I’m living with a real threenager. I used to say that with an eye roll. Like, can you believe this madness? Lamb, you is acting like a crazy person.
But we’ve been having some desperate moments together. Some all out insane tantrums resulting from disappointment and anger. I mean, they are bad. You wouldn’t believe it if you saw it. Yesterday halfway through the car ride while we were stopped to go into McDonalds to use the bathroom (long story of why she was angry) she threw everything she could get her hands on in the car and screamed and cried and when I tried to talk to her she yelled at the loudest highest pitch until her face was red “DON’T TALK TO MEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
I realized in that moment, I needed some help. I got some trusted advice and turned to the work of Janet Lansbury. I immediately started listening to some of her podcasts, and I explored the one “The Upside of a Tantrum.” It has changed me.
Lamb, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve been handling your tantrums just okay, but not the best way that I could. I always stay calm and collected. I never yell at you or punish you. However, I do try to fix it frequently. Or try to reason with you in the beginning. I try to make it better, or explain it out of the tantrum, or do things to try to shorten the tantrum. Or sometimes I just leave you alone to hash it out and walk away. I realize now, that’s not what you need. And I want to let you know that I will be better. I will be a rock. I will not leave the room and ignore your feelings. I will not play on my phone until your screaming passes. I will not try to calm you down or make it better. I will be present with you, accept your emotions, and ride the wave with you until you come down. I want you to know it is safe to feel and emotions are nothing to fear. I do not fear yours. As Janet said, you can go to these dark places in yourself and know that it is safe to go there.
I know now that you ARE a threenager. Just as a teenager is in adolescence, brain changing, hormones raging, figuring the world out. You are too. You are in the midst of so much growth and change. You are healthy and happy and all your emotions are normal and good.
I have so much to say about this, and I plan on blogging about this on my professional counseling website. Because as I was listening to this podcast, I began to cry and cry in the car. I began to put all the pieces together. I began to think about all my clients and how they avoid their feelings. They avoid their uncomfortable, scary, terrifying feelings at such a huge cost. If they had only been taught that their feelings are safe, allowed, and healthy, they may not have ended up in the predicament that they are in. We in America are all about being happy and feeling “good” things. That’s not how we work though. Lamb, I vow to do you better.
For anyone interested in learning more about this eye opening podcast, I have transcribed it below. Yes, it was that important to me. Thank you Janet Lansbury and your “Unruffled” podcast series. I am looking forward to more growth on my part.
I received a facebook question. “My daughter is 19 months and I feel that I am confident when it comes to setting limits and boundaries. What I don’t feel confident with, is when to acknowledge feelings so she feels heard.
For example, me asking her to give me something I don’t want her to have. She may throw herself on the ground and scream with displeasure and it’s then that I’m not sure what to do. She’s loud so she can’t hear me, although I try to acknowledge feelings at this time I can’t hear myself over her screaming let alone her hearing me. And it appears she doesn’t want to be held. In that moment I feel disconnected with her. I would love some guidance on what to do in those moments, that is when to acknowledge feelings.”
Okay so you asked your child to give you something that you don’t want them to have. “Please give me that, it is unsafe” and she throws herself on the ground and screams with displeasure. So this is a tantrum and it’s very healthy for a toddler to have these. They are not really just about what happens in that moment. That’s important to know. It’s not just about that thing you didn’t want her to have.
It’s the tipping point for her to be able to express some toddler frustration, angst, fear, all these heavy feelings that toddlers walk around with. It’s a rapidly changing time of their life. They are developing so quickly, so they have a lot of intense feelings that we can always trust although it may be hard to.
So this parent has the right attitude in that she wants to acknowledge her and she wants to connect.This is where we have to trust. Often time it’s us the parents that want to connect because we want our child to know we love them and we want to make it all better and we are sorry. We feel disconnected. I believe in this case and others that I see and how I feel with my own children is we’re the ones that want to connect.
