Anyone who's spent time with a toddler knows that they can be intensely emotional beings. Often, the less language a toddler has, the more likely they are to express their big feelings through their body-with movement, noise, tears, and tantrums. These big reactions can feel overwhelming and disorienting to parents, too, and it is often suggested that parents learn to regulate their own emotional response so that they are better able to guide their child. Parents can get pulled into an emotional tug-of-war with their toddler, or try to make logical sense of an irrational situation (my own wonderful 2.5 year old never wants to take a bath these days until she's finally in the bathtub and never wants to get out...), or may simply need to be somewhere in a reasonable timeframe and are faced with a small person with other ideas.
But HOW do we manage our own emotions so we can better handle theirs?
When the tension builds for parents in these moments, things can feel constricting and it can be hard to think clearly...I've been practicing this mindfulness tool adapted from Tara Brach's work lately and it has both helped me get a little mental space in these situations, and has also helped me have empathy for my toddler's emotional state. The very cool thing about this technique is that you can use it for yourself or for your toddler-whichever is more available for you in the moment. The acronym-R.A.I.N.-is easy to remember. Here's what it stands for:
R: Recognize what's happening: otherwise known as the classic: "you have to name it to tame it." This is where you can say to yourself: "I'm feeling tension," or "I am frustrated and stressed," or that your toddler is "having a hard time" or "isn't feeling cooperative" or is hungry, thirsty, tired, etc...
A: Accept things as they are: Allow life to be what it is right now. This is simultaneously the simplest and most difficult part. We often struggle when we try and make something that is, not be so. If you're in a tug-of-war, stop pulling. Let it be. Accept what's happening for your toddler, and for yourself, right now.
I: Investigate with kindness: you can ask "is there a need that is not being met?" (for you or for your child), "what needs attention right now?", "what am I believing about myself or my toddler?" This part isn't about any sort of self-criticism, so take care to keep the inquiry welcoming to whatever comes up, and gently attentive.
N: Non-Identification: You are not your worst parenting moments. Your toddler isn't always like this. Another way to conceptualize non-identification is by thinking of "zooming out." This is just one moment in a lifetime of ups and downs you'll weather together, and this storm, too, shall pass.
This tool obviously won't be able to get your toddler dressed in the morning or buckled into the carseat, but parenting from a place of just a little more calm can free you up to think about the next steps more clearly. In solidarity...