Taming my inner toddler


It’s started.  Kiddo’s easygoing first couple months of being a one-year-old are giving way to tantrums.  At the moment they’re kind of amusing, but I don’t expect I’ll see them that way forever.

For now, it seems to be little things that set him off, and there’s even some logic behind them.  The other night, he was playing with his shape sorter.  The circle and star are easy for him to fit through the holes, but that darn square!  There are only four ways to orient it, compared to the FIVE ways the star can be positioned!  And don’t even start about the triangle!  After a couple of unsuccessful tries I could see that he was getting upset, until finally he shoved aside all the remaining shapes and stormed off.  I tried to coax him back to work on it together with me, but he wouldn’t be consoled.  If he couldn’t get it easily, he’d rather do something else–anything else.

Suddenly I flashed back to earlier that week when I’d been struggling with a coding problem at work.  I knew what I needed to do to address it, but I could tell it was going to be a lot of work and I wasn’t sure my approach was the best way.  I was tired of scouring web pages, searching for a clearer explanation of how to do it.  Again and again I’d try something, only to find it not working the way I thought it would.  In frustration, I kept turning to something shinier and less stressful.  I got a lot of internet surfing done that afternoon, but not a lot of the work I was supposed to be doing.  I thought I’d long since grown out of tantrums, but it seems there’s a toddler lurking inside just waiting for a reason to throw a hissy fit.

Now that I’m an adult, I know how to get on top of my emotions, and most of the time when I get upset I can stop the feelings from overwhelming me.  But Kiddo is still very young and his coping skills are very immature (as expected at this age).  Some of the ways he deals with frustration are amusing to watch.  I try to stifle my giggles, because even worse than being frustrated is when you’re frustrated and others don’t take you seriously.  But sometimes, it’s hard to keep a straight face.

The other morning he was playing with his stuffed seahorse that plays music when you press on its belly.  Kiddo has gotten it to work before, but that morning he wasn’t pressing in the right place, and the music wouldn’t turn on.  In frustration he pushed the toy away and stood up, crying.  I tried to fix the problem by turning the music on and handing it back to him.  No luck; he was mad at the seahorse now and didn’t want to play with it.  In fact, he’d show that seahorse who was boss!  He grabbed it and threw in down into his toy basket.  Unfortunately, it bounced out of the basket and fell behind it, out of reach.

He stopped crying.  He turned to me with an inquisitive look, and calmly pointed to the toy, asking me to get it back for him.  Aha, I thought, he’s ready to play nicely again.  I retrieved it and handed it back.  Whereupon Kiddo picked up his tantrum right where he’d left off!

Then it clicked for me.  He didn’t want it back so he could play with it.  He wanted it back because he was trying to deal with these emotions, and the only way he could do so was to physically work them out.  Like when his push wagon got stuck and he couldn’t take it out on the wagon itself, so he started flinging around a nearby pile of shoes instead.  Or when he was upset about having to wait for his breakfast, and he wandered around the kitchen until he finally had to settle for just throwing himself down on the floor.

While I no longer hurl things (including myself) around anymore when I’m upset, I do understand how sometimes it’s not enough to sit down and get over it.  Sometime I too have to do something physical to bleed off the frustration and adrenaline that has built up in response to a situation.  Usually my husband bears the brunt of my verbal ranting, and that’s all it  takes for me to calm down again.  But I’ve got coping skills Kiddo doesn’t, including the ability to speak my feelings or type furiously in a chat window.

I fully expected that we would get to the tantrum stage eventually, and I figured we’d learn ways to cope with it.  What I didn’t expect was that my son’s tantrums would show me a few things about how I handle my own frustrations.


Author: Jessica Wallace

I'm a wife, mother, and software engineer living near Seattle, Washington. I like doing competitive puzzle events like the MIT Mystery Hunt and The Game. I've recently started learning a bit about candymaking, much to the delight of my husband, friends, and co-workers.

3 thoughts on “Taming my inner toddler

  1. Hon, thanks for making me think. Teddy and Pete are both firmly in the tantrum stage (Teddy for the second time) and I find myself incredibly frustrated with them. Particularly because they can talk to hell me what’s wrong. But it isn’t always that easy, is it?

    I think I need to take your lesson to heart. You’re a wise, wise woman.

  2. What an interesting observation. Who knew someone so young could teach us so much about ourselves?

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