Putting tantrums in perspective

Putting tantrums in perspective-waterfalls
I jinxed myself. Just when I thought life with our toddler was starting to get easy, he threw a tantrum. It was “opposite day”: when it was time to leave for my aunt’s, he wanted to stay home. When it was time to go home, he wanted to stay at my aunt’s. I offered to show him some pictures from the computer and he threw a fit when the slide show ended. He asked to see the waterfalls around the block, but wanted to go home once we arrived (and of course whined to stay once we made our way back home). He kept climbing out of the bath, but after getting him out, he clamored to stay inside. Even tucked in bed, where he is normally so calm, he cried until I closed the door behind me.

I seriously needed a beer, and I don’t even like beer (does Smirnoff Ice count?). My husband wasn’t home yet and I was in no mood for chores, so I hopped on my computer intending to do some blogging. Instead I logged on to Facebook and read a message from a friend that changed my perspective: “My mom’s breast cancer spread to her bones.”

I immediately thought about my toddler’s tantrums—every single taxing moment—and realized how fortunate I was that that is what accounted for my bad day. Because here’s the wonderful thing about tantrums: they pass. Yes, kids make life difficult when they throw a tantrum, and if they’re like my kid, they make sure you get an episode a few times a week. They’re exhausting, draining, and make you wonder if you’re even fit for this parenting thing. If you’re lucky to experience one in public, they’re potentially embarrassing and require you to act like you know what you’re doing when really you can’t wait to strap that kid in the car seat and drive home. Tantrums are terrible.

But they’re fleeting. In a few months’ time, they’ll decrease in frequency, until several years later, they’re grown kids and eventually adults. I thought about how fortunate I am that my toddler is healthy, especially considering the news I had just heard. Not to cast anyone as a martyr, but I’m pretty sure a person with a dire diagnosis would gladly exchange the worst tantrum my toddler could throw for a chance to erase his or her predicament.

I also realized that the best cure for the aftermath of a tantrum is to consider how fortunate I am in other circumstances. I started thinking about all that we have going for us, and that even if things were to go awry, there is always something to be grateful for. And considering that, in general, our little family has much to be thankful for, a tantrum seemed so insignificant.

This isn’t to say that venting about a frustrating episode is wrong; in fact I think it’s unhealthy to put on a happy face and deny our true feelings. But when I start feeling like my life is so terrible, and wouldn’t it be so much better if we had XY and Z, I try to put things in perspective and realize that yes, this feels grueling, but maybe it isn’t the end of the world. And while this frustration is real right now, it too will pass.

That was the first time my toddler had thrown a tantrum in several months. He acted up again during the next few days, but I was able to maintain my calm and perspective. I thought about all that I was thankful for: big things like our health, our jobs… and little things like a computer, a bathtub, and living near waterfalls. And I was most thankful that this tantrum—this tiring, makes-you-wish-for-bedtime-already tantrum—is what constitutes a bad day for me.

How do you cope when you have a bad day? Have you put things in perspective when your day isn’t going too well?

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20 thoughts on “Putting tantrums in perspective

  1. Yikes…sounds like he might be in the “transitions” stage. Greta is still in the middle of that wonderfully-fun stage herself and just about every other day is “opposite day” at our house. Literally the only thing my wife and I can do to stay sane is make sure we factor in “transition” time wherever we go with her, that way, we’re not as stressed because we’re running late and it turns the heat way down on the entire situation. But, man…I’ll be happy when the next stage comes along…

  2. And people ask why I run. My toddler and her tantrums. A major influence. 🙂 It helps to calm me down. I rarely take her with me so it’s my time out and I can be in quiet and even ponder life.
    I put things into perspective thinking like you do. I am very lucky for having a wonderful, healthy little girl.

    • I think I need to work out more. My calming methods—or me time—have been reading and writing, but I like the idea of exercise since it actually seems to physically do something to improve people’s moods. Reading and writing help me release mentally, but working out seems to be a nice release physically.

