How is your daily experience parenting young children going?
I certainly hope it's going better than my own did! It was only a few years ago that my children were toddlers, and it was common for me to hang my head and whisper through tears, “I didn’t sign up for this.”
The upside to this difficult time was that the analytical therapist in me thought a lot about how to improve things for other mothers of toddlers. I just didn’t believe that raising little ones needed to be so constantly hard. I will say that there are many things about raising children under five that require a great deal of energy from us, but there are certainly things we can do to lessen the stress of parenting young kids.
One of those is to understand and accept how toddlers operate, another is to make sure our personal buckets are full so we can give the energy toddlers need, and also to guide our children with positive instructions. It was this last one that was really sinking me — and thankfully, it was the one that was simplest to change for the better. Once I understood more about how a young child’s brain works, and what they respond to, it was actually quite easy to interact with my children in a way that got them to cooperate!
I started writing about this way of communicating with young children and began sharing it with my clients. To my surprise, my ideas were being read and shared by parents online. In a relatively short amount of time, my Facebook page took off and now offers support and toddler tips to thousands of people. I'm so honoured to be part of a great collective and through the great engagement of these parents, I've learned that many of you feel the way I did: we need more information about how to guide young children in way that is both firm and friendly. We want to be kind to our young ones, and at the same time, keep them safe, teach them, get them moving/ fed well/ potty trained/ to sleep enough, and into their car seat!
Four of the best tools for a "Toddler Toolbox" are:
Positive phrases make a HUGE difference in how children respond. For example, it is the difference between saying, “Stop that! Get down! No jumping,” when your child jumps on the sofa, and calmly instructing, “Sofas are for sitting. You can jump over there.”
Positive, clear, firm, concise instructions let your child know what is needed of them without activating the part of their brain that makes them want to defend themselves. Light bulb moment, right? Actually, this is why time-outs and punishment usually don’t work (and I don’t recommend them): they often get kids mad or defiant, not thinking.
I wrote two posts to provide parents with phrases to use in common situations that are very challenging (Here are links to Stop Tantrums: 33 Phrases to Use with Toddlers, and Tantrum Tamers: Phrases for 3 & 4 Year-olds). I was floored to watch these posts go viral—they’ve been shared over 200,000 times! Clearly there was a need and many parents contacted me with notes of gratitude. One even said she was going to tattoo these phrases on her arm. This got me thinking about how I could get this information to parents in a way that was easy for them to access when they needed it most. That’s when the idea to create an App hit me!
Over the last six months, I've been researching and consulting with colleagues to create an app that will help us get through common tough parenting moments. I included sections to address: bedtime, biting/ throwing, defiance, getting out the door, daily jobs, safety, picky eating, tantrums, transitions, tidy time, potty time and whining.
An extension of the phrases posts, I’m really excited that this app called Taming Tantrums is now available for $2 through your iPhone or Android app store. In order to find it, click here for the link to the iTunes store or simply type, “Taming Tantrums” into your App Store search field.
I have heard from parents already that the app has smoothed typical toddler battles and that it has helped them to stay cool when their children are melting down around them. A Dad said, "Within five minutes of downloading the app, I had already changed my approach with my picky eater." One mom was excited to let me know she use it to get her daughter to leave the park on time. Not only am I grateful it helps them, I am overjoyed that kids are getting what they need as well.
I truly believe we can change every one of those days where you are feeling overwhelmed and at the end of your rope. I know it gets better with these little changes, and with the Taming Tantrums app, the solutions are at your finger tips.
I am also very excited to let you know that Erica Ehm and I have been working on a series of videos called “The A to Z of Taming Tantrums,” which will be released weekly through the YummyMummyClub YouTube Channel. You can click here to subscribe to those!
My hope with the posts I write, the app, and the video series is that you will not have to go through what I did when my children were younger. I want to do my best so that your answer to the question at the top of the post is, “Some days are hard, but overall things are pretty good.”
Is there something in particular that you’d like me to write about more? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below or over on my Facebook page.
Do you have a child who is happy to get lost in her thoughts, build LEGO, or read for hours? I do. I’m a bit of an introvert, but certainly not as much as one of my children. If he had his way, he’d be happy to read all day. Since last Wednesday, he has read the first three Harry Potter books.
This in some ways is beneficial because he is independent and I can actually have long, hot showers! But in many ways, it is quite challenging: transitions can be hard, anxiety can be high, and indifference can reign. The biggest hurdle we are facing is that I take for granted that his buckets are full because he is quiet, while I attend to his extroverted brother who needs lots of attention. This often leads to a build up of emotions that can explode without notice.
In the new book, The Happy Kid Handbook, author Katie Hurley, LCSW, discusses this phenomenon: in her words, “Because they don’t necessarily get their feelings out, introverts sometimes experience big meltdowns or tantrums… Once you understand this about your child, you can help your child learn to express his or her feelings throughout the day.”
