By Catherine Cameron.
Yesterday afternoon was one of those in which absolutely everything was impossible for my toddler.
She cried because I asked if she would like a snack. She cried when the water in her sippy-cup wasn’t cold enough. She cried when she tried to ‘wear’ a silver Pandora shoe charm and her foot was too big. She even cried when I wouldn’t let her suck on my nasal spray.
After all this, one would start to think that she had it in for me.
Yet fast forward to her bath, and she squeezed my face with her wet little hands and declared, ‘you are my best friend mummy’.
In that moment she was nothing short of perfection in my misting eyes.
And then she kicked me in the boobs while I dressed her for bed and that feeling subsided.
The toddler stage. Where emotions are expressed with gusto, and everyday there is more to learn, more to challenge, and more to love.
From the outside, many toddlers are misunderstood to be tyrants; testing boundaries to spite their parents.
But this is not the case. So what is?
Simply put, it all comes down to the brain. Toddlers are experiencing the most rapid brain development one will experience in a lifetime; leaving them impressionable, vulnerable, and highly sensitive.
Now, one would assume that they would be well-equipped with the tools to navigate this significant development, right?
Wrong. Imagine being overpowered with an emotion that you didn’t understand, were unable to regulate, nor express through words. That would be awfully frustrating wouldn’t it?
Yet this is exactly the conundrum our toddlers face, time and time again.
Scientifically speaking, the prefrontal cortex of a toddler’s brain is not fully developed and brain’s ability to regulate emotions is under construction. Enter, the famous ‘toddler tantrum’.
‘When emotions overwhelm a young child, their brain isn’t able to maintain rational control. Their physiology helps restore equilibrium by having a meltdown to release their feelings and frustrations.’ – Tracy Gillett – ‘Raised good’
But, there is more to this stage than emotional regulation. It is also becoming an individual and learning through endless enquiry. Toddlers are able to speak their minds with unfiltered honesty, and see the world through fresh eyes. Fresh eyes that are constantly watching.
And so, it is our job as parents to nurture this journey of enquiry, and, support the development of emotional regulating.
So, how does one nurture enquiry?
It is helpful to remember that your toddler is capable of significant understanding and is a highly efficient (and keen) observer.
Enabling our toddlers to partake in even the simplest processes (such as brushing the dog or washing the car) gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility. Communicating how and why we do things is key to this.
a willingness to try even difficult tasks encourages problem solving, and patience. Although allowing toddlers to figure things out themselves can at times prove frustrating, the benefits are highly rewarding.
Although it is valuable to appreciate what toddlers are capable of, so too, is it important to remember that their brains are still forming.
A helpful technique in regulating the severity of a tantrum, is coregulation. A technique taught by child development expert Nathan Wallis, coregulation is about helping toddlers put their feelings into words, and, offering simple strategies. For example, amidst a temper tantrum, we can offer words such as ‘I can see you are feeling angry. When I am angry, it helps if I stomp my feet.’ Here, we give their emotions validity, and, offer an outlet should they need it.
However, this is dependent on the severity and progression of the tantrum. When words are not an option, the best we can is to offer space, while still reminding our toddlers they are safe.
Although coregulation has been helpful for my daughter, there are days where just the sight of me sets her off.
And those are often the days where I need to distance myself for a few moments. Because I am only human, and having the meal you so lovingly prepared thrown at you would frustrate anyone.
And so, when it comes to raising toddlers, I am sure we can all agree that this particular stage of life can be testing.
It is ok to feel frustrated, and to feel as though your patience has simply run out.
After all, we too need to look after our own emotional regulation.
The best you can do by your toddler is really just your best.
But most importantly, be patient with yourself.
And as with every phase of the parenting journey, this too shall pass. And one day you will look back and laugh at the time you found your toddler ‘doing the laundry’ in the toilet.
Catherine is a first time Mother and author of the blog ‘Sweetest Devotion.’ Catherine is passionate about honestly sharing her own experiences in parenthood, in the hope to assure other Mothers that we are never alone in this crazy whirlwind we call parenting.