a toddler’s rage

Because I blogged about my daughter’s awesome day, the following night she had to break down into one of her more horrific tantrums. Shoulda seen that coming…

Usually on Sundays when I work M wakes up with her Grandma and then goes with my sister from 2pm until I get off of work. Yesterday we switched it up because of my sister’s work schedule, and I took M to my sister’s early in the morning, and my mom got her back at 2 instead. She had a difficult time when I dropped her off at my sister’s, not to mention we had to get up at 5am to get there, so she was extra tired.

With all this in mind, I got home from work and spent some time with her. We took a shower, and I participated in her shower games (she likes me to sit down in the tub with her and play), sang the songs she liked, etc. Then we did our normal bedtime routine and all seemed well.

And then… just as she was feeling safe and loved, of course, she let her emotions fly. My daughter’s tantrums do not look like a child screaming, crying, and rolling on the floor. Rather, she focuses on hurting me physically (hitting, kicking, pulling my hair, and sometimes biting). While attacking me, she laughs and giggles, which she knows makes me insane. She also runs away, throws things (then demands them back), and jumps up and down frantically.

Luckily for her me both of us, in addition to the books I mentioned previously by Alfie Kohn and Siegel/Bryson, I also just finished Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Laura Markham and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame by Janet Lansbury, both of which I also loved. So I went into the tantrum with a strong conviction that I could handle it without a) losing my cool completely or b) using punishments/rewards.

Although I understood her reason for needing to let out her strong emotions, and would’ve liked to “talk” about how she felt that day, two-and-a-half-year-olds generally aren’t in a “talking” mood as they’re blowing up. My first priority was to deflect the blows coming at my head and stomach and unclamp the fists from my hair. I held her arms and legs away from me and said only once or twice, calmly, “That hurts. I won’t let you hurt me.” After a minute of her laughing and continuing to try to strike me, I said, “I’m going to stand away from you for a minute because you are trying to hurt me.” I stood next to the bed in the dark room, facing away from her, and tried to breathe and bring my blood pressure back down to some level compatible with life.

After I felt like I was no longer going to have a stroke, I went back to her. I said, “I’m going to sit next to you now. Would you like a hug?” Unfortunately, she went back into attack mode. I can tell that she’s experimenting with my reactions and testing her limits because she’d wait for me to be calm, then strike, looking at me like, “Do you still love me now? How about now? Are you going to lose control yet? How about now?” Thank you, books, for helping me see exactly what she was trying to tell me she needed! I was determined to show that I could remain calm no matter what she did (or at least demonstrate that I can control my frustration). I wanted to be successful at lovingly but firmly setting limits while guiding her through her tough feelings.

Here’s some things that worked: I asked, “Were you mad at mommy when she left you with Auntie?” M replied, “Yes!” I said, “Did you feel like kicking?” She said, “Yes!” I said, “I can’t let you kick me, but you can kick the bed”. So she’d kick the bed fast and furious. Another thing I tried was rocking. I asked her if she’d like to rock, she nodded yes, so I sat on the bed with my feet in front of me, she sat in my lap, and we rocked back and forth, back and forth. While rocking, she didn’t feel like hitting me, and she felt and accepted my affection for her as I was holding her. She would sometimes even kiss me or say, “Sorry mama”. Unfortunately, when I told her, “it’s time for bed now” she would rev up again. If I asked her if she was ready for bed, she would say no.

Eventually, at about 11pm, she was falling asleep while we rocked but refusing to go to bed if I tried to move her. She was willing to sleep where she was, so that is how we went to sleep, with her feet up by my head. If she wanted to sleep upside down, fine with me.

The important thing, I feel, was that we went through all of this without me losing my cool and without us feeling like enemies. The whole time it was like, “I’m on your side. You can’t hit me or hurt me, but I’m here for you while you’re feeling this way. I’ll try to help you if I can.” So although the tantrum was still long and awful, it did NOT end with bad feelings between us, or any guilt on my part. She got to see that I could stay in control no matter how many times she pushed my buttons (and boy does she know which ones to push) and that she wouldn’t be allowed to hurt me, leave the room to play or watch tv (because it was bed time), but she would be allowed to express her feelings and still have her mom there to support and love her.

Success! Exhausting, brutal success, but success nonetheless.

Author: Mother of All Things

Mother by fostering, adoption, and marriage... wife to my best friend... Bay area critical care nurse... travel in my blood, reading in my bones, clean food on my mind!

17 thoughts on “a toddler’s rage”

  1. Perfect! Err, you know what I mean. That sounds like a really long day for both of you. I’m going to make an educated guess here that if you continue with that method when she has these strong emotions, the episdoes will be shorter and less frequent. She will learn to express herself with words and work through these big emotions.

    1. Thank you! I really appreciate encouragement. I really feel completely alone in this… no one in my circle of friends, family, or co-workers parents this way… at best they all think I’m being weird, at worst they think I’m ruining my kid.

