In the months since my daughter passed the one year mark, I’ve had many opportunities both to observe toddler tantrums, and to receive advice on how to prevent them. Distraction, snacks, and regular naps are the three principles most often advocated, and it’s true that they do mostly work. What I’ve recently realized, however, is that there’s an all-important fourth item to add to that list: keeping control of my own mood. In a nutshell, I’m learning that frustration begets frustration, and calm begets calm. Merely feigning a positive attitude doesn’t work, but if I prevent my own “Mommy-Meltdowns” and stay calm, my daughter’s tantrums are correspondingly less frequent and less severe.
This realization has prompted me to figure out exactly what my triggers are: what sets me off, and how I can address the problem before it becomes a crisis. While everyone “big red buttons” are slightly different, here’s some thoughts on how I’ve been disarming my own.
It’s ubiquitous and lifelong; I’d also wager it’s most people’s biggest trigger. Whether monumental (financial and health woes, family conflicts) or mundane (a broken coat hanger or the trash not taken out), the result is predictable: when I’m stressed, I lose any ability to be empathetic with my daughter, and she responds by flying out-of-control herself. While there is no universal solution to stress, I’ve found the following simple strategy effective:
- When a stressor begins to have a consistent, negative affect, I identify it as a true problem,
- Acknowledge to myself that I need to work to fix or at least alleviate its effects, and
- Make a plan to address it.
Somehow, tackling problems proactively immediately changes how stressed out I feel by them, even if the problem remains. So, for example, if financial woes get me down, I might revise our budget, or brainstorm ways to spend less and earn more. If the housework feels overwhelming, I can break the tasks into manageable bits, and schedule times to deal with them. The point is that imagining the worst unbalances my emotions far more than meeting the problem head-on.
Even when the problem seems impossible, I can still make a plan: to pray about it every day, and to ask others to pray. God can fix the problem even if I can’t, and at the least He can give me peace about it.
Ruskin termed it “The Cursed Animosity of Inanimate Objects:” those moments and days when the physical world really seems out to get us. All it takes is a misstep on a bristle block, greasy dishwater splashing on my best shirt, or the granola burning, and bang, here comes a Mommy-Meltdown of epic proportions. Many of these things obviously can’t be foreseen or avoided, but I can still note the most regular offenders, and take steps to rectify them. Here’s a recent example:
For the first year and a half after my daughter was born, I lived with the Bermuda triangle of diaper bags. It had only four pockets, but I kept using it because I liked the color. Somehow, while my toddler found easy access to my lipstick, cellphone, and medicine, I could never find anything inside, and the resultant frenzied foraging was never good for my mood. Finally, I gave up, and switched to a different bag: yes, it’s pink, but it has 14 compartments. There’s now a pocket (many of them zippered or snapped!) for everything, and I can quickly locate what I need.
Walking into Clutter:
For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why days when we had an outside commitment always ended up being bad days. You’d think getting out would be good for us, but somehow a Mommy/Daughter Meltdown was inevitable as soon as we got home.
Eventually, I figured out what was happening. There’s nothing more demoralizing then arriving home with a hungry, tired toddler, only to come face to face with the breakfast dishes, clothes and toys strewn all over the floor, and quite often, a diaper or two waiting to be tossed in the wash. Fortunately, it’s a trigger that’s easy to fix. I now budget ten minutes of time to pick up before I go. Walking into a (moderately) clean house starts the rest of the day off right.
Can’t fix it? Outweigh it:
The list of possible triggers is potentially endless, but here’s a final, easy tip on how to stack the balance against the rest of life’s frustrations:
Sprinkle your house with Sacramentals.
A home with blessed candles tucked into convenient corners, with crucifixes and sacred art gracing the walls, perhaps even with a bottle of holy water in a readily available place, is a home that can help us remember why it is that we try to be gracious and kind and gentle with each other. I’m now trying to make our apartment into a home where just glancing around can derail a meltdown in the making.
These are the tactics that have worked for me. My list, however, is not at all exhaustive. I’d love to hear your own stories: how do you stop a Mommy-Meltdown before it happens?
Abby Badillo is a young wife, and mom to a spirited almost two-year old daughter. She blogs about life, love, crafts, books, and the pursuit of holiness at Writing Living Epistles.