Lately, my gentle parenting aspirations have taken a bit of a battering. Alice has traded in her meltdowns for less spectacular, but more prolonged whining. Unfortunately for us both, this presses all my buttons, and I find myself frequently snapping and shouting. What follows then, is by no means a perfect solution. I'm quite clearly no expert when it comes to anger management, but I find some of the ideas below are helping me, and making my angry outbursts less common.
The key to preventing toddler meltdowns is making sure your child is well fed and rested. Difficult as it sometimes is, make sure you do the same for yourself. It's worth the investment. Think about when you're at your most volatile. For me, this is the afternoon when Alice is often whiny, and there's still a few hours before my husband gets in. I've started sharing a cup of chamomile tea with Alice, and we talk about the day. Whether it's the chamomile taking effect, or just the act of spending a relaxing few minutes together, we're both soothed by this little routine. Try to find a shared activity that you both enjoy. I also find it really crucial to spend time with other adults, ideally every day. Being in the house with your child all day can make both of you irritable with each other. I find getting together with other mums acts as an invaluable pressure relief valve.
If your well laid plans have failed and you feel the anger rising, try some techniques to control yourself. These are almost clichés, but sometimes the old ones are the best!
If possible, make sure your child is in a safe place, then walk away for a little while to collect yourself. Make it clear to them that you are going to calm down for a moment, and will be back soon.
Close your eyes and take a few deep, slow breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
Make yourself aware of areas of tension, especially in your neck, shoulders, jaw, brow and hands. Make a conscious effort to relax them.
Remind yourself of how wonderful your child is. Think of the moments when you felt you could hardly breathe because you loved them so fiercely. Remember how they look when they sleep.
Once you return, you try to explain that you got angry, and how you're both going to move on. I find it really important that I reconnect with Alice, and the easiest way for me is through physical contact. Sharing a hug, or stroking the nape of her neck. Gentle, maternal actions awaken my motherly instincts and are often enough to shake off any remaining ill feeling.
If all this hasn't worked, and you've blown your top, apologise. Not for being angry, that's a valid emotion we all experience, but for how you expressed it. Maybe tell your child what you should have done instead. Don't labour the point though. Children are generally more forgiving than adults, and a clear, simple apology is all that's needed. No self-flagellation necessary. Try to forgive yourself too. I first heard the idea that people who feel bad behave badly in relation to children, but I think it's the same for us all. When I feel like a crappy mum, I generally act like one. No, it's not OK to shout and scream at your child, but we all slip up now and again. Remind yourself that you're the best parent this child can have, and move on from your mistakes.
As with most things in parenting, we're never going to get it right all the time, but hopefully we can aim to improve as we go along.