Tantrums are opportunities to connect

 75197_angryEditor’s note: This post was originally published on Oct. 2, 2008, but offers timely tips to parents of toddlers.

Before I became the mother of a toddler, I remember listening to other parents describe their little one’s behavior with the term “terrible twos.”

To be honest, I had no idea what kind of behavior was meant by the term except that whatever was going on during this stage in a child’s development was somehow “terrible” or at the very least, challenging for the parents.

As my high need baby grows into an almost 2 year old, I am — and believe me, I am not bragging — now the enlightened mother of a child who is going through her terrible twos. My dear Annabelle is, one instant, a cheerful little girl who listens to mom and dad — and likes them — and the next, she is a take-charge, march-to-the-beat-of-her-own-drum rebel who has little patience for her pesky parents.

Since we practice Attachment Parenting, I often turn to other parents in my local API Support Group as well as books on Attachment Parenting. My favorites are those written by the Sears family; right now, The Discipline Book is helping me make sense of those intense “terrible twos” moments with my toddler, who the Sears might describe as a “tantrum-prone child.”

If you are a parent of a toddler who is short-tempered, you may be reading this post, nodding your head in understanding. If not, then consider yourself the lucky parent of a mellow toddler.

Whatever your experiences with your child, I hope you will understand that I love my daughter very much, am attentive to her, hold her, nurse her and do my very best to parent her from my heart. That said, there are times when I feel overwhelmed by her tantrums, and on those days when I am especially sleep-deprived and the world is foggy, I simply don’t know what to do…although I often consider these the best days to rest, lay low and let my little one read books in bed with me.

My own responses to my daughter’s tantrums range from giving in to her demands — for example, when she says “mine,” I passively tell her “okay” — to firmly saying “no,” which I really really dislike saying since it reminds me of own authoritarian father.

At a recent play date where Annabelle insisted on bringing her helium-inflated balloon, I foresaw the balloon triggering a tantrum or perhaps a power struggle with another child and then I observed the accuracy of my intuition when Annabelle pushed her playmate down as the child attempted to touch the balloon. In the past, I simply removed toys that triggered power struggles between children at our playgroups. This time, I apologized to the parent of the child who Annabelle pushed and then asked Annabelle to sign her apology to the child. I then told my daughter that the balloon needed to take a break. Perhaps because of the commotion, Annabelle completely melted down.

In The Discipline Book, the Sears devote an entire chapter to tantrums that they call “Taming Temper Tantrums.” Underlying the advice in this book is the Sears’ ideal that parents encourage “desirable actions” and discourage “undesirable behavior.” Below, I’ve listed several techniques that the Sears recommend for discouraging tantrums and other undesirable behaviors that I’ve found helpful:

  1. Practice Attachment Parenting — By practicing Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting, we can establish a strong bond with our children and stay in tune with their emotions and thoughts.
  2. Identify triggers — As I mentioned earlier, I notice that certain situations will upset my daughter to the point that she feels like she is going to lose control, like sharing a favorite toy or leaving the park when she is having lots of fun. At the same time, I find myself surprised at times that she has become upset or needs some quiet time to herself. The Sears recommend making a behavior chart and noting what kinds of circumstances encourage desirable behavior versus undesirable behavior.
  3. Know yourself — A child who is prone to getting upset may have a parent who is also highly sensitive. By learning healthy ways to respond to a tantruming child, a sensitive parent may avoid making the situation worse by acting quickly. The Sears also suggest that parents who throw tantrums seek professional help so that they may move beyond their own undesirable behavior.

Even the most attentive of parents who are totally in tune with their children may find themselves with a tantrum-throwing child. Since our children are expressing their frustrations by throwing a tantrum, according to the Sears, parents can use these moments as opportunities to connect with their child. The Sears suggest that parents help give a word to what their children may be feeling while tantrumming, to gently hold and talk soothingly to the child, and to reassure the child that things will be okay.

With these approaches for managing tantrums, I feel more confident that I will be prepared to help my daughter the next time she gets upset and overwhelmed by her emotions.

What experiences have you had as the parent of a tantrum-prone toddler? What suggestions do you have for helping a child (and parents) manage overwhelming emotions? Have you found any books on Attachment Parenting to be helpful to you when your child was going through the “terrible” and “terrific” twos?

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Meeting Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker

A few weeks ago I received an exciting phone call from my co-leader Ivana Lombardo for our Northern Virginia chapter of Attachment Parenting International. Her news? Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, founders of API and authors of the new book Attached at the Heart, were coming into town. Barbara and Lysa planned to promote their new book and meet with the U.S. Department of Health to discuss the  attachment parenting lifestyle. Our group had been called on to host them while they were in town; I was psyched to meet API’s founders and was able to help out by making a strawberry and almond salad for an intimate dinner with them. Below are a few photos that I took during our dinner (with alotta help from my half pint assistants Diego and Annabelle).

