When parenting is fun and lighthearted, it is easy, fulfilling, and wonderful. And truly – it’s like that more often than not. But on a daily basis, parenting can also be hard. I’m talking about the cranky meltdowns, the temper tantrums, and the complicated behavioral stuff, plus your own constant self-doubt and fear that you’re somehow doing it wrong.
A two year old is a tiny person. As much as we’d all love to, you cannot control a toddler’s thoughts and feelings anymore than you can control another adult’s. Kids are individuals, too. Toddlers want what they want, when they want it. And they have no perspective on whether their ‘problems’ are actually problems at all. Henry feels everything so, so deeply that I sometimes feel sorry for him. A meltdown over a broken cracker? It happens. Every single day… sobbing hysterically as he holds two jagged pieces in his hands, trying to stick them back together through snotty gulps.
I read parenting advice articles all the time – I can use all the help I can get. I don’t agree with everything I read or always think it could apply to my family, but I try to always glean a larger message from the pieces. And I get so many good ideas. But there has been one piece of advice that has truly stood out and carried me through so many toddler temper tantrums, so I wanted to share it here:
Hug it out.
Kids freak out. A lot. It’s normal. It’s so challenging as a parent to take a deep breath and respond with understanding and patience. Because the temper tantrums don’t happen in a vacuum, do they? Occasionally (rarely!), the flip outs occur when I am well-rested, caught up on all my work, fully caffeinated, and in a great mood. It’s easy to deal with it then. But more often than not, the flip outs happen when I’m exhausted, beaten down, feeling crabby, and my blood sugar is tanking. Truthfully, my biggest parenting challenge up to this point has been to respond with love when I feel like shit. When your kid is flailing around, screaming hysterically because the cracker is now in two freaking pieces, all you want to do is yell. Or snap. Or stomp away.
That’s why I love this advice.
When my kid is tantruming, I hug him. It’s so simple that any sleep-deprived parent can do it! I get down on my knees and open my arms and ask to give him a hug. Sometimes, Henry will immediately fall into my arms, sobbing with relief that I’m offering the stability and comfort he so desperately needs. We rock back in forth in our embrace in total silence for a while. It gives him and me a chance to step back, BREATHE, and reflect. I quietly start talking it through with him. I remind him of acceptable behavior. We make plans to clean up messes or put away the thrown toys. Other times, he will take one look at my hug offer, scream NO!, and push me away. But I just sit there, arms open and waiting. He always comes to me when he’s ready.
I believe in discipline when my child is simply being defiant. I believe in the power of Time Outs (oh, I BELIEEEEVE!). We follow 1-2-3 Magic and I cannot say enough good things about the technique. But when my toddler is melting down because he’s tired or hungry or cranky or sick or bored or scared – the hug works. The hug really, really works.
I read once that parents affectionately touch boys less than girls. This starts almost immediately after birth, and parents really begin to pull away physically from their sons as the boys grow up. We stroke our daughter’s arms and brush aside her hair and lovingly hold her hand for no reason at all, but we tend to pull back from our Big Boys. I imagine this creates stiff men who are afraid to comfort others through touch. And to me, this is a shame – because nothing is more assuring than a hug.
I hug my son because I know that when I’m really upset, words aren’t always required. Grand gestures aren’t necessarily needed. I don’t want someone to magically fix my broken cracker. I just want someone to connect with me. I just want to hug it out. And I hope, that when Henry is a grown man, he follows suit with the special people (both big and little) in his life.
<3 <3 <3 Hugs to you.