If you’re a toddler mom, you’ll recognize this moment: You’ve said “no” four-hundred times; your arms are sore and your voice is tired. Your house is strewn with toys, and you’re pleading with your toddler to stop doing [insert any type of messy, dangerous or otherwise frustrating behavior here]!
I had one of those moments today. I sat on the floor, changing a poopy diaper and I was about to lose my cool because my hair was being pulled yet again. For some reason unbeknownst to me, my two-year-old just. kept. pulling. it. Despite my constant pleas. I finally turned around sharply to scold him, and then I saw him, holding a hairbrush. A hairbrush! I was too distracted to notice, but all he was doing was combing his mommy’s hair, just as he’d seen me do before.
I immediately felt bad for snapping at him, so I obliged. He happily brushed my hair, laughing and mumbling, “Mama hair” over and over. What could have been a “terrible two” tantrum, ended up being a precious bonding moment!
I was reminded then, of one simple truth that has dramatically increased the love and connection I have with my son:
Toddlers are people too.
Although their decisions and even their desires at times are incorrect or unsafe, their emotions are not. They feel emotions the same way we do. They just want to be understood, free to make choices, and shown kindness- the same way we do.
Toddlers are sometimes hard to be around. I get it. They scream at the drop of a hat, their mood changes in an instant, they make messes, throw food and try to find a way to get hurt in every setting. But too often, we just dismiss them as being “terrible” and forget that if we were living their life, we might throw some tantrums too!
Imagine your day going something like this:
You wake up, and you’ve peed your pants. You then wait until someone else comes to change your pants for you.
Although you want to do something else right now, someone tells you it’s time to eat, and you don’t necessarily get to pick your meal.
Although the rest of your day is filled with discovery and fun, you’re often placed into the car in a five-point harness and driven to who-knows-where, and for who-knows-how-long.
You’re often told “no”, and a lot of the time it’s because you were trying to try something new.
And when someone else decides it’s time, you’re put to bed.
In my book, this is actually a pretty typical day as a toddler mom, and a good one too! And like I said, our toddlers’ days are filled with excitement and discovery, but they really don’t get to decide very much of what happens to them. And of course they don’t! Because as parents, we really do know what’s best for them! We know they need to eat, sleep, and stay out of danger. To them, though, they are desperately seeking independence, and not always finding it.
Now, this essay isn’t some totally “out there” plea to give your toddlers full independence! No, ma’am. I have a two year old, and I know that they definitely need some direction.
This essay isn’t seeking to change your parenting style, or convince you to live in a chaotic world controlled by your toddler. No, the purpose of this essay is just to promote a little bit of empathy. Empathy for those tiny people who have real emotions that sometimes we sweep under the rug- not because we want to, but because we just forget.
Empathy, when you’re beyond frustrated in the middle of the night, because your toddler can’t sleep. I promise, they are frustrated too.
Empathy, when they’ve made a mess, and you’re understandably angry because you’re scraping play-doh off the wall. I promise that they’re angry too, to see that their creation was a mistake.
Empathy, when they’re crying in the car. Oh boy, the car. You want to pull your hair out. They probably want to pull their hair out too, because they don’t understand why they’re there, or where they’re going. (And honestly, their bum might hurt.)
Now, empathy does not mean anarchy. Empathy means genuine love. Don’t forgo all rules, or disregard your role as teacher. Just remember how they’re feeling. A word of comfort, a hug, or a simple “I’m sorry that this frustrates you” can go a long way during a discouraging toddler moment.
Toddlers are people too. We know it, but we don’t always act like it- especially during a battle. They have hearts like ours, and brains like ours. Brains seeking to be understood, and hearts aching to be validated. Our day is their day. The things we do, the places we go, they go too. And honestly, for the most part, they go willingly and happily.
And how lucky are we, to spend our day with these tiny people.
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