      1. I know Lindsay reads Janet and I have mostly online friend who does. I haven’t even been able to convince my friend and former boss to stop saying “okay?” with every direction she gives her 3yo. It takes time and you will have to go back an read things or right down key phrases, but it really works.

      2. Janet is good, especially for toddler years, but other authors explain it really well, too. It would be nice to be part of a community of like-minded individuals on a daily basis, but… that’s a pipe dream right now.

  2. Ya done good…soooo good. It is so hard to keep your cool in those moments. Evelyn has not been violent with me apart from slapping me (yet!) and I still have a hard time finding my inner peace when she’s rolling around no the floor and screaming at me to “go away” and hollering “no, mommy!” as if I’m abusing her.

    1. “Go away” and “No mommy” would be super hard on me, but because the laughing and hair pulling gets me riled up the quickest, she goes for that. These kids are smart… they do exactly what makes us most upset.

      And thanks!!! Feels so good to have some support and encouragement.

  3. Triumph!! I mean. Well. You know what I mean. It is HARD AS SHIT to keep your cool when someone is doing things intending to hurt you. And even harder? Continuously being present and loving. You are rocking this mama!!

  4. I’m completely impressed that you kept your cool – that’s my number one struggle, not dealing with my daughter’s behavior so much as dealing with my own! I’ve read some of those books… I need to check out the ones I haven’t read!

  5. This is the first time i have heard anyone describe what we go through with my granddaughter all the time. Especially if she is tired or there is a change in routine. She only does the hitting, kicking and spitting with my husband and i. It is a horrible thing to go through for us and for her. At school they tell me she is an angel! She is four now and i was finally able to get her a behavioral therapist. The therapist says this behavior is due to attachment disorder and witnessing domestic violence between her parents. We are trying to follow the gentle parenting rules, sometimes it works, sometimes not. There is no one who understands because of our unique situation as grandparents raising our grandchild. My parents who are 80 believe in spanking and creating little slaves. Thats how i was raised. I then determined MY children were not going to be raised in that manner,so they grew up with a stay at home mom who did it all. Therefore the kids had little responsibility. Trying to establish middle ground here as we attempt this parenting thing in a new era with a difficult child. So glad i happened upon this article! Not feeling quite so alone now. 😉

    1. Thank you for commenting! Even though all challenging kids do *something* that confounds and disturbs us, it’s so great to connect with parents/grandparents who are dealing with the exact same behavior. I have worried often that something is really wrong with her, to cause her to be so violent towards me. I’m ashamed to admit to other moms what these tantrums look like. I’m ashamed that I’m sometimes frightened of her, even though she’s 2 1/2. We are seeing a therapist this very week to get a head start on working on it.

      It means so much to me that you left this comment. It’s so important to support each other.

      1. I just said to my LO today as I found myself backing away from her, why am I always afraid of you? She weighs 40 lbs, but due to illness I am a frail 90. It is disheartening to be afraid of a 4yo, but our instincts are there for a reason, right? One time she almost pushed me down the stairs. She didn’t realize that since we were at the top of the stairs that might happen, she just wanted to hit and kick. It was all about the moment not the location.

        I was wondering if anyone’s child seems to tempt accidents to happen. Such as hanging from the top banister or rolling toward the top of the stairs, tipping her chair back, etc. When there is a near miss she seems to like it instead of scaring her. She often ends up at the stairs during her tantrums as she knows we don’t like her to be there. She is surely taunting us.

        I am dreading another three day weekend. The routine we’ve established and the consistency she gets on school days is so fabulous that the weekends become unbearable. Visitation with her dad can make her happy or angry and we can’t figure out why. Therapy is painstakingly slow to make progress. So sorry… I can just go on can’t I?

        I’m going to keep up with this wonderful blog and group of supportive moms as there truly is strength in numbers. Thank you all for sharing your insight and experiences. Tomorrow’s another day!

  6. OMG! You just completely explained my son’s exact reactions lately. His father and I separated in April and I know my son is feeling anxiety but can’t explain it. He’s only 2. I need to read thoae books and take this exact approach. He smacked me the other day with a measurint cup hard enough to cut the bridge of my nose. And we were just playing. He has been lashing out a lot lately all throughout the day! Thanks for this!

    1. I hate when I get whacked like that! I see stars and have to run the opposite way or I’ll hit back. I try to remind myself that the overwhelming urges I feel to yell or hit back are the same intensity of the urge she felt to do it in the first place… Except she’s two and has no impulse control yet. Still, all the knowing in the world doesn’t help the fact that you feel beaten up!

  7. This was a wonderful read. You apply all the techniques I teach through Mindful Patenting Groups at wellbabycenter.org
    There is a facebook page, The mama tent at well baby center where I post blogs on the same techniques and the moms are likeminded.
    I would love to connect with you. Where are you based?

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