In order to support our introverts, we can fill their buckets (their sense that they are seen/ heard/ important) in a unique way. Here are suggestions from Katie Hurley’s book to making sure our introverts feel our love for them:
Spending time alone with their thoughts and ideas energizes introverted children—we need to give them this time. Hurley recommends giving our introverts at least forty-five minutes of downtime each day. I notice that my child needs a lot of time after school to wind down and can’t go straight to an activity or time with friends.
As introverts process their feelings internally, they might not talk about their feelings with us. We need to remember that they still have these feelings, which can feel quite overwhelming. I notice that my guy turns angry when his buckets are empty, and deep down, he’s often sad because who he is wasn’t respected.
According to Hurley, “As important as it is to teach introverts to express their feelings, it’s also important to normalize those big feelings. Given that introverted kids tend to keep their feelings hidden, they often fail to seek help from adults. They need to know that all feelings and emotions are okay and a part of growing up. Normalizing their experiences helps them feel a little less overwhelmed in what often feels like a very overwhelming world.”
It is quite easy for introverted children to get lost in thought. The problem is that the quiet thought processing might get misinterpreted as daydreaming or inattention. Hurley reminds us, “Bottom line: Introverted kids need time to think.” Accordingly, we need to not demand quick answers. Giving them extra time in scheduling, using transition signals, and giving time for answers in their time will certainly help.
Power struggles are common with introverted children. The real world is often not like their slow-paced, introverted world, and they can easily feel out of control. We have to get to school, eat, do activities, and get ready to bed, and these things can often feel like they are in the way of an introvert’s full mind.
As much as we can, we need to give our introverted children control over their lives. They don’t need to be in charge of everything, but they do need to feel like they can make some choices—have some control. I let my child choose his clothes, pick the order of things that need to be done went it doesn’t matter, and whether or not he wants to participate or not.
“Unlike their louder, very vocal sibling, introverted children don’t always cry out for one-on-one attention. But they need it just the same.” Hurley is so right! We can’t take for granted that our quiet child is getting enough of us. I have discovered that my child’s expression of this need is through back talk and defiance. When I make sure to give him enough attention, these behaviours stop.
Find connection points in each day where you can put your other tasks aside to give your child your full attention. I usually start my connection time with, “I see yous…” like this: “Do I hear that you are working on a new song at choir? Is that a hard song to sing? I see you’ve been practicing it.” Depending on your child’s personality, you can chat, go for a walk or play a game of their choosing. Look into their eyes and let them feel how important they are to you.
Hurley reminds us that introverts often tend to have just a few interests, but they really thrive when they are able to showcase those interests. Do what you can to learn more about that interest.
I should mention that The Happy Kid Handbook isn’t just about introverts! Author Katie Hurley shares her therapeutic suggestions for helping all of our children live happier lives.
RELATED: How Noticing Can Deepen Your Relationship With Your Child
(Advisory warning: This post uses words that may be disturbing to some people - particularly those who have experienced physical trauma or miscarriages)
It is well known that gratitude helps us live a happier life. I distinctly remember hearing this sentence during a psychotherapy workshop I attended when my children were one and three years-old. Shockingly, after the presenter said those words, I hung my head and wept. I could feel the eyes of the room move toward me, but I just couldn’t collect myself: I sat there crying.
The presenter paused and gently said, “Are you having a hard time feeling grateful right now?” I wearily looked up and nodded. She smiled a knowing smile then spoke to me again, “Do you mind if we explore that further?”
She asked about my life, which was mostly hard at the time: my mother had recently died, our business was sucking all our savings away, and one or the other child was waking me up every night. I was exhausted, sad, sleep-deprived, and feeling unsupported. After digging a bit, we ended up talking about my two miscarriages, which is when she said, “Bingo.” I furrowed my eyebrows, not understanding what her a-ha moment could possibly be about. Before I mention what that was, let me take you back.
At age thirty-five, I got pregnant for the first time. This pregnancy meant a lot to me because I knew that my mother only had a few months to live and she wanted so very badly to be a grandmother. I wanted to be able to say to her, “Mom, I’m pregnant.” My wish did come true. I waited for several weeks before telling her—I still remember where I was and how I felt when I made that call. As this was my first pregnancy, I let ten weeks pass before telling anyone. This was welcome information in a time when our whole family was anticipating the loss of my mom.
Every week I’d wake up Sunday morning and go look at my weekly baby-brewing report, as I called, it on the internet. I’d see what fruit or vegetable my little one was being compared to in order to explain its development as each week progressed.
On New Year’s Day, I was feeling some pain and noticed spotting happening. Very concerned, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go out to celebrate that night. My husband and I agreed that getting dressed up for a hippies theme party and going to our friend’s New Year’s might help distract me through my anxiety. This is a picture of me from that night. I'd say that's a forced smile.
