My toddler is an overwhelmingly pleasant, happy little guy — but if you catch us transitioning from one activity to the next, you might think otherwise. For example, if he is happily playing with his toys, he will likely throw a fit when we try to transition to lunch time, then again from lunch time to nap time, and some days we get pretty upset when it’s time to go from nap time back to playtime.
These moments, when I’m asking him to make a change from what he is doing and shift to something new, can cause lots of frustration and big emotions to come out. Typically, it’s yelling, resisting, then crying, until at some point after getting all of his emotions out, he is finally ready and we are able to move on. Then, it’s back to his happy, fun little self.
The parenting books I’ve read say the best way to handle the tantrum phase is to try and remain calm, acknowledge their feelings, be there for them if/how they want you to be, show them patience and empathy, and forgive yourself if you also lose your cool now and again.
Recently, while I was trying as hard as I could to stay calm and patient and simply ride out a tantrum with him, I realized I could actually relate to him. It can be hard! He doesn’t understand or even care that what we are going to do next will be fun and good for him. Transitions are tough. Particularly when they are not happening when you are ready, or when you don’t have any say in what comes next. Even if we are getting ready to go play outside, or have a tasty lunch, in the moment I’m asking him to do something on my timeline, he doesn’t care about what is to come, even if it’s good for him, he just wants things to stay how they are.
The parenting journey is proving to teach me as much about myself as my little one and I’m discovering when it comes to making transitions, I’m not much different than my toddler.
For example, when I reflect on my experience of becoming a mother — something I wanted and has brought me so much joy — I can also see now that it is often filled with many challenging transitions. Many which I haven’t moved through gracefully or without some resistance and sometimes even yelling — much like my 2-year-old son.
- In early pregnancy, transitioning from being a healthy, active person, with lots of energy, to feeling nauseous and tired for weeks on end, led me to get discouraged and frustrated as well as lots of whining.
- In late pregnancy, making the adjustment from being an independent and self sufficient person to having to ask for help with basic tasks like lifting grocery bags and picking things up that fell onto the floor, was a new reality that I didn’t humbly accept. (Ask my husband!)
- Once my son was born, the transition from having autonomy over my sleep schedule, to not having more than three consecutive hours of sleep for well over a year, basically turned me into a walking zombie holding on for survival instead of the super-mom I envisioned.
- Transitioning from working full-time and having my career be a huge part of my life and identity to becoming a stay-at-home mother definitely came with a roller coaster of emotions. Even though this was a decision I chose and wanted, it was still hard and included a number of emotional outbursts.
- As my son has grown, it seemed as if every few months has brought me another transition. Just as I get the hang of things, he reaches a new milestone and things change: the introduction of solid food, walking, dropping naps, using the potty, and various sleep regressions. Time and time again, I’m aware that he is usually more ready for the changes than I am and if I’m honest, handles them better, too.
This past year, we have all had to go through numerous transitions, most of which we weren’t ready for, didn’t choose, or aren’t that happy about. I think it’s safe to say that even the most patient among us has still gotten frustrated, angry, or mad at some point this past year because of ways we’ve been asked to adapt that were not in our control or timeline.
That’s because transitions are hard.
Not just for toddlers, for all of us. It takes time to adjust to a new way of operating, a new task, a new idea. Change is uncomfortable and often difficult. That said, what I’m realizing while watching my son let out all his big 2-year-old emotions, and trying my best to lovingly accept him through it, is that I need to give myself the same grace and love I try to give him.
What if next time we encounter a transition, instead of fighting it, we apply the toddler parenting advice to ourselves. We try to simply step back, acknowledge the moment we are in, allow ourselves to have all the emotions, accept ourselves, be a safe space and most importantly, give ourselves grace and patience to adjust and move forward. Because we will…we alway do. And before we know it, we will be back to our happy, fun little selves again.