The child is saying she doesn’t need to connect. She is saying she needs to express.Sometimes expressing and connecting doesn’t go together in the way we want them to. It doesn’t happen when we’re hugging and all cozy. Sometimes it happens when they are throwing themselves on the floor and screaming.
The best way to connect during that kind of episode is to let the feelings be, to relax your body, to accept where your child is, that she’s doing something healthy and that you’re allowing her to. So you’re being a great parent in this moment. This isn’t easy stuff to see children go through. This is a prime parenting moment to embrace.
Let her have her feelings, and then trust when she’s done, when she can hear you and I would say “wow you really didn’t like that.” Not, “you’re upset over blablablab” just what we know for sure. Which is that she didn’t like that you wouldn’t let her have that object. “You really wanted that, you didn’t like for me to take that away.” And what that might do, is actually open the door for her to express more.
So if she expresses more after that, if she says “meh I don’t like you!” like an older child might say “you’re a bad mommy” or something like that, at 19 months she’s probably not going to say that but she might try to hit you or push you away. She’s telling you more about how mad she is.
Let her go as long as she needs to go with this and just be patient. Accepting and acknowledging feelings can’t have an ending point. Can’t be “well this is how much I’m comfortable with and now I need to stop you, I need to hug you, I need to calm you down.” That’s not acknowledging feelings. That’s not accepting feelings. It’s got to be all the way. It’s all or nothing for children. So let it be all. Let her go all the way. Trust that it’s all in there and needs to come out.
You haven’t created it by taking that thing away from her. You haven’t done anything wrong, you are doing everything right by letting this happen. It’s so important to keep reminding ourselves of this. Because everything in us is telling us our child is upset and we are terrible parents and our world has come crashing down. Everything is awful. The opposite is true in these moments.
You are being heroic, you are being incredible. You’re connecting with your child in what I think is the most profound way, which is the message that your feelings are all okay with me. ALL. To the end. Okay with me. So don’t worry about the words to say. Especially don’t try to talk to her when she’s screaming. Let your shoulders fall, feel relaxed. Feel like you are I used to imagine having have a shield over me, so that I could be there, I could be present without letting the feelings get in me and get inside of me and make me feel terrible. Imagery may help you. But that’s all we have to do. Let it be.
And as this mother says, it appears that she doesn’t want to be held. Trust that. When you’re angry at somebody you don’t want them to come over and try to hug you out of it. You just want to be angry at them. As parents we get the brunt of it. That’s a compliment. That means we are doing our job. Giving them a relationship that they feel safe in to express these hard feelings. Feel safe to let her go all the way with her feelings.
She says “in that moment, I feel disconnected with her.” Yes you feel disconnected but that’s okay. You don’t have to connect with her in the way that you think, in the way that looks cozy and nice. You actually are connecting with her and that’s the way I would perceive this. You’re connecting with her.
You’re giving her so many messages in these moments, while she’s screaming you are giving her the message I don’t desert you. I don’t try to stop you. I’m not uncomfortable with your feelings, I’m okay with them and therefore you can be okay with them. You can go to these dark places in yourself. These are safe places for you to go. Do you know how powerful that is? Do you know how many of us didn’t get that message and how important it is?
You know it’s easy to be happy when things are always going well, but to be able to be ok and to know we are going to be okay when things aren’t going well, that’s true happiness. That’s knowing that we can handle everything that is thrown our way. That’s the message that we want our children to have. That you can handle these feelings. So those are the important, huge messages that you are giving her. That’s connecting, not the way most people see it but the way that it really is, with toddlers. Letting them feel bad with you, letting them be mad at you.
So that’s what I would do, and then as I said at the end, when she does hear you I would just say something simple “wow, that was really upsetting for you, you did not like that.” That’s it, that’s all we have to do. Like I said these are prime parenting moments and I would embrace them. Every time you do, kudos to you. Sounds like you’re already doing it.