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No You’re Not Crazy: Why Toddlers Behave the Worst for Mom

Why Toddlers Behave the Worst for Mom
Written by Jennifer Landis

It’s a reality check, but don’t let it get you down. It is true: toddlers behave differently (read: worse) for their moms.

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We’ve all been there. Just starting down the cereal aisle of the grocery store and the whining starts. By the time you are loading up on paper towels and toilet paper, your kid is in full melt-down mode. You contemplate abandoning you cart in the middle of the store, but realize that the food you need to feed your family is in the cart. So you throw brace yourself and head to the checkout line amongst stares and whispers from the people around you who experience the luxury of grocery shopping without children. When you head home to commiserate you’re husband, he can’t relate. “Junior never freaks out at the grocery store when I take him,” says your beloved. Great.

It’s a reality check, but don’t let it get you down. It is true: toddlers behave differently (read: worse) for their moms. Some experts suggest this is because mom represents a biological need for the child. Let’s look at why kids behave this way and what moms can do to keep their sanity intact.

Why Toddlers Behave So Badly for Mom

Being a toddler is tough. They want to communicate, but don’t have the verbal or emotion skills yet to work through their feelings and needs.

It is precisely because a child feels secure in his mother’s presence – she is typically the primary caregiver – and love that he pushes boundaries and meltdowns. Studies show that tantrums are related to levels of anxiety felt by the child, and mom can calm that anxiety.

Even when having complete and total meltdowns, toddlers are learning. They see the way their behavior garners certain reactions from you and from others. Because of this, the way you react is critically important.

Of course, this advice assumes that there aren’t other factors at play at home. Children can sense conflict and tension, which creates anxiety that manifests itself in tantrums. So if your child is one of the more than 28 million American children of alcoholics or other issues that may cause a change in behavior at home,

How to Cope With These Meltdowns

These toddler years can be a hard adjustment for moms. You’re the one that stayed up with her during those precious newborn months. Maybe you breastfed her and even pumped in a closet so she could have breastmilk even after you returned to work. You were the only one he wanted to hold him while he went through the pain of teething. And now you face seeming rejection and obstinacy at every turn.

But little eyes are watching, as the saying goes. So your reaction to these tantrums may influence their duration and frequency. Instead of giving in to every demand, which will just teach your little one that tantrums are a way to get what they want at any time, set and maintain boundaries.

A common area of bad behavior is around transition from one thing to another. They don’t’ want to leave grandma’s house, they don’t want to go to day care, they don’t want to get ready for bed. Combat these common tantrums by preparing your kids throughout the day and also giving notice of the upcoming transition.

For example, say “We are going to grandma’s this afternoon, but then we have to come home for dinner since we are making a yummy meal.” Then, when you are at grandma’s house, remind your little one that the time to leave is quickly approaching, “We’ve got ten minutes left, buddy!” and then “We’ve got one minute left, so let’s finish up our game.”

Time Together: Quality over Quantity

If your child’s tantrums seem related to attention, do a little self-evaluation to determine if there is room for improvement. Even if you are your son’s primary caregiver, perhaps your time is spent working on a laptop or talking on the phone instead of playing with him. You can’t give your full attention 100% of the time, but you can offer undivided attention when he is behaving well, so that he doesn’t have to be behave poorly to get it.

Also use this quality time together to communicate with your toddler and tell him how you are feeling. You can say, “Why would you kick mommy like that? It really hurts and makes me sad.” Explaining your feelings in an even tone teaches your son communication and doesn’t escalate the situation.

Offer Choices and Give Yourself a Break

Another great way for moms and kids to navigate through the toddler tantrum years is to offer choices. Instead of rushing through the bedtime routine, set out a couple of pajamas and allow your daughter time to pick it out. Then ask her, “Do you want to brush your hair first, or your teeth?” Allow her to pick a couple of books before bed. Giving these choices to a child allows them to feel control of the situation.

In the end, though, kids are kids. And tantrums are a part of life as they mature mentally and emotionally. You won’t always be able to give your child choices or fair warning of a change in situation. And you shouldn’t cave in to bad behavior. In these cases, the best advice is to remain composed and honest with your child, without raising your voice. It’s easier said than done, but you don’t want to behave in a way that can escalate the situation.

As with most parenting challenges, cut yourself some slack. You are doing a great job as a mom, and before you know this toddler will be a kindergartner. So have a sense of humor. Keep calm and mother on!

Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life – Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.™ Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. Their answers can be random and in the moment or they can be aligned with the above article. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.

1. What have you accepted within your life, physically and/or mentally? What are you still working on accepting?

I have accepted that, regardless of how nice it would be, I cannot be in control of all the things. I am still working on accepting the fact that my teeny tiny baby is a sassy toddler now.

2. What have you learn to appreciate about yourself and/or within your life, physically and mentally? What are you still working on to appreciate?

I have learned to appreciate the people in my life who matter most – my family and my few close friends – and how my small social circle is infinitely better than any big ones I used to have.

3. What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What makes YOU most proud? What goals and dreams do you still have?

The fact that I pushed a baby out of me — naturally — is probably my top achievement. I went in with the mindset that I would just go with the flow and if I needed medicine to feel better I would use it but, all things considered, I was cool as a cucumber and everything worked out. I’m pretty proud of myself for that – considering I often pass out when I get shots. I’ve also done two half marathons and am training for my first full marathon this fall!

4. We all have imperfections, so we think. The truth—we are all perfectly imperfect. What are your not-so-perfect ways? What imperfections and quirks create who you are—your Identity?

I have a very short fuse. It’s kind of why I became interested in mindfulness. Doing so has lengthened my fuse by maybe a quarter of an inch. Ha. I also snort when I laugh.

5. I Love My…” is an outlet for you to express and appreciate all the positive traits that make you…well… YOU! Sharing what you love about yourself will make you smile, feel empowered, and uplift your spirit and soul. (we assure you!) Identity challenges you to complete the phrase “I Love My…?”

Body. In general. Seriously. It may be kind of squishy in some places, as I am not without flaws, but my body grew my baby girl, flips upside down and supports me in crazy yoga classes, and has carried me miles and miles during my training. It may take a little coaxing, but everything I have asked of my body it has done for me.

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About the author

Jennifer Landis

Jennifer Landis is tea sipping, yoga loving mom, wife, and healthy living blogger. She enjoys a good run – once she gets past the 3-mile mark. You can check out her blog, Mindfulness Mama or follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.