The next morning, I woke up very early with strong pains in my abdomen. I quietly went downstairs, not wanting to wake my husband, to look at the twelve-week development information. Then I looked up signs of miscarriage. I begged the computer: please, please, tell me everything is okay. The pains grew unbearable and I ran to the washroom, as an urge to empty my bowels happened.
I sat on the toilet in tears, clutching my stomach, as my body emptied itself. I knew what was happening. Shaking, I crawled back in bed with my husband. We cried there together. The next day I somehow summoned the energy to tell my mother that the baby was gone.
My sister gave birth to her first baby three weeks after that, and I flew across the country to be with her during this time. It was incredibly painful to watch my sister and her husband hold their little girl. My sister must have sensed this: she asked me to call our mom with the good news. I did get to say to my mom, “Hello Grandma Dianne,” when she answered the phone. Thankfully my mom was able to visit with her Granddaughter before she passed away.
Four months later, just after my mom passed away, I discovered I was pregnant again. My body was full of intense emotion: there was so much sadness and fear inside of me. Through this, I tried so very hard to be hopeful about this pregnancy and not debilitated by my grief. As before, I looked at the computer on each Sunday morning to learn more about the little life growing inside me.
The day after checking my nine-week development report, while I was in the shower, a wash of intense pain overcame me. I collapsed onto the floor of the shower as a large amount of blood pooled on the tiles around my feet. I yelled, “NO! Not again!” while I watched the red liquid disappear down the drain. I was at home alone so I had to work hard to collect myself and make the difficult call to my husband.
At the time, we lived in the beautiful seaside town of White Rock, British Columbia. To try and lift our spirits, my husband and I went for a walk down to the boardwalk by the ocean. Just after we got down there, I felt swarmed by all the families walking together. There were babies in slings, in strollers, and little ones laughing and running all around me. I could hardly breathe.
As I have heard from other mothers who experience miscarriages, I felt responsible. I asked myself, “What did I do wrong,” and “What is wrong with me?” I lamented over everything I had done, eaten, felt, and said: I was trying to find a logical reason for what had happened. There was no logical reason, which I know now, but that certainly wasn’t sinking in when I was in the midst of this experience. I panicked: was I ever going to be a mother?
The answer to that was, “Yes.” I became a mother almost a year and a half after my first miscarriage and again two years later after that. I quit working to be with my babies, and gave it my all to provide my children with a good start to life. However, it wasn’t going very well: I felt I was sinking more than swimming. I had put an incredible amount of energy into just getting pregnant and staying pregnant, but I wasn’t prepared for the realities of raising a baby. I hadn’t signed up for this.
In that moment of exasperation and exhaustion during the workshop, all I could feel was sadness. I wanted my life back, I wanted my mommy, and I wanted to feel happy again.
The presenter walked over, putting her hand on my shoulder. She said, “Those miscarriages must have been incredibly difficult.” I nodded. She carried on, “I bet you wondered if you were ever going to have children.” She paused while I continued to cry. “Is there any chance that when they yell in the middle of the night, that instead of flipping into a rage that you are woken up, you could stop and feel grateful?”
I said, “You’re crazy.”
Looking deeply into my eyes, she said “I know this is hard, but I bet there’s a part of you that is very, very grateful that you have those two little boys—that you gave birth to two little children who need you.” Something shifted inside of me. I stared at her intently, then said, “I am.”
Her reply was that if I could only be thankful for that one thing, then I should do just that. If for a moment before stomping into their rooms, I could just say, “I’m so grateful I am a mother. I am so grateful to have these little guys waking me up at night,” then that’s where I could start.
I was quite numb for the rest of the workshop but did carefully consider those words. Later than night as I was jolted out of a deep sleep and felt anger boiling up inside of me, I weakly whispered, “Thank you. Thank you that I have this guy to wake me up right now.” I was amazed at the change in my mood. My stomp turned to a walk and my sharp tone turned to a whisper.
I started saying three things I was grateful for at night before going to bed. When one of my children woke me up, I’d try to find one thing, even if it was totally ridiculous, to be grateful for: “I’m grateful I have this nice carpet under my feet.”
It worked. As the days and weeks progressed, I felt better. I had enough energy to learn more about helping my children at night, and what I could try to reduce the tantrums during the day. Everything I studied was so invaluable: I actually changed my career from psychotherapist to parenting educator as a result of seeing my children’s behaviour transform in front of my eyes. Now I’m incredibly grateful for all the challenges because they have given me a career I love today.
Gratitude does improve happiness and our experience with our children. I encourage you to consider what you can feel grateful for today, even if it’s only one little thing. That small action will have big impact as the days pass.