API founder Barbara Nicholson, who is a mom of four and a wonderful lady. She is so excited that theU.S. Dept. of Health literature is promoting AP principles like breastfeeding, responding with sensitivity to our children, and much more. I have to say that I was a little surprised at her news but am super excited to see that our government is acknowledging that AP parenting works.

You’ll notice that in this photograph of Barbara, there is a bottle. I have to admit that I felt a bit strange meeting the founders of API while bottle feeding my son Levi.  While I know that feeding with love and respect (which I am doing with a bottle) is an AP principle, I remember that once upon a time, this principle was called “breastfeeding.”  I so badly wanted to breastfeed my son Levi and I did for the first month of his life.  I shared my story of experiencing severe postpartum depression and how breastfeeding was something that I needed to let go of for sake of my mental health.  I tell myself, whenever I am feeling bad about not breastfeeding Levi, that at least I am here, functioning and loving him.

Let me tell you: Barbara and Lysa didn’t judge me for how I am feeding my baby and I thank them for that.  Moms need other moms to support them, especially when hard decisions are made.

Lysa Parker cozied up with all of our kids.  Here she is with leader Krystal MacDonald’s son Diego. Both Lysa and Barbara were so warm to our children and to us mammas too. I felt like I had known them both for a long time.

Annabelle took this photograph of Lysa. Isn’t she a beautiful lady?

The infamous Diego, who is a budding violinist and (I think) photographer.  His mamma is homeschooling him.  He is just the sweetest, smartest kid ever.

I let the kids play with Nikon.  Let’s just say that they had a great time having their own photo session:

Annabelle photographed Diego “taking a nap” while they played together upstairs in his room.

and I think she took this photo of Diego’s train mat.

This photograph belongs to either Diego or Annabelle. I loved that they immediately wanted to photograph the toys.

My co-leader Ivana Lombardo and her baby Philip.  Ivana and I gave birth around the same time.  Ivana is such a positive role model and support for our local group.  I look to her for advice since her older son Alec is almost 2 years older than my daughter Annabelle.  I have to say, having our AP support group has made such a difference in my life . . . in how I parent and how I love others too.

At dinner, we invited everyone who could come, including Diego’s tadpoles.

Krystal McDonald opened her home and her heart to all of us.  She is an amazing mom, a La Leche League leader, an API leader, and a good friend too.  I learned everything I know about cloth diapering from her, 🙂

and this beautiful window is nestled in on a stairwell in Krystal’s home.  Just gorgeous, isn’t it?  I think it really speaks to who Krystal and her family are: a connected and loving family.

Meeting Lysa and Barbara was an amazing opportunity to spend the evening with wise, loving women and our children too. I certainly felt honored and learned a lot just from listening to everyone talk about parenting, life, and making changes in the world. Definitely a night I won’t forget.

*******

Jessica Monte is a budding photographer and author of the blog Days of You and Me (once upon known as Green Mamma).  To see what Jessica is up to these days, visit http://www.greenmamma.org

Cobathing

Bath time in our house is a social event. Since becoming the parents of a demanding toddler (armed with a growing vocabulary), my husband and I can hardly remember the days when taking a shower added up to a) showering alone, and b) getting in, washing up, and getting out.

In our childhood, my husband and I both remember bathing and showering with our siblings and mothers, probably out of convenience and because bathing together equaled more playtime (does anyone else remember playing with tub town toys?). However, once we reached a certain age, our parents designated separate bathing times for each person; co-bathing became something special that only small children could do, and bath playtime was all but lost.

Fast forward a few decades to the present. Nowadays, showering is a two-person activity and sometimes a group event. When Annabelle was a newborn and even a baby under age one, we bathed her in our tub or placed her in a toddler tub with natural bath products. This worked swimmingly so far as getting her clean was concerned; however, she howled with disapproval whenever mom or dad tried to sneak off to the tub by their lonesomes. Eventually, being the swift thinkers that her parents are, we realized that our little one might be more content if we simply invited her to bathe with us. And well, she is.

On a typical day, Annabelle likely showers twice in the morning, once with my husband and another time with me; and if it’s been a particularly messy day or we’ve been at the public swimming pool, she showers yet again. Most of the time, she sits down in the tub and plays with her toys while one of us focuses on the business of washing up. My husband tends to shower first, so he takes care of soaping Annabelle and getting her clean. By the time I make my way to the shower, Annabelle is eager to join me for a second round of tub fun (though this time I shower and simply let her play with toys, collect dripping water with a cup, and splish and splash).

