I hear a lot from parents (usually other moms) about something their kid does that makes them completely crazy. They often feel like their kid is the ONLY one who does whatever it is that’s making them nutty. With five kids, I know the feeling and I know it well. When my oldest was about eight years old she went through a phase of blaming me for everything – she yelled, she screamed, she told me I was the worst mother in the history of the world and that she hated me. I cried buckets of tears over it. I thought my kid was broken and that I was the only mom on the planet whose child hated them. This phase went on for about a year. I had no idea what to do about it. I cried, I ignored, I yelled back – nothing seemed to work. Then I ended up in a parenting class where other moms talked about this “phase” as if it was no big deal. I couldn’t believe it! I was not a failure as a mother. I was not alone in this. Other parents had suffered through the same thing! I cried more buckets that day – not buckets of sad tears, but tears of relief. Of peace.
Knowing that you’re not alone is a great first step in believing that you’ll make it through. The assurance that you have people who understand your situation and have walked through it (and survived it) plants little seedlings of hope in your heart. Hope that you will also survive it. I hope that this list will plant little seedlings of hope in your heart. Mommying is hard – but you are not alone. There is a community of women all around us who have gone before and whose wisdom we can learn from. It’s time for us all to step up and encourage each other – to band together in a confidence that declares that we can make it – to fight for our collective sanity – to make this mom journey just a little easier because we know that we all have allies.
This list may not be true for every single kid, and there are definitely other things not included in this list. These are the things I hear most often from friends about their own little ones and these are the things I have the most experience with from my own kids. I should also note that since my oldest child is only fifteen and my other four are all under ten, this list really only covers issues I’ve seen during the younger ages. I hope it helps you feel less crazy – or that it assures you that your kids aren’t crazy – they’re just normal kids.
Every single one of my kids (with the exception of the youngest – who is only 2) went through a lying phase. For some it lasted longer than others, but they all went through it around the age of 3-4. My oldest child went through it when she was about three and it lasted for well over a year. My youngest child (who is about 4 1/2) is just now coming out of this phase, which for her lasted only about six months or so. Every child is different. But every child experiments with lying. I read this in an article in Parenting magazine that was published several years ago:
“Victoria Talwar, Ph.D., a leading researcher on the subject at McGill University, in Montreal, says that the act of manipulating the truth for personal gain “is a developmental milestone, much like learning to get dressed by yourself or to take turns. Indeed, studies show that bright kids (who are capable of making up a story and getting others to believe it) can pick up the skill as early as age 2 or 3. And their peers catch up quickly: By age 4, Dr. Talwar says, it’s game on — all children stretch the truth at times.”
Just because your child is experimenting with truth (and that’s what it is – an experiment) doesn’t mean that they’ll grow up to be a sociopath. I promise. They are just trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. They are starting to understand the power of words. It’s a wonderful thing for them to learn that our words have power. We need to teach our kids that words have weight – even our own words. One of the best ways to help your child learn a better way of acting is to model it. Instead of telling them how bad they are, remind them of how good they are. “I know its so hard sometimes to tell the truth – especially when you’re scared of getting in trouble – but you are a very brave and wonderful girl and I know that you can do it.”
Ooh boy – this one is F.U.N. Right? Nothing could make me show my crazy quicker than a toddler on the floor of Target throwing a royal tantrum. And why does it always happen right when all the other shoppers are in the same aisle as I am watching and waiting to see how I handle it? Public entertainment at its finest. Not. I have so much experience with public tantrums that I sometimes feel like we could have our own reality show.
