This is the story of my parental epiphany with regard to handling Digger’s tantrums.
The other night Digger had a massive meltdown. ‘Daddee, daddee, daddeeeeee, daddee, daddee, daddeeee, daadddddEEEE!!’ Mummy just wasn’t going to cut it. He wanted Daddy and only Daddy. All the way through bath time, brushing his teeth, rubbing in his cream and putting on his PJs he was screaming for Daddy and I was wondering what the neighbours must be thinking. By the time I handed over to Daddy for milk and stories, I was exhausted and annoyed. ‘Here you go! You deal with it! I’ve had enough!! £%$@&&!’. Yes, I lost my temper. I’d been calm and patient up to the point and there had been no reward. Grrrrr.
Soon Digger calmed down in the arms of Daddy and even sooner after that he was asleep. Happy as Larry with a smile on his face. But I was still fuming. I was only able to calm down once I realised that it was jealousy – good old-fashioned jealousy – that I was feeling. That acknowledgement released the tension and annoyance inside me. That and a strong feeling that I had failed both him and me.
I hadn’t been able to contain either of us.
A couple of nights later the same thing happened, but this time Dad wasn’t home for the hand over, and so I had to deal with it. All of it. So I did. I held him close. We were sitting on the floor of our bathroom throughout. Digger squirming on my lap throughout. Sometimes he faced me, sometimes he was turned away from me, sometimes he was laying across my legs, but he remained on my lap. I was holding him, but not firmly.
This time I had more resolve and more patience. I kept repeating in properly calm tone of voice (managed not to fall into the patronising calm): ‘I’m here. You are safe’. I acknowledged how (I thought) he must have been feeling: ‘Oh dear, you are sad, very sad. Do you miss Daddy?’ The question released floods of tears, and a hoard of yes’ses. ‘I’m here. Let it all out, sweet mouse. I’m here. I will stay here.’ Digger cried, and cried, and whiggled, and cried.
I didn’t say ‘I won’t leave you’. Because that sentence has the words ‘…leave you’ in it.
I didn’t say ‘Don’t worry it’s is all ok’. Because it wasn’t.
And then … suddenly … it was over. Digger smiled, hiccupped, was meek and happy again. He turned around and wrapped his small hot arms around my neck, and nestled into my neck. And so it all ended in a big cuddle. Milk and stories were administered as usual and he fell asleep peacefully.
I can only describe his outburst as a torrential rainstorm followed by the sun breaking through.
The contrast was stark. And I wonder whether it felt the same to Digger.
It is the first time I have experienced what seemed to be the natural end of a tantrum. Void of hang ups, blame, guilt, anger. Void of the use of distractions or a belittling his feelings. And most importantly, for me anyway, I wasn’t scared of his outburst and wondering about how I was to handle the situation.
I stepped right in. And stayed there.
Seeing through Digger’s outburst of these big, uncontainable emotions has given me great resolve. I have since found tantrums much easier to deal with. We both know that the frightening toddler storms will end. We both know that I, mummy, can sit through them, without being dragged into them.
We have seen I can remain calm.
Whatever the trigger for Digger’s tantrums, I need to be present to show him that he is safe and that I can handle and contain his emotions. I remain in charge throughout. The emotional space I occupy in these moments is difficult to describe, but it is one of (for me) amazing, calm presence and total focus on my son, almost like meditation or you might call it mindfulness. I have a mental image of me being a capital ‘C’ containing his tiny ‘c’. Odd, I know, but it works.
Once again, he has been my supreme teacher. I have learned that I do have the necessary reserve of patience (most days anyway), as long as I trust him and myself.
Since I wrote this a month ago, Digger tantrums have become much less frequent. I assume this is partly due to his age, but I also think we have found a way of working through them. I think he feels more contained when his feelings boil over. But toddler emotions are a moving goal post. Tantrums are bound to be back… and bound to challenge me again. I hope I will remember what I have learnt.
[Editors note: This blog is an edited version of a blog first published on diggerdiaries.wordpress.com where this mother also blogs]