Toddler Tantrums are not a form of Communication

Photo by Patrick Fore

Unless you respond to them.

Ever since I saw this at WebMD, it has stuck with me. I make mental references to this every time I see Mandla carefully throw himself on the floor so as not to hurt himself. I got to the stage where the only thing I let out was a chuckle when he rolled over frantically on the floor while peeking at my next moves or itching for my reaction.

He knows this too well, that I’m on to him so of course he amplifies his screams and throws every other object farther away for maximum effect.

This has come with great loss and damages to his beloved toys which he brings to mummy for repair so I have to be on my best fixer behaviour or else it’s more chaos. It’s a wild goose chase and sorry baby here’s your L.

Sometimes he recruits innocent bystanders and firmly places them in his corner. Now I’m facing a mob that’s scoffing at how lazy and untamed my parenting is.

“Mchune kidogo!”

I probably was one of those judgemental beings who would see a child in full meltdown and quickly convey my righteous indignation at the state of it all. I may have questioned why a parent would let their child take ownership of their wonderful brunch having moment and turn it into a shitshow. Like damn get your shit together.

Only for the shoe to fit and here I am coping pleas now.

Motherhood is such a trip. The terrible twos came in earlier than expected and I’ve been unraveling in bits. Granted his toddler tantrums have regressed to 30 seconds and we’re back to loving each other deeply, it’s honestly one of those ‘normal child developments’ you would very much do without.

I have limited going out to certain places with him. At the supermarket, the staff see us and immediately offer him extra snacks that shall not be touched by anyone else. The BOGOF brother is in the building. Either that or our tiny store is in shambles. Could be worse right?

My adoring child only ‘fights’ for his snacks and screen time – apparent basic survival skills in toddler years. So if I’m able to provide that and go about my business everybody is happy. Yeah, no. Mostly he does it for attention. They know this is a powerful way to get attention. This happens to be 90% of the time.

I have learned over time to let it happen with minimal fuss and it ends immediately. Other times when he throws a fit I put on a stern eye warning to remind him that he could catch these hands but then I remember I’d never throw a fist. He is probably wishing he could utter something and get it over with.

I don’t compromise on safety issues either.

If there’s one take away from motherhood for the last two years is that PATIENCE is all I have. Patience that I never thought I would be in possession of is something I now flaunt like a badge of honor. I have been tested immensely.

There are times I shouted at him when he was fussing and whining and felt horrible when he let out that defeating cry. I would then hug him after the storm and apologize because it’s a horrible thing to do to your child born with no social skills who’s just being a… child.

Showing signs of frustration will only fuel the tantrum. Do not respond by giving in. ‘Mom is here” works like a charm, trust me.

The other day he went into a full-on fit because I told him screen time is over. He threw every single piece of learning block that was on the table. When he was done I told him not to worry he’ll get to watch his cartoons first thing in the morning. To my surprise, he picked up every single piece of block and placed them back on the table. It was such an affirming moment and I made sure to appreciate his effort.

Children interpret discipline as something negative. Dr. Shefali Tsabary author of The conscious parent suggests replacing the term discipline with behavioural shaping. This, in a nutshell, involves responding to all of our children’s behaviour whether positive or negative. The emphasis should be on the positives and not equating negative behaviour with something shameful. There should be continuous learning with positive reinforcement even after conflict.

Now I treat them as teachable moments for us both. He gets to know that his conditioned response might not be that effective but his budding independence illuminates.

I get to learn that defiance is not a sign of disobedience. That soon enough his incoherent sounds will be replaced with proper sentences. That toddler tantrums are yet again natural processes when raising a child.

Until then, we size each other up.



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