This one is all about testing boundaries. Kids need to know what their limits are to feel safe. Have you ever noticed how kids play differently on a playground with a fence than they do on a playground without one? On playgrounds that have no fence or protective barrier, kids tend to stay close to the middle. They play mostly on the playground and don’t venture out very far. But on a playground with a protective fence, they’ll play all the way out to the edge. The fence makes them feel safe so they venture out farther. Without the fence, they stay closer to the middle where they feel safe. Kids play best in an environment where they know that they have boundaries and they know where those boundaries are. Adults are the same way. We spend more responsibly when we have a budget or plan for spending. We work more creatively when we know what the parameters of our job are. Our kiddos are acting out in public mostly because they want to see how we react. They need to know what’s ok and what’s not. The most important thing we can do in a public tantrum situation is to remain calm (I’m convinced that toddlers can smell fear!) and clearly establish those boundaries. If the fit is a small one I usually ignore it and keep walking. This communicates that I won’t give attention to their behavior. When they don’t get the attention they want, they often switch to a different tactic. If it’s a big one I almost always pick the kid up and leave the store. I’ve left grocery baskets hugely full in the middle of an aisle before in order to remove a hysterical kid from a store. It’s so much easier to discipline when I don’t have an audience. Note: we don’t spank our kids, but we do use lots of time outs which are easier to do in a less public place (my kids love to perform for an audience). In both of these situations, I’m clearly communicating to the kid that tantrums aren’t okay. Giving in to tantrums by giving the kid what they want doesn’t solve the problem – it just delays it for another time. Eventually you’ll have to set clear boundaries – might as well bite the bullet and do it right away because the longer you put it off the battle, the harder it is to actually win.
Testing the boundaries isn’t the only reason for fit throwing, though. They also partly just want what they want and don’t know how to express their deepest desires without emotional outbursts. Sometimes just acknowledging how cool something is and that you understand why they would want it so badly is a great first step in preventing a total melt down. We often say things like, “Wow! What a cool toy! I think I’d like to have one too! Maybe we should add that to our Christmas wish list!” or “that would be a great thing to ask for on your next birthday!” We’ve used lines like this so often that my now eight year old once replied, “No! Not for my birthday! I’m not kidding! I want that!” She’s the only one who ever called our bluff! We still laugh about it.
With both lying and tantrums, it’s easy to freak out or feel like there is something wrong with our kid. Instead, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t Freak Out! This is huge. The more you freak out, the more your little darling will carry on with the lying, the tantrums, and the screaming. This is why my oldest stayed in the lying phase for what felt like an eternity. I was so scared that this was a character flaw in her. I punished her and shamed her and yelled at her and cried at her. Nothing worked. Until I stopped freaking out. All of those other things I did (which are all horrible, by the way!) were enormous overreactions to something that is simply normal experimentation and development in an innocent little child. There is no malicious intent here on the part of the child in any of these situations. They are not trying to make you crazy. They are simply trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
- Don’t Test Them! I did this a lot with my oldest. I would find something broken and ask her “do you know who broke this?” knowing full well that she did, only to have her lie and say it wasn’t her. And then I got mad. I knew she was going to lie, but I tested her anyway just to give her the opportunity to tell the truth. Yes, they should learn to tell the truth – and they will – but we need to make allowance for the fact that they are really, really small and sometimes temptation is just too big for such a little one. Instead, why not let them see that you know the truth from the very beginning and encourage them to affirm that truth. “I noticed that you accidentally broke that toy. Can I help you try to fix it?” or “I saw that you ate your sister’s cookie. Do you think you owe her an apology?” Sometimes we forget how young they actually are. Can you imagine how hard it would be for a tiny little kid with very little impulse control to not freak out over all the dumb stuff at the checkout stand at Walmart? I have a hard time not buying all those pretty magazines and the yummy, shiny candy bars – I can only imagine how hard it would be for a two year old. I bring lots of distractions to the grocery store with me (phone, keys, books, toys, paper and crayons). Try to distract them before they see the stuff – not after. Avoid taking them to the toy area – don’t even walk past it if you can avoid it. We want to set them up for success in every area instead of giving them opportunities to fail.
- Don’t Shame Them! I feel really passionately about this one. And it could really apply to absolutely every situation with kids. Just because your child is testing out the truth, it doesn’t mean that they are a liar or a terrible kid. Before we even get out of the car at the grocery store we remind our kids that they are awesome and responsible and well-behaved and that we expect them to act that way. When a child believes that you believe in them to do the right thing or to act the right way – they will rise to the occasion. They want more than anything in the world to please you and to know that you love and support them. Your support and love should never be dependent on their actions and they need to know that. The only way they’ll know that is if you tell them and tell them often. Kids will only behave as well as they believe they can. Your words to them – your belief in them is the fuel they need to do the right things – to behave well – to believe that they can do better.
