’s okay too. We all have a breaking point. And if you’ve reached yours, there’s no shame in taking a minute to take a deep breath, cry, scream into a pillow, whatever. You have feelings. Even if your toddler doesn’t care about them. (I will say, though, that if you find that you are unable to control your anger on a regular basis and you feel that you may be endangering your child either physically or emotionally, please seek professional help. There’s no shame in recognizing that you need some support and finding some. It sure beats the alternative.)
4. Remember that if you mess up, you haven’t ruined everything forever
We all mess up. All of us. Even the moms who say they’ve never messed up have messed up. Even that mom in your play group with the awesome hair has messed up. And the mom in your mommy and me music class who is always chasing her rambunctious kid around the room but never raises her voice has messed up. We’ve yelled. We’ve cried. We’ve tried to guilt our kids into doing things. Tried to make them understand how we feel. Whatever. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve ruined our kids. It doesn’t mean that they’ll never trust us or that they’ll assume we’re not safe and consistent adults. It just means that we’re human. And humans make mistakes. So, as long as we don’t make a habit of it, and as long as we’re not actually harming our children, then we can pick ourselves up and try again. Which is something we actually want our kids to learn too.
So take a deep breath. Or two, or three, or ten. And do the best you can. Which is all anyone can ask of you, really. Except your toddler, who’ll ask for some chocolate and throw a block at your head when you say no. Duck!