Six steps to keeping my temper with my toddler

It’s been a rough week with Talitha. Tantrums on her side, frustration on mine. It would be easy to say that she’s been defiant but, really, she’s just learning and exerting her independence. This is a good thing. After switching the TV on because I needed a break and crying on the sofa after I’ve put her to bed, I’ve come face to face with a big part of the problem. It’s not about her making me angry, it’s about the anger that already lives inside me. Frighteningly, I can see there is a lot of it.

I can respond with calm the first, second or even third time through sheer will but bring in the fourth conflict or tantrum and that peace needs to come from a deeper place that my determination. Toddlerhood doesn’t just bring out the best and worst in you. I’m learning that it has the potential to batter the worst out of you if you’ll let it. So I’m letting it. I’ve known for years that I have a problem with my temper. My daughter is finally giving the motivation to do something about it.

Here’s what I’m thinking so far…

1. Start from a place of calm
Talitha won’t let me put a nappy on her or have the potty anywhere near her so I slap my head in frustration while she looks on with amusement. I’m amazed at how easily this scenario has unravelled me. I could justify it – what about the carpets? – or I could look at what’s really happening. The carpets can be cleaned. In fact, they’ll be industrially cleaned when we move house soon. I’m being pulled apart not because what’s she’s doing is forceful but because I haven’t stored up inner resources to deal with this conflict.

I need to find moments in the day where I can refocus and rediscover peace. For me, this means meditation at naptime or after she’s down for the night. It also involves prayer before I go to sleep and while I do repetitive tasks like the dishes. God is the source of my peace so this is where my focus goes. Whatever you believe, I think all parents needs to find their source.

2. Plan ahead
As I said, I might hold on to my temper the first, second or third time but the fourth… So the question is, why am I setting us up to get into so many conflicts? It puts us in a position where neither of us can win. Surely it’s better to avoid them altogether. This came up last week in our ToddlerCalm workshop but looking back on the past week, it still bears exploring.

Planning ahead to avoid conflict involves tackling lifelong bad habits I’ve accrued. It means becoming organised, being proactive and being on time. It plays out in packing the bag and laying out clothes the night before, creating and following a reasonable cleaning rota, checking train times and leaving much more than enough time to get to the station. Basically, the more stressed I am, the more likely we are to get into a standoff.

3. Take a moment before reacting
I’ve rolled my eyes before at the whole “take a deep breath when you’re angry” tactic but I’m learning that people say it because it works. That the deep breath needs to be a full, soothing breath where you focus on filling your lungs with goodness and exhaling your rage. Otherwise, you can huff and call that the breath when you’re still left too angry. Sometimes I need to quickly go to the other room just so I can collect myself. It’s a moment to think about how to react in a loving and self-controlled way.

4. Fake it til you make it
Sometimes when I feel myself losing it and I’ve taken my moment to think about how I’m going to respond, I find I’m still too angry to parent gently. So, I’m learning to fake it. I pretend I’m at a toddler group surrounded by like-minded parents with gentle philosophies. Pride wouldn’t let me shout at her or be rough with her. It’s not the loftiest motivation but it’ll get me through this rough patch.

5. Look after yourself
She melts down and I know that most likely she’s tired. Yet, it often takes me longer to realise that I’m being short with her because I’m tired. Whatever I’m up late at night doing can wait, sleep can’t. I’ve learned that it doesn’t take much to restore me to a place where I can see the world with joy. I am parenting a toddler, for goodness’ sake. Everyone says this is a magical age because it really is! But if I don’t take the moment to look after myself, it all goes downhill. When she was a newborn, this involved not eating. Sometimes all it takes it putting on lipstick or bringing the guitar out and singing to her. Little things – that’s what I’m thinking about here.

6. Reflect
Finally, reflection is key. I do get it wrong. I reach the end of the day and I wonder if I’m a bad mother but I know the answer is more likely that I’m a tired mother, a stressed-out mother, a mother-in-training. The important thing is to learn from my mistakes and to learn from her. I work things out better when I write them down so I’ve actually started writing out what happened to try to figure out what was behind it in both of us and what I can do differently next time. It might sound simplistic but these things often aren’t as complicated as they seem.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to be angry. Sometimes, anger is appropriate. However, to lose our tempers is to lose control and I don’t think acting out of that ever means that behaving in a responsible way. It’s a tough one for me, figuring out how to feel what I’m feeling and yet master it.

Over to you, what do you do to keep your cool with your children?