- Don’t Give Up! Continuing to encourage your child to tell the truth, to act kindly or to think about their actions is an important task – don’t give up. Praise them every time you notice them telling the truth. Remind them of the importance of truth telling and being well-behaved (not as a lecture – those never work – but just in regular situations). Teach them some of the consequences of lying (loss of trust, losing friends, feeling sad, etc) or tantrums (having to leave the store, time out). One of the things I say to my kids is “you always get in more trouble when you lie than when you tell the truth.” I also say often, “the truth is the only thing accepted here.” (this is especially helpful when they are fighting and I’m trying to decipher the true story of what happened.) I also model it with them as often as I think about it. I am a serial confessor (more about my confession obsession here) and my kids know this about me. If I overreact to a situation or yell at them when I shouldn’t I confess to them that it was wrong and ask them for forgiveness. This may not seem like a huge thing, but it models integrity – which is the root of truthfulness. Teaching them to always do the right thing (especially when it’s hard) is a great way to encourage truthfulness and better behavior in your children.
I have to first admit that I am the mom that judged all the other moms with screaming kids. I was all, “what is wrong with your kids?!” and “why can’t that mother control her child?!” and “she must be a terrible mother because her kid screams all the time!” I would like to just say that what goes around, comes around and man, oh man, am I sorry for my dumb and wrong opinions and judgments. I am now on my second screamer. And this one is fierce. It is probably THE most embarrassing thing as a mother to have a kid who screams all the time. At home. At the grocery store. At the park. At church. My youngest screams everywhere. Mad. Sad. Happy. Scared. All of his emotions are expressed through blood-curdling screams. It’s hard. And stressful. Here are my thoughts on dealing with a screamer:
- Find out why they’re screaming. Even though it may seem really random, every scream has a cause. Are they wanting something? Are they trying to tell you or someone else something? Are they scared? Ask them. Give them the words they need but don’t have quite yet. They’ll often stop screaming when they are able to tell you what they’re wanting to tell you. Ask questions like, “are you scared?” Or “are you mad at sister?” Or “does something hurt?” Little ones can often understand far more words than they can actually say. Sometimes they don’t know the words for what they want but they can take your hand and show you.
- Resist the urge to fight back. I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to scream back (and I have once or twice). Those little lungs are powerful. I have had more headaches caused by screaming kids than I can count. It is so very hard to stay calm while a toddler screams in your face. To solve the problem and stop the screaming, the child needs to feel heard and understood. You can’t hear or understand them when you’re not thinking clearly. When that kiddo starts screaming: I take a deep breath, look at their little fingers or little toes to remind me how tiny they actually are, then I calmly remind them to stop screaming and to use their words instead.
- Remind them it’s not okay. When my boy screams, I walk over to him, get as close to his face as possible and calmly say, “No screaming. When you scream, you sit.” And then I sit him on his bottom right then and there. This seems to be working for us. At least for now. Find what works for you. But whatever you do, stay calm, speak clearly and respond right away.
- Don’t model it. If your toddler watches you or someone else in your home scream or yell on a regular basis, you’d better believe they are gonna follow suit. You can’t expect them not to act in a way that you are acting. They want to be just like you. Make sure you aren’t modeling bad behavior.
In all of these scenarios, make sure that you consistently make clear to their kids that they are loved, safe, and accepted just as they are. Even the littlest people can pick up on the idea that they have to somehow earn your acceptance or love. Help them understand that just as we are all accepted and loved by God just as we are, they are accepted and loved by you just as they are. Remember that they are tiny. Look at their little fingers and their little toes and remember how small they are. They are doing the best they can. You are doing the best you can. You’re both gonna make it. Don’t give up.
Love you guys.