We were in Trader Joes. I love Trader Joes. James loves Trader Joes. It should have gone super well. She found the two hidden lion dolls (Leo and Theo) in the store. She got her two prizes from the toy bin. I was checking out. We have done this mundane task a million times before. Except this time was a bit different. She wanted to get out of the cart.
I was pretty pregnant with Sage, and was in a lot of pain. I had this thing called Pubis Symphysis Disorder, and my pelvis was in really bad pain. It hurt to walk. For some reason, I obliged, and took her out of the cart. She knew that if I took her out, she had to stay near me. She agreed, and I took her out.
Well, she ran away.
She ran away.
Laughing, and having the time of her life, running away from mama.
Finally I got her, and what came next could not have been expected. Well, I suppose I could have expected it, but I did not like it.
She threw the most epic tantrum in the check out line in Trader Joes. As I tried to put her back in the cart, she stiffened her legs so they would not bend to fit into the slots. I resorted to holding her. She was flailing around, kicking, screaming. As I finished paying, I walked out, carrying James like a running back carries the football, while pushing a cart, while pregnant. Remember? On the surface I looked cool as a cucumber. We got to the car, the fit continued.
By this time, we are at the car. She has kicked me, and punched me. She just slapped my glasses off my face, and now she was spitting.
James is known for her epic tantrums. I would say that it is most likely that when you see James she will be well mannered, kind, respectful, and a good listener. Her teachers would constantly tell me that during clean up time, James would be one of the only ones who cleaned up without prompting. She never hit kids. She didn’t yell at adults.
But once mommy picked her up from daycare, teachers would come out of their classrooms to watch this spectacle in the hallway, a new teacher telling me each time, “I have never seen James act this way.”
It’s true. She reserved her tantrums for the person she trusted most in the world: me. Thank you? I guess. I still stand by the statement that you have never seen a tantrum like a James Elizabeth Scott tantrum. They are huge. They are long. They involve hitting, and kicking, and biting, and spitting. They are hard.
I believe in respectful parenting. I try my best not to yell at my kids and not to hit them. I don’t believe in the concept of time out, though I find great value in teaching her to take space if she needs it.
So, how do I handle with these larger than life toddler tantrums?
Sounds a little too simple, but it makes sense.
Toddlers need to get this energy out. They need a space to get their big emotions out. They need to feel safe and loved while they express those big emotions.
So, I give her the space to get wild. I don’t try to console her immediately. I don’t try to quiet her. I don’t try to reason. I just sit and wait. I stay attuned to her. I let her know that I am with her. I let her know that I am here with her in this hard moment. I might give her some words to describe how she’s feeling.
“Wow. You’re disappointed.”
“You really wanted to watch TV. You’re sad.”
“You didn’t like it when Sage knocked down your tower. You’re upset.”
The tantrums can be short or long. If I am able and available to stop what I am doing and sit with her, I will. If I am not, I will continue doing what I am doing (cooking, changing a diaper etc.) and show, with my intentions, that I am with her. I will not judge her. I will not be overwhelmed by her outburst. I will not think to myself how annoying this is. My energy will remain calm and present with her.
I do not do this right every time.
I could write a book of all my toddler tantrum mistakes.
Some big. Some small. But I know what I want to do. I know my goals. I know my bar of excellence. And I try each time to hit that goal.
If I mess up, I apologize. I listen to more parenting podcasts, read more parenting books, talk to more amazing parents, go to more therapy sessions to understand my own triggers, and give myself grace.
I look back at the Trader Joe’s incident of 2019, and think I could have handled it better. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of myself for not hitting her bum, or aggressively throwing her into her car seat. Yet, I think I could have done a little better. I was in a rush to get to the car. I think I could have slowed down and waited. Even if I felt like I needed to pay for my groceries before I gave her time and space to chill (because let’s be honest, life doesn’t always get to stop when your toddler throws his/her tantrum), I could have parked my cart once we got outside the store, sat on a nearby bench and held her while she took her space. I could have slowed down to make sure she could get in the cart, forcing her gently (sounds like an oxymoron) until she was clicked in and safe and let her finish her tantrum.
I have gained a lot of understanding on why toddlers have tantrums, how they’re developmentally appropriate for children, and what to do when they arise. I have chosen this respectful parenting route because it is important for my children to feel loved and respected for who they are in every moment, even the tougher ones for all of us. I wrote more on respectful parenting here.
I remember being hit and yelled at as a child. It was scary. Very scary. I don’t want my children to feel that. I can’t say for sure if this parenting style will “work. I do not know for sure how James and Sage will turn out when they are adults. I do think that they will turn our respectful and responsible. I think they will walk through the world a little taller knowing that they are unconditionally loved and always respected by their parents.
So if you need me, I’ll be riding out these temper tantrums one day at a time, probably reading a parenting book, or listening to a podcast to fortify me so I handle these well.
What questions do you have about respectful parenting or tantrums? I am no expert, but we are in this together, right?