  3. So far we haven’t entered that phase but I know it is probably coming soon. It still works for us when Eli begins to balk at making a transition to give him a choice (Do you want to walk to the car or go in the Ergo to the garage?). I know it won’t always be this easy. I will keep this post in mind when the day of the screaming, kicking, floor-pounding toddler arrives!

  4. When I have a bad day, I get some fresh air. If I’m at home, I’ll take the little guy for a walk. If we’re out, I step outside with him. Walking around (even if it’s just around the house) and enjoying the weather (even if it’s raining) gives me a little boost to finish out the tiring day.

    And enjoying a Smirnoff Ice doesn’t hurt either 🙂 Yes, it does count.

  5. Great post. I had to put things into perspective last night, too. I was grumbling about how I just wanted my baby to go to sleep and later during the evening, I found out about how someone I know is pretty much at the end of her battle with cancer. Pretty easy to handle little to no sleep when you, your kids and your husband are perfectly healthy. And tantrums? I count myself lucky, I have a pretty good toddler, but she did throw one horrible tantrum in public a few months ago and I was so mortified. It happens to every kid. I felt like all eyes were on us that day and I remember wanting to scream, “She has NEVER EVER done this before!!” As for bad days, I try to get out and about and keep us busy. I’ve been pregnant or breastfeeding (or both!) for the last three years, so not much alcohol for me :p

  6. Another excellent post. My son threw one of his worst tantrums yet today, and I had to carry him awkwardly to avoid kicking legs, as he screamed and wailed over I don;t even remember what now. He does the same contrariness thing too: He’ll ask for milk, then scream “No milk!”, you will take it and he will want it back and then as soon as you hand it over scream “All done milk!” Ugh.

    You are totally right though. If his tantrum is the worst part of my day, then I am incredibly lucky. He will eventually outgrow them, and they don’t last long. Life could be a lot worse than dealing with the “terrible twos”. Patience, love, humor and reflecting on that which I am thankful for can go a long way when dealing with an overtired and emotional child.

  7. Great post indeed, guess I’m gonna bookmark your blog from now on. Well, tantrum? my girl is exactly in this very stage. She makes me pull my hair every day. The worse thing I can’t bare is changing her mind in a jiffy, doesn’t know what she wants exactly. Then i got angry, but wait a minute “oh me too, sometimes i don’t know what i want, so why get angry with this young girl” I just have to step back, close my eyes, breath (long), try to deal with her more reasonably than emotionally.

    Tantrum in perspective? good point. and thanks to raise this up. perhaps i can do less shopping (i go shopping when i feel despair :-))

  8. Putting things in perspective is so healthy. I meditate (which I actually swear by) and I exercise a lot, I am always thinking Ella Woods “endorphin’s make you happy!” – I have also been in your friends shoes, I am just grateful for everyday.

  9. Very well said. I find myself doing the same thing all the time. When I ask why my child is “so difficult” I stop and think about the real issues some parents are going through and check myself. Same thing when I complain about my job or random nothing doctor visits… I thank god every night for the things I have in my life and always for the things I don’t. Very nice article.

  10. Today my doctor and her staff were super apologetic that my doctor can’t do my c-section on Thursday. She’ll be at the hospital but only because her mother is having a double mastectomy. Me upset? Are you kidding? Any doctor is fine for my c-section. I couldn’t believe they were worried I would be upset. We really do need to take time to put things into perspective. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed when we are, but at the end of the day, we need to understand the blessing of just a tantrum. Lovely post!

  11. A great post. Things for putting things in perspective. I too had a similar day – everything made my son miserable and my dog had two seizures. Trying to navigate a fussy boy and an ailing dog is enough to make me want to pull my hair out, but we have each other, and that is a blessing.

  12. This is awesome. I can totally relate as I also have a 2 year old. And I was just thinking about this the other day, about how fortunate and blessed we are to have what we have and that so many people have nothing.

  13. Thanks for putting the focus back on how much we have to be thankful for. We’re haven’t had tantrums lately but we are dealing with some incessant whining…

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