A few weeks ago, Kumquat discovered puddles for the very first time. Watching her splash through them and the way her face lit up made the soggy shoes and wet clothes totally worth it. Also, it helped that her dad picked her up shortly after this.
As a parent, it's all too easy to become wrapped up in how incredibly impossible raising a child can be. Even on the best days, Kumquat can be deeply frustrating - she's so smart, and learning more and more every single day, but she's still very young and while she understands the word "no", she doesn't understand why she can't play in the road. Combine this with the fact that, like her mother and grandmother, she's incredibly independent and strong-willed, and this creates the sparks for some intense fireworks over who's the boss.
It's easy to soak in that negativity and frustration, and it has a serious affect on our parenting ability. I'm ashamed to admit that I've yelled at little Kumquat more times that I would like to count. Her insistence that my eyes be on her 152% of the time means that I really struggle to get anything else done. What I've learned in my first 18 months as a parent is that you have to choose which moments and which feelings to soak in: I can choose to be angry that she dumped water on the floor (again), or I can choose to take pride in the new word she just learned and enjoy the loves she just gave me (even if it did involve a lot of drool).
Granted, that is MUCH easier said than done. I'm certainly not perfect, and I can admit that in the heat of the moment, it can be really hard to find the positive when yet another $40 tube of lipstick has just been ruined - but the heartbreaking look on Kumquat's face when I yell is so much worse than the damage to my stuff. Add to that the fact that yelling at a toddler (or any child, really) can have serious, long term impacts on their mental health and self confidence (read about it here, here and here), and it becomes pretty obvious that yelling is NOT a viable parenting strategy - and, in fact, has much the same (negative) impact as physical violence.
One of my goals for 2016 is to curb my impulse to yell when I'm frustrated, so I've been developing some frustration-diffusing tactics to help break this very bad habit. Try them out for yourself and share your own in the comments.
1. take a deep breath
An oldie, but a goodie - there's a reason this tip comes so highly recommended. When your toddler makes another mess, instead of using that deep breath as a prelude to a bellow, close your eyes and exhale before you let loose your temper. You'll find that this literal release of air will also help release some of your aggravation. If you're really, really upset, try counting to ten, or (after removing your child from any immediate danger), walking out of the room for a moment to collect yourself. It's easier to control yourself when you've had some space, even if it's just a moment's worth.
That being said, when it comes to toddlers, we all know they don't have very long memories. Consequences need to be swift and fair, and the explanations immediate and brief.
2. find the funny
This one is best when combined with #1, above - give yourself a moment to cool off, then try to look at the situation from someone else's perspective. I can always count on one of my siblings to point out something amusing about even Kumquat's worst behavior, and it's hard to yell when I'm trying not to giggle. While you don't want to start cracking up (as this may encourage further bad behavior), it's usually enough to lighten the mood and break up some of the tension.
3. remind yourself that she/he's just a baby
My five-year-old nephew is constantly getting frustrated with Kumquat, and I often have to remind him that she's just a baby and doesn't know any better - it's up to us to teach her what's right and what's not. Yesterday, it was his turn to remind me (and being lectured about how to parent by a five year old will bring anyone down a notch or two).
You're the very first role model that your baby has, so be the person you want them to be.
4. develop a mantra
Find a phrase that helps you calm down and repeat it over and over, as needed (i.e. "she's just a baby" or "I'm in control"). This combines #1 with #3, giving you both a break and a much needed reminder that it's not the end of the world.
Whatever phrase you choose, make sure it's a positive one (try to avoid stuff like "I will not yell"; instead, use "I will maintain control of my temper"). When you feel like you're about to yell, just close your eyes and repeat your mantra as many times as you need, until you feel more in control.
5. use it as a lesson for next time
Okay, so maybe this won't help so much in the moment, but take the situation - coloring on the wall, for example - and think of a way to prevent it from happening again. As parents, it's all about picking our battles and saving our energy/authority for those moments that really do matter. Instead of yelling every time your toddler draws on the wall, pin a piece of poster board or a long strip of craft paper up and let her know "This is your creative space - this is the only place you get to draw on the wall." Write her name on it, give it a border, whatever you need to do to show her that 1) it's hers; and 2) it's the only space where drawing on the wall is okay. This creates safe, effective boundaries while still allowing her to do her own thing and express her creativity in a way that clearly comes naturally to her.
Another option is to remove the temptation - Kumquat LOVES to unload cupboards. This drives me insane, as the kitchen cupboards at our house don't have knobs for me to tie them shut. Instead of constantly fighting her about it, I moved everything that could pose a risk (like all of the cleaning stuff) up out of her reach. She still gets a kick out of pulling the strainer out of the cupboard and loading it up with toys and snacks, but at least I know she's not going to poison herself. Baby-proofing will save your sanity.
6. parent as though (insert role model/authority figure here) is watching
Whether your parenting role model is your mom or your best friend, always parent as though he or she is watching. If you wouldn't yell at your kids in the grocery store or in front of other adults, why on God's green earth would you yell at them at home?
7. if all else fails, join in
Unless it's something dangerous or involves irrevocable damage to something expensive (or to someone else's property), sigh, sit down and pick up a crayon - most of them are washable these days anyway. Sometimes, it's not just about picking your battles; it's about choosing what's more important: the paint (that can be cleaned or replaced), or making your little one happy and building your relationship with them (this; always this).
and if you do yell....
It's important to remember that no one is perfect - we're all going to make mistakes as parents. Good parents learn from those mistakes instead of repeating them. Instead of beating yourself up over it, talk to your child - explain (as briefly as possible) why you yelled, what it is about their behavior that you're struggling with, and brainstorm ways you can both be better. This lets your little one become part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.
Relish the happy moments, and remember that hugs and kisses really do make everything better (and that all of this is way too temporary).
Do you have any tips for diffusing your temper? How do you avoid letting negativity take control of your life? What things do you do to keep focused on the positive? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments, and while you're here, make sure to stop by to enter our #MandKrelaunch giveaway.
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P.P.S. I totally stole the title/theme for this post series from Rachel over at TutusAndHeels.com. Take a minute to check out her blog - she and her daughter are at least six kinds of adorable.