The basis of human existence, if simplified, works down to two things – wants and needs. This need “to want something and to get what we want” manifests itself in all human beings, in many different forms. “I want to top the class at school” is what some children have said to me, a steely light of determination glinting in those eyes. “I want that job and I’m going to go all out to get it” is what I’ve heard many an adult proclaim.
Given this need to continuously and consistently satisfy our incessant wants, it should not really come as a surprise that nature has built this need into our psyches, pretty much like one of those HP laptops that come pre-loaded with certain software.
This need to get what we want starts out pretty early in life. The other day, I saw a mother with her toddler in the supermarket. That toddler was throwing a mighty fit because he wanted a pack of chewing gum and the mum had plucked the pack from his hands and put it back on shelf. It was interesting – exactly how things had panned out there. The toddler picked up a pack of chewing gum from the shelf and held on to it like a sinking man, who does not know how to swim, might possibly hold on to his life jacket. Yes, that toddler was hanging on for dear life to a pack of chewing gum, blissfully oblivious of the fact that he was in no state to chew gum, given that all he had in his mouth were four teeth. But then again, this never was about a pack of gum that day. There was a lot more at stake.
The mum went on to take the pack from his hand and put it back on shelf. One could literally hear the wheels creak and groan inside the toddler’s head as he formulated the next “course of action”. He smiled that drooly smile that simply melts hearts to mush and picked up the pack again. Mum was not having any of it and with a rather determined look on her face, put the pack right back on the shelf. Another smile from the toddler, though this time it was not as wide eyed and drooly as the first one. This one said “ok – I’m not giving in either but no harm in throwing another smile missile”. Mum was not moved, not one bit.
The toddler decided to drop the smiles. They simply weren’t working. This called for sterner stuff. He picked up the same pack and this time held the pack next to his chest with both little hands on it and held on to it tightly. As Mum moved towards him, he toddled backwards a bit. This went on for a bit until the toddler decided to use the ultimate weapon in his arsenal – The Brahmastra, I used to call it when my kids were little – he put his lung power to good use and screeched. It was a screech that brought a lot of people to a halt, made them pause, turn around and take a good look.
Now that he had attention, the toddler went into the “high action” mode – screeching, stomping his feet, red in the face and not willing to give a millimeter as far as his precious possession went. It was pretty much a David and Goliath situation and in this case, David was winning – not by yards but by the miles. Finally, just wanting to escape the “looks” that were being thrown their way, the mum decided to give in and buy that pack of chewing gum as well. The transformation was nothing short of magical. The screeching stopped, the stomping stopped and the toddler turned into a modern day version of an angel, sans the halo and the wings.
That little toddler had learnt a very important lesson that evening. He had probably learnt that the quickest way to get something he wanted was to wait until they were in a crowded place and then give it his all. Given the fact that babies, toddlers, children are very intelligent people, it does not take them very long to put “two and two together”. It took me back to the times when our kids had been that little. Oh yes! We have had our share of “supermarket incidents” and “toy shop incidents” and what have you. There have been instances when the kids have brought the roof down and it has taken us our all and then some to put our foot down and kept it there – irrespective of the lung power and the water hoses that were unleashed. No matter how sweet or adorable a toddler, parents need to bear in mind that toddler meltdowns are a given. Simply put, they are a part of growing up.
Why do toddlers have meltdowns?
In their minds, it is just them. “Me” is all a toddler knows, in terms of gratification. They cannot, at that age, be expected to know that there is a “them” component. It is way too much for them to comprehend. This does not come as part of the package deal, either. It needs to be taught, in little bits so as not to overwhelm the little minds and that is where the mighty parent steps in.
In a toddler mind, there is only room for instant gratification. With toddlers, it is always “now”. They do not know the meaning of the word “later”. Yet again, it is upto a parent to use their fertile imagination in defusing situations that are more scary than live bombs or mines in a minefield and slowly but surely, introduce the toddler to the wonders of the word “later” or even better, “never”.
Most of a toddler’s frustration stems from the lack of ability to communicate. They cannot “say” what they want. They cannot “tell” us how they feel. This, combined with the fact that most toddlers always want to do more than they can accomplish physically, makes it a wonderfully volatile combination.
When talking to a toddler, a calm voice always helps. It is not going to help, getting into a screaming competition with a toddler. Trust me when I say, they will beat us hands down. Secondly, to watch a parent lose control is probably the most scary thing for a toddler or a child to witness. Calm behaviour and a calm adult voice also eases and soothes a toddler (not always, though!). It helps to have a parent sitting (say on their knees) so that the parent is at eye level with the toddler. Would you want to talk to a giant who towers over you ? So then, why assume that a toddler would be interested in communicating with someone that looks, at that given moment, like the Burj Khalifa ?
Some little things that helped us retain our sanity whilst shopping with a toddler on hand
Some little things that have helped us a great deal in avoiding temper tantrums, especially when it comes to supermarket shopping is to time it right (not when the toddler is sleepy or hungry).
It has helped immensely if we made a list of what needs to be bought so that the route inside the supermarket is already mapped out inside our heads. That way, we avoided many a Mr. Beanish situation inside a supermarket or a department store.
It also minimised the need to rush back into the supermarket, having forgotten the most important, absolutely–have–to–buy thing that you went to the supermarket for, in the first place and then walked out, having forgotten to buy it. Needless to mention, the walking out part would be after having stood in the checkout line for a good fifteen/twenty minutes, if it happens to be your lucky day.
When the kids were a little older, playing I Spy with my Little Eye worked wonders as long as we did not point out something on the ceiling to them because if that were the case, as luck would have it, kids would insist on touching it or some such. Mr. Murphy and his Laws would be abundantly evident then.
Every single time (I mean every single time) explaining to the toddler that throwing a hissy fit was not going to work, actually seemed to work for us. If nothing else, it fortifies you before you head out to the supermarket.
As is the case with just about any facet of parenting, there is no definite right or wrong to any of these situations. Parents will need to deal with these situations as and when they arise. They give the idiom “thinking on your toes” a totally new meaning. In this case, the parent is usually hyperventilating as he/she thinks of the most effective way of dealing with the situation. What works for one parent might be a disaster for another or maybe, more effective for yet another.
What one needs is to really give this a think before acting. Think in terms of whether one is simply looking for a short term remedy to the situation or whether one is thinking in terms of the long term. Simply giving in to the “wants” of the child each and every time he/she throws a tantrum does bring about immediate relief and quietude from all that yelling and screaming but what one is doing is instilling the seeds in those fertile minds for more such future situations. Every single time parents make a decision, albeit little ones, and see them through, they are shaping a little personality that they created, they are molding an individual that they brought into this world, they are teaching their children the ways of life and accepted behaviour by involving them.
These kind of situations are very much a natural process of growing up – both for the child and more so, for the parent. Like I’ve always believed, parenting is one huge learning curve that simply does not end. One just moves from one stage of parenting to another and each stage brings along with it, its own set of good moments, worries and challenges. Parenting is a lifelong commitment, a huge responsibility.
It never quite ends.
Gauri Venkitaraman dons many hats – a wife, a mom, a teacher and many more. Working as a full time English teacher in HongKong, Gauri also raises and nurtures two terrors, affectionately known as The Nutty Siblings a.k.a Macadamia, a teen and Pecan, the ten year old who behaves like he is fifteen. Gauri’s family means the world to her. Life is a lively roller coaster ride and we, as a family, aim to enjoy the ride together. http://tiny-tidbits.blogspot.hk/ is where Gauri pens down her thoughts and musings, in an attempt to preserve memories for posterity.