how to deescalate a tantrum.


Jake, the girls, and I drove to Michigan last week, and about three hours into our drive home, I lost it.

Oh, you thought this was going to be about how to reduce toddler tantrums? Sorry, I haven’t figured that one out yet. I only know how to deescalate myself.

Now, our girls are champion travelers for the most part, but for whatever reason, last weekend they were especially owly. They’d yell for a book only to throw the book on the ground. They’d yell for their water only to throw the water the ground. Eventually, they were just yelling to yell, and, I’m not proud of it, but they broke me.

Luckily, when Jake and I are together, it seems like at least one of us has it together when the other hits a breaking point, so as any good parent would do, he lied and told the girls I was asleep, so I could chill myself out.

It always gives me a little perspective and grace when I realize that sometimes I just want to throw a tantrum too.

I was thinking about it today, and I realized that tantrums are almost always the result of a lack of control: a kid trying desperately to assert herself and a parent realizing she, in fact, has no ultimate control over said kid’s choices.

I can control my own responses though. I don’t always (see: usually don’t) do this well, but today I have been trying especially hard to breathe in some reminders so as to keep my cool.


She doesn’t fully understand emotions yet. It always helps me to remember that I literally know my kids better than they know themselves. This won’t always be the case, I know, but for now, I am able to put words they don’t even know to the feelings they don’t even know they are expressing. It helps me to remember that sometimes tantrums come simply because they don’t know the words to say.

She’s not actively trying to destroy you. Right? Please tell me this is true.

She’s watching you. This is the one that usually stops me in my tracks, and I see it more now that Lily periodically tries to calm Norah down amidst her own fits of wild rage. Sometimes, she will calmly say, “Shhhh, Norah. It’s okay.” Other times, her voice rises with frustrated emotion. Both responses could have equally been learned from me (although the latter often seems more likely).

I am the dependent variable. The control factor in each thrown tantrum around here. I can coach and I can teach, but I am only ultimately able to control myself and my own responses. At least, If I choose to.

I stumbled into James today (a remarkable “coincidence”) and have now added a necessary new mantra to my daily interactions with the girls: Quick to hear. Slow to speak. Slow to become angry.Don't complicate your mind..jpg

If I can breathe those phrases in each time I feel my body temperature rising, then maybe, just maybe I can set an example worth emulating for my girls. If I can choose to respond well in my heightened states of emotions, then maybe they will start to respond similarly in theirs.

And then I suppose I’ll be ready to write my next post: How to Eliminate Toddler Tantrums Altogether.

[insert all the laughing emojis]

the dichotomy of convenience.

One of the most inconvenient things I ever did was have kids.

This is not a cynical essay about how terrible parenting is. It’s a life I wouldn’t trade for anything (the good and the bad included), but lately I’ve just been thinking about how inconvenient it is most of the time.

Sometimes Jake and I will sit on our front porch after the girls are in bed and remember the simpler times. Times before fully stocked diaper bags and nap schedules. Before discipline and middle of the night accidents became things you had to worry about. Times when you didn’t have to reheat your coffee four times before you finished.

I still remember someone asking me the age-old question right after Lily was born: “Haven’t you already forgotten what life was like without her?”  

Oh, you mean, two weeks ago when I was reading a sappy Young Adult novel on my balcony waiting for Jake to get home, so we could go out for dinner and then maybe see a movie?

You may willingly surrender them, but I’m not convinced anyone really forgets those times. How could you? Everything was easier.IMG_5267Embracing inconvenience comes with the parenting contract. Your child will throw a tantrum at the exact moment you need to leave to make it to library story time on time. Your child will have to go to the bathroom immediately upon entering the public pool. Your child will wake up from her nap early the one day you actually have plans to be productive.

Oh, just me? Yeah, whatever.

But here’s the thing: For all the times inconvenience gets in the way of my very specific, pre-made plans, lately I have been finding that there are many more times that inconvenience is appreciated and even wanted. (This coming from someone who dreams about ways to make things more efficient.)

I have approximately nine hours to fill (not including nap times) each day I spend with my girls. Some days I get really creative and plan extensive, fine-motor activities for them to engage in. And then, after all that work, I’m usually still left with about 8 ½ hours to fill. Toddlers, in case you didn’t know, have particularly short attention spans.

And, so, there are days (especially during the winter when we haven’t been outside for weeks) that I will pack the girls up in the car and drive to Starbucks. And, let me tell you, I am beside myself with joy to see a drive-thru line full of cars. Thirty minute wait? No problem. We’ve got hours to kill.

Putting on sunscreen before we go outside. Emptying the dishwasher while my one-year-old hands me each piece of silverware individually. Trying to pick up and vacuum a single room while both girls are awake.

It’s all so inconvenient, and yet, I’m finding that there’s something to be said for embracing things that help spend our time. Sure, we’re doing things more slowly, but we’re still doing things. It’s time, and I’ll take it.beachMaybe I just like to find silver linings. In any case, I’ll take my long drive thru lines and my three-year-old’s insistence to sweep the floor after lunch (even though I know I’ll end up doing it again anyway). Sometimes when I choose to embrace a tiny inconvenience, my day moves in a better direction than I could have planned anyway.

Of course, until someone, who will not be named, decides to spill coffee all over the floor right before church.

It’s fine. He cleaned it up pretty quick.