Bathing together serves many purposes for our family. As most folks in the western world do, we bathe for cleanliness. But now that our toddler insists (and I’d say rightly so) on bathing with her mom and dad (and sometimes both at the same time), taking a shower or running a bath invites play, allows us to bond, and offers the opportunity to relax and heal after difficult days. Additionally, cobathing allows breastfeeding mothers, like myself, to nurture their babies, soothe engorged breasts, and to enhance milk production. A La Leche League article recommends that parents of adopted babies nurture their breastfeeding relationship by bathing together. Another La Leche League article suggests that breastfeeding mothers of newborns who have had a difficult time establishing nursing try cobathing as a natural way to soothe mom and baby, connect with each other, and relax into the breastfeeding relationship.

For our family, cobathing is more often than not, a positive way to spend time together, to play, and stay clean and healthy. To establish a safe and fun bath in your family, you may want to check out Dr. Sears’ Bathing with Baby tips. What are your thoughts about cobathing? Does your family enjoy showering together or is bath time a sacred ritual for spending some time on your own?

The Concerns of Co-Sleeping Dads

“A good night’s sleep” is a phrase I hear often in my house. Since our 18 month old enjoys a good night’s sleep most every night, it isn’t from her mouth that I hear the phrase (even if she could say it). Sometimes it is me making an excuse about why I felt unmotivated to get this or that done: “Oh, if I’d only had a good night’s sleep, then I would’ve . . .” But, more often I hear the phrase from my husband. We discuss family planning. This is never a good idea after we have not had a “good night’s sleep.” And, I’m learning, it isn’t a good idea to bring up family planning when my husband has had an overwhelming day at the office. On his more stressful days, he becomes passionate when the topic of sleep comes up: “I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a year and half.” Annabelle giggles at him as though she knows exactly what he is saying. I try to hold back a smile (because our wakeful little girl is cute and has stolen my heart completely, sleep or no sleep). And then, together my husband and I share a moment adoring our daughter and I know we’re both thinking, “Isn’t she worth it?”

To be honest, we are sometimes sleep deprived. But for the most part, I know that I rack up a decent night’s sleep and am able to make up for lost sleep during the day, with my daughter napping beside me. I realize that my husband doesn’t have that option. He’s not your regular George Costanza, crawling under his desk to get some shut eye. But, my husband is one of those blessed people who sleeps through storms, probably air bombs, and definitely through the wakings of a teething toddler. What then are his less than “good night’s sleep”? I am guessing those are the nights when I, the ever waking mom, startle him from his sleep and beg for mercy from our daughter. Annabelle nurses through her teething pain, and after a few hours, non-stop breastfeeding is uncomfortable for me, not to mention difficult to sleep through.

Right now we are at a stand still. Annabelle falls asleep in her crib and remains there for several hours until her first waking. Once she is awake, I nurse her or my husband soothes her and she goes back to sleep in her crib. On other nights, she demands a place beside her mom and dad in our family bed. We all wake up together in our bed just about every morning.

My husband, meanwhile, outlines his plans for successfully making it through the entire night with our daughter sleeping in her crib. In the back of his mind, I know he wants to spend more time with me, more time playing pool, and more time just well, sleeping in.

The way I see our sleeping arrangement is that our daughter will gradually become more comfortable sleeping away from her parents, but that it is our job to encourage her trust in her parents as well as her own self-confidence by staying with her through the night, reassuring her that we are there for her no matter what.

And my husband agrees with my point of view, the latter part anyway. He is a most devoted and doting father. I observe the two of them walking together and playing. His voice changes when he speaks with her; he becomes a younger, more carefree version of himself. Even his body language loosens up. He no longer thinks about what is going on at his office, what deadlines are up, etc. He focuses entirely on his daughter.
So I asked him one night, “Do you think that your bond with Annabelle has anything to do with co-sleeping? I mean, think about it. You go to work all day and don’t see Annabelle. Yeah, you have some time with her at night, but just think about how many hours you two spend together sleeping, not to mention how you play together when you wake up in the morning.”

My husband fights a smile. “Maybe I’m just a good father?” he says. He hates to admit that he could ever be wrong about something, but maybe, just maybe, he senses an inkling of truth when it comes to how co-sleeping has benefited his relationship with our daughter.

For those of you who are co-sleeping or are considering co-sleeping, below are several articles addressing dads’ concerns about co-sleeping, the positive effects of co-sleeping with our children, and how to co-sleep safely:

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