Let me first state that I do not subscribe to the common expectation that a toddler’s transition to the age of two will be terrible!
Even at the height of my son’s spontaneous emotional swirl-nados, I steadfastly refuse to be trapped by what I see is a trite label and myopic view in child development that doesn’t foster deep, compassionate understanding. Yes, there will be tantrums! Frequent and at times seemingly relentless. But there are far too many magical moments (and, in general, enough madness) in parenthood to flat-out condemn this developmental phase as a requisite breath-holding, loin-girding battle of the wills.
What these natural growing pains require are deep breaths, gentle words, easy smiles, open arms, sympathetic hearts and creative minds. The magic is revealed when we greet the madness with such mindfulness and, whenever possible, humor.
“No” and its variants are running neck-and-neck with “Mommy” as the utterance we hear most frequently. Be it emphatic and loud, soft and sweet, plaintive or matter-of-fact, our growing list of the ways in which K expresses his
resistance—er, preference—currently includes:
- No, thank you.
- Not doing/Not going…
- Not yet.
- And, once: No way, José! (for which I take total responsibility)
Not all of these “no” moments are cause for alarm. Many, I must admit, are hysterical to me—and I get so tickled that I can hardly suppress my laughter! In those laughable cases, my mate and I typically find it easy to redirect K’s attention and energy. If his persistence cannot be ignored, we are not above negotiating with Altoids (our newest useful tool) to allay potential meltdowns and encourage cooperation from our mint-crazed kid.
But I mindfully gauge my response to each situation (namely, turning away if I’m particularly giggly) so as not to invalidate K’s feelings. When I notice that he’s beginning to struggle with his emotions, I ask whether he needs help, a hug or both. Any of those are effective in the easiest scenarios.
Of course, we parents wouldn’t stretch and grow into our wise and skillful selves if we only had the easy. In the toughest moments K’s alter, The No-Bot, emerges to unequivocally and inconsolably refuse all aid!
Now comes the deep breathing…and, I give K the space to work it all out: He’ll clomp upstairs and fling himself onto the bed, hiding under the covers whenever I check in. Or, run off to pout in a corner or shut himself in a closet or the bathroom. Yes, all of these dramatic gestures from a child on the cusp of two years old!
Even in the midst of this I remain amused and amazed by how well this child of mine knows his own mind and fearlessly expresses it. Most important, I recognize and respect that K is a little person who doesn’t yet know what to do with all these big new feelings and ideas blooming inside. It’s not necessary, helpful or appropriate to exhaust myself by demanding his obedience. As a connected parent, I understand that when children don’t “feel right” they have difficulty demonstrating the behavior we deem “acting right” and learning to manage feelings is a slow and gradual practice (for kids and adults alike).
This wide open perspective serves us both: K learns that he can freely and safely experience a full range of natural emotion such as frustration (the most common because he can’t do or have something), anger, discomfort, fear or confusion without punishment. I not only foster trust and compassionate communication between us, but also exercise patience and conserve energy. I model the calm behavior and, slowly and gradually, nurture those seeds of calm in him.
So I wait nearby, quietly assuring him that I understand and am ready to help, to hold, to hug.
Then that moment of intensity passes. K settles into my arms. I rock him and sing the calm down song until his breath comes smooth and steady. (Ah, the magic of songs and education-based kids’ programming that can be used as empowerment tools for parents and their little ones. Another jewel for magic + mindfulness: Anh’s Anger.)
Now I know he’s ready to listen. I replay the scenario and translate his feelings into simple words: you wanted to do this, mommy said that, you felt mad…and so on. Sometimes, I take him to stand before the mirror so he can see how his feelings look. I tell him that it’s okay, that he’s growing and learning, and still needs help from mommy and daddy.
I look into K’s eyes and say, “Gimme your nose!” Giggling, we rub our noses together in an Eskimo kiss. Into this simple, loving gesture I breathe my willingness to receive all his no’s with mindfulness. K’s transient outburst is already forgotten. Centered and at ease once more, he zips off to the next new experience.