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The Calm Within the Storm

To state the obvious, it takes a great deal of effort and willpower to remain unfazed by tantrums and incessant screaming from an irrational toddler. On the outside, I strive to remain cool and collected. My husband reminds me in my lesser moments, “be the calm within the storm,” as in my two-year-old does not have the maturity to handle herself when overwhelmed with emotions but I, as a 38-year-old woman, do (or should).

These days, Hazel is the one who has tantrums. She’s two-and-a-half years old and she is a child who knows exactly what she wants. She knows what she wants to eat, where she wants to go, what she wants to do, but she lacks the understanding and restraint to know what’s best for her. This is where I come in as her mother. I establish boundaries, set limits, and try to establish balance in her day.

For example, she loves screen time. In the mornings, she gets to join Maggie’s ECI virtual school class and has developed a taste for playing on the computer. Sometimes, I’ll let her play for a little while on Khan Academy Kids or PBS Kids. She also loves watching certain shows on TV. Current favorites are Bluey, Winnie the Pooh, Word Party, and anything starring Mickey Mouse. If left to her own devices, she would do this all day. For a two-year-old, research shows that screen should be limited which I do. She plays on the Chromebook for about 20-30 minutes after virtual school and gets about thirty minutes of TV per day. She wants more and I say no, hence a tantrum.

Another example is food. I think most families have a picky eater kid. In ours, it’s Hazel. Before Maggie started the ketogenic diet to control her seizures, Maggie would eat everything. From vegetables, fruits, grains, meats, beans, and anything else, Maggie would eat just about anything, except anything marginally spicy. Hazel, however, will be fixated on a particular food and will only want to eat that food. For example, chopped nuts are a current favorite, along with prunes, bacon, eggs (fried only), and an assortment of fruits. She will refuse most foods, like different meats, pasta, grains, nearly every vegetable, and honestly, her refusal to eat and finish her meals is getting on my nerves. It’s not just me. Maggie, being limited to her ketogenic diet, will glare at her sister with a death stare that suggests, “What’s wrong with you? Just eat it, Mommy makes great pappitas!”

Maggie didn’t really go through a tantrum phase. There were periods of time where she was disagreeable about everything in general, which we’ve typically attributed to her not feeling well. With her seizures, medications, and inability to communicate, Maggie certainly has reason to throw tantrums, but she simply doesn’t. I think she’s resigned and accepted her seizures, along with the medical and therapeutic interventions. She doesn’t like the eye patch for her lazy eyes, the orthotics for her toe walking, and sometimes, she wants to eat what the family is eating, but she typically accept everything that is happening with minimal complaint. Perhaps it’s her personality or it could be that her developmental delays mean she hasn’t actually hit the tantrum phase yet. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping it’s her personality and not indicative of a dormant tantrum phase that has yet to emerge.

To deal with tantrums, I have a few strategies that have typically worked well. One is a distraction. She wants something and I’ve said no, so then I’ll offer a different choice that I’m okay with. Sometimes, I’ll simply remove her from the room using the Love and Logic approach and let her ride out the tantrum out of earshot. This is usually my approach if Maggie is home with us because Hazel’s screaming can trigger seizures. Sometimes, I’ll simply let her curl up in my arms while she’s wailing about whatever it is, and just hold her until she’s calm again.

The absolute worst thing to do is to get into an argument with a two-year-old. Oh, dear God, toddlers are not developmentally equipped to comprehend logic. Attempt to reason with her when she’s upset is an exercise in escalation. Instead, wait until she’s calm and attempt to explain. If she’s receptive, she might learn from the conversation. If she’s upset, she definitely will not.

In all of this, as an adult, I strive to remain calm in the storm, but there are times when I want to scream and yell back. If I find myself losing my cool, I will take a time out myself and remove myself from the situation (with the kids safe, of course). Walking away and counting to ten helps. Realizing where my toddler is at, developmentally speaking, also helps. I remind myself that this tantrum phase is normal and it is a phase...

Or at least I hope it is.


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