Friday, May 15, 2015

Surviving Public Displays of Toddler Tantrums

It was like a scene from the Matrix.  I would place my daughter in the shopping cart, but before I could safely secure her lap belt she'd be out of the buggy, clinging to my head, screaming.  In the back of my mind I kept thinking that I would find some viral display of this epic tantrum on YouTube in a day or two. She was raging, and I was that mother who everyone looked at with judgment or pity.  I tried to keep my composure like a dignified southern bell, but there is no way to gracefully wrangle this rampant child.  
We had just moved to Wisconsin from Arizona, and there were things our family needed, I knew that if I left my passionate child out of the cart, her adventurous personality would find some ciaos to arouse.  Adi didn't cope well with small everyday transitions and this cross country move rocked her world.  We were in the midst of an incredibly stressful season and in order for me to accomplish my shopping mission; she would need to be safely secured in the seat of that red buggy. Repeatedly I would wrestle her into the seat, but as soon as my hands released her to snap the belt, she'd leap from the buggy and grip to whatever part of me she could.  Of course she shrilled, screamed, and cried the entire time, too.  I was at my whits end and so was she.  Several people passed by and offered to help, to bribe my child, or advise me on how to parent her.  Exhausted I sat down in the snack area and rocked her till we both were calm.  We hadn't gotten past the registers yet and there was still some basic needs to be filled in the aisles just feet away.  Her arms and legs were wrapped around my body with a strong grip, while I sat in the snack bar analyzing the situation.  I didn't know whether to cry or rage with anger.  I knew that there would be a similar struggle at the end of the shopping trip when I would try to buckle her into the car seat, and I still needed to do some shopping.  Her little world had been rocked over the past few months, and I was her pillar of stability. She needed to cling to me, but I needed to make sure our household was taken care of including securing a box of diapers from the middle of the store.  If only she would be content for 20 minutes so I could get the shopping done, and then I could hold her the rest of the afternoon, at home.  The comments and piercing looks of disapproval replayed in my head, as I contemplated my next move.  Our debut shopping trip to Target would not earn me this small town's mother of the year award.  I felt like my child’s behavior was a reflection of my parenting, and well what the world saw was not beautiful.  

We have all been in a place where either we observe or experience the difficult struggles of parenting.  Our worldly looking glass reflects a raging child and a fatigued mother as failure.  Like the ugly duckling we suffer this diagnosis, forgetting that a greater work is occurring from the inside out, until the end of the story.  We as mothers were not designed to bear the image of failure, but rather we were created in the image of the Almighty Himself.  It is His Spirit that lives in us and reflects from our faces when we choose to gently love our children through rough stages.  It is by the Spirit that we can rely on strength to not grow weary in doing good.  We are not called to be perfect parents, marching our children through life without defective behavior, rather God calls us to do our best to train and teach our children to know Him.  He has already secured victory for those who love Him, and that is more than comforting for the exasperated mother.   It may not look pretty through the process but you can be sure that when the work God is doing in our hearts is complete our reflection will be of His glory fully matured and beautiful. 

We survived our Target tantrum and the many mall meltdowns that followed.  I thank God for those experiences and that He was my pillar of stability during that season of uncertainty.  He would gently guide me through those moments using other mothers to encourage me in the checkout lines while my child wailed with discontent.  "You're a good mom," "I've been there," and simple smiles were His blessings.  Their words and gestures helped me see past what reflected on the surface, giving me a glimpse of what God radiates on the inside, love.  So dear mother of the young and tantrum prone, you are not alone; there are many of us who know what you are feeling.  Just hang in there, do your best, and rely on Jesus to do the rest.

Tips on how I survived temper tantrum trials:

1. Pray and take a deep breath, in and out; be aware of your body language.  I am a teeth clincher and shoulder stiffener.  You can't control how your child is reacting, but you can control how you do.  Identify how your body reacts and counter it with relaxation techniques. Breath deep, sit down (yep I have sat in many aisles trying to gain my composure), and the most effective PRAY! If you don't know what to pray, simply say Jesus or start with this one, "God give me understanding and the wisdom to calm my child in her distress."  By composing yourself you will be able to parent better than if you are overwhelmed by the stress.
2. Ignore the onlooking judges, their option doesn't count.  Your relationship with your child is far more important than what they think. God is more concerned with the internal battle field than the external worldly misconceptions. Your child's ill temper does disqualify you from parent of the year.
3. Pay close attention to your child's motives.  Many times a fit is an out cry for something your child can't fully communicate. but sometimes it is just a selfish desire for a toy or candy. Identify what triggered the tantrum. You know your child best, and can choose how to handle the situation. All children are special, and some may need more attention than others; God is with you and will equip you to care for your child's heart. 
4. Keep going, though your progress may be slow.  This season will have an end. Your endurance is greater than your toddlers. The example of your self control during frustrating times teaches more than your words.  
5. Don't set yourself up for tantrum throw down.   I know that getting out of the house with little ones is a challenge in itself, but try to plan your day out while your child is happiest and take snacks.  I would find that most of my child's fits occurred when my child was hungry or tiered.  I sometimes joked that they had past her expiration date, even Mommies get "hangry" at times.  
6. Don't define your child by her behavior. Constantly calling your child difficult, or out of control speaks that expectation into their lives.  Unruly behavior needs discipline, but labels can make you forget that your child is a gift.  A good a perfect gift.  Worse yet they have huge impacts on a child's self-esteem.  Discipline, and forgive your child each time they deify the expectations of social etiquette. Speak encouragement into the area they are strong in, then trust God to fill in the gaps.      

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