I’m mom to a spirited, opinionated three year old and I love every moment of life with him, even when he is throwing himself on the ground in a screaming tantrum because of something neither of us understands in the moment.

Not a tantrum, just a cutie

My kiddo and I were at the local community center, and he was stalling heading to the kids’ play class, as usual. I was running late for my class, so was short of patience. When he asked to look at the pool with a sly grin, I gently reminded him we needed to hustle to class. When he insisted on looking at the pool and began to head in that direction, I sternly and firmly told him “No, we are going to class.”

He lost his ever-loving mind right there in the concrete lobby, his screams of torture reverberating off the walls.

Oh my GOD, I was so embarrassed. I got down on his level as he stomped his feet and worked up some tears. I swallowed my surprising anger.

“Babe, let’s take a deep breath, please.” I remembered to ask please, which meant I was not yet seeing red. Good sign.

“No, no, NOOO! I want to look at the POOL!” he bellowed.

Deep breath, Shawna. “I understand you want to look at the pool, babe. First, we need to breathe deep. Can you do this?” I inhaled deep then let out a noisy exhale. Like the wonderful, smart boy he is, he mimicked my breathing.

“Good, baby. Let’s do one more.” I showed him how. He mimicked. We were done with screams and we were both calmer. Good sign! “OK, why don’t you use your words and explain what you want?” I suggested.

“Mama, I wanted to… I think we should… I want…. I want….” he started to get frustrated again at not having the words.

“Deep breath, baby, you want to do what?”

He took another deep breath. “I wanted to see the pool water because the pool is in there and has splashes.”

One main objective I have in parenting my child is to demonstrate to him respect for others, which includes respect for him. I am keenly aware that the interactions we have on daily basis are laying the foundation of the type of adult my son will grow up to be. I want my son to respect and be respected, to know that everyone matters, that other people’s wants and needs are important. The words my son used to explain his needs didn’t make much sense – because he’s three – but his urgency was clear. He wanted to look at the pool, and it was important to him that I respect that.

“Honey, I understand you want to look at the pool. Mama needs to hurry and get to class because I’m running late. So, let’s look at the pool for one minute, and then we need to go. What do you think?”

“Yeah!” came the cheerful reply, and I watched excitement ping all through his tiny body as he took my hand. Success!

We humans categorize things (people, events) to help us process our feelings. Call it human nature. It’s easier to throw up your hands and call your child a damn threenager to anyone who will listen than it is to control your embarrassment and anger enough to engage & teach them to understand what they are feeling. Much easier. I’ve been there. But when I see a toddler tantrum, I see a little person trying to navigate a big world. Why do they get called terrible when they have a grumpy morning? As if that tiny child is unable to control their huge emotions on purpose. A child’s developmental stage is impermanent. They’re learning, and when they’ve figured enough out, they’ll begin to react differently.

I am not a victim of my child’s development. In fact, I signed up to help him with it. Yes, there are H A R D days, but it is my job to remember that it’s one day, not all the days, and when the hard doesn’t seem to quit I am still not a victim – it is still my job to make sure I reach out for support when I need it. I am the adult in the situation, with the fully formed brain and the ability to take a breath and count to five before I respond. My son is not wrong or bad or difficult because he throws a tantrum. He’s learning. So, my kid is allowed to have bad days without being called a threenager.

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