My parents used to sing the Rolling Stones song, “You can’t always get what you want,” to me when I was little, and I hated it with a fiery passion. I get where they were coming from now that I’m parenting a two-year-old, though.
In the event of a tantrum, I’ve found that apparently my first reaction is to channel the coldness of a prison guard in a brute force approach — “You will stop crying and you will LIKE stopping crying!” — which is not only disturbing to realize about myself, but makes it into a power struggle, which is completely ineffective and frustrating.
Conversely, the gentle Mr. Rogers tack in which I ask him to explain his sadness just makes him look me in the eyes and wail louder and more deliberately, like a person trying to talk to someone hard of hearing.
I’ve tried blowing in his face to startle him, which I read about somewhere. It startles him, but then he cries about being startled. I’ve tried doing a silly dance to distract him, which has literally no effect on him, and makes me feel like an idiot.
It wasn’t my proudest day, but I found out recently that if you’re in Cole’s Woods and your kid is freaking out because they want to hit a stump with a stick for twelve more hours, he’ll stop instantly if you tell them that bears will eat you if you cry in the woods.
Our pediatrician, along with countless others, affirms that ignoring a tantrum is the best way to deal with it. It’s not so easy to ignore in public places where the furrowed brows of passers-by urge you to make the crying stop or go the heck home.
I’ve read that toddlers and tantrums are best dealt with by diverting their attention, and I’ve found that to be true. And for certain fits, it does the trick just to hug him and acknowledge he’s upset so we can move on. I’m slowly getting the hang of it.
He doesn’t cry constantly, and I don’t mean to make it sound like he does. But like we all do, he has his off days, or off hours, and sometimes he’s inconsolable. They’re weary moments.
My friend Sarah Bates, who is a former nanny, told me once that we adults are funny in that we want to dress a kid up and take them to the playground to have fun, but then struggle with the kids to get them there.
But if we could just step out of our one-track-mind for a second and notice that they’re having plenty of fun simply hitting a stump with a stick or playing in the dirt or whatever it is we’re dragging them away from, we would all be happier.
This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on September 11, 2014.