Just around the time my baby girl was about to start napping at the same time as her big brother, he stopped. For no particular reason, naptime became “try to keep Cohen in his room” time, and eventually progressed to the most frustrating hour of my entire day.
The tension between Cohen and I took on a life of its own. As my SIL Chantal says, “it became a living, breathing thing” and I was angry. Suddenly my patience for my 2 1/2 year old was gone, and I could feel myself pulling away from him emotionally. And he could feel it to. He became whiney and needy, constantly asking for attention. “I need a hug, mommy”.
The more I thought about it, the more mystyfied I became. I just couldn’t figure it out. How was I supposed to get this noisy, energetic boy to stay in his room for “quiet time”, without waking up his baby sister whose room is right next door? Certainly I must be more firm, give him less attention when he’s getting upset, rather than giving in and letting him out at the first sign of a tantrum.
Eventually the frustration and anger become so intense, that I broke down crying to my best friend, confessing all of my sins as a mother and asking for any help she could offer. What she said absolutely changed everything.
She told me that showing my son affection, even when he’s melting down in frustration over not getting his way, is not affirming his behaviour. It’s simply showing him that I am a safe place – that no matter how upset he gets, I will always be there for him, loving him through it. You see, I really felt that if I went to him while he was crying in his room, it would be giving in, letting him “win”. But the truth is, giving affection is not the same as affirming misbehaviour. Even after hugging him and listening to his complaints, I could still re-establish the boundary and expect him to obey.
So instead of ignoring his cries, or storming into his room and demanding he “stop that crying”, there was another way. I could calmly listen to his frustration, hug and sympathize with him, and then tell him he still needed to stay in his room until quiet time was over.
The more I thought about it, the more sense it made because isn’t this how our heavenly Father deals with us? It’s not God’s anger or absense that leads us to repentance, its His kindness. (Romans 2:4)
So the very next day I tried it. I put Cohen down for quiet time and reminded him he needed to stay in his room until I came to get him. Soon after I left the room he started to melt down. Instead of going in, guns ablazin’, I walked in quietly, listened to his cries, gave him a hug and said, “I know you’re frustrated, but you still need to stay here until I come and get you. It’s hard, isn’t it?” I left the room, and had to return twice more, but after that something crazy happened, he lay his head down and fell asleep! After a month of not napping, he’s now gone a week with either a nap or hour-long quiet time each day.
Yes, there are still moments when I want to (or do) yell, and yes, sometimes his protests wake up his sister and naptime is ruined for both of them, but just understanding that my kindness is more powerful than my anger has change EVERTHING.
What about you? How do you stay calm but firm when your toddler is losing their marbles? I’d love to learn from your experience.