Don’t Engage the Crazy – and Other Lessons Learned in the Toddler Trenches

Kenny Rogers may have said it best when he said, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away… know when to run.”  Perhaps he was talking about gambling…perhaps he was talking about love…or perhaps he was talking about parenting a toddler.

I’m gonna go with the toddler scenario.

Ellie has had two MAJOR tantrums in the past 10 days, and I gotta tell you – I don’t enjoy them very much.  I mean full. on. tantrums. Turning purple, flailing around, stomping feet, screaming, crying so hard she makes herself gag…she is all in.

And here is the strange thing, I never know what is going to set her off.  The first one was because I told her that she could not have ice cream for dinner.  That was all, I said it in a very reasonable tone, explaining something she is well aware of.

She asked, “Mommy, can I have ice cream for dinner?” and I said, “No honey, let’s have some pasta, and then we can have ice cream.”

And that was all it took.  45 minutes of a tantrum so bad that I couldn’t talk any sense into her. I tried all of those parenting tips to diffuse the tantrum, getting down on her level, telling her I understood she was upset but these were the rules , and nothing worked…the more I spoke, the more she flipped out.  So I walked away and sat down at my computer and tried to get through some emails…and she stopped.

By the way, before telling you the next scenario, I must mention that the most random things set her off.  I told her we needed to go to the doctor’s to get her flu shot (because Ellie does not like surprises and I always tell her the truth) and she puts up a mild protest.  Mild. On a scale of one to ten, the protest of a flu shot is about a 2.  She asks if it will hurt, I tell her a little pinch for a second and she says a few times, in a reasonable tone, “Mommy, I don’t want it to hurt.” And I say, “I know you don’t.  But it will help you not get sick in the winter and you will get two stickers.” And that is the end of it.  Shot happens, she cries for 30 seconds, stickers are distributed and we are done with it.

BUT no ice cream for dinner and – It. Is. On.

The second awesome episode was when I got home pretty late the other night, and was exhausted…and the sitter had let her fall asleep on the couch. No biggie, I foolishly thought.  I paid the sitter, locked the door and Ellie stirred on the couch.

I said, “Hi honey, Mommy is home…let’s get in bed.”

And she sat straight up and said, “Where. Is. Christina?” (the babysitter)

“Um, Ellie,” I said while petting her head, “She went home…”

And that, my friends, was the last sane word vocalized in my household that evening.

“No. No. No. No. No. NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! I needa say goodbye!!!!!!!!!!” she screamed.

And it went on from there.  Stomping on the floor. No matter what I did, it made it worse.  She was beyond reason.  In her mind, she had planned to say goodbye to the sitter, and now that wasn’t possible, so she couldn’t process it.  And I was to blame.

I also couldn’t ignore the fact that I was ex-haus-ted after a reallllllllllllly intense couple weeks and I had no desire to engage in this little episode.  But Ellie had no problem ignoring all of that.  I tried picking her up and she flailed so much that I took an elbow to the face and that’s when I put her down and yelled, “STOP IT!!! YOU HURT ME!”

And you know what that did?  Escalated the whole damn thing. She upped the ante. Yelled at me to stop talking.  Turned purple.  Ran around like she was on fire.  It was pure parental hell.  At midnight.

So I did what I did during the last tantrum, and walked away.  I quietly walked into my room, put my pjs on and climbed into bed.  And seconds later I heard the pitter patter of little angry feet heading into my room.  I said NOTHING.

She climbed into bed with me, started twirling her hair, and was asleep in minutes.  And so was I.

When I rolled over the next morning to see the tiny little angry human, sleeping peacefully and beautifully next to me, I thought about the hazing that is inflicted on parents by their temperamental toddlers, and how, as H.A.R.D it is…it can serve as a great reminder of really important life lessons.

1. My sh*t is not important.  Ellie does not care that I’ve been working my ass off, or that I am tired, or that I am doing the job of two people in our family.  Nope. Doesn’t care.  Nor should she.  She is 2.  And as much as that really causes me to stand in my kitchen with my forehead pressed up against the cabinets while taking deep breaths, it’s pretty damn humbling.  And we can all use a reminder that what we have going on isn’t the most important thing in the universe.  No matter how important it may be.

2.  Don’t engage the crazy.  Ya know, back in the day, I’d not only engaged the crazy, but I took it to the next level, in an effort to get the other party to see my point.  I would see that moment (you know the moment) when I could either walk away, or lock horns with someone…and I would lock horns.  Engage and escalate.  It was not pretty and it was not productive.  It was the verbal equivalent of pounding my head against a wall.  And most of all – it was exhausting.

And, although extreme, Ellie’s tantrums have taught me, that when the conversation or situation reaches the point of no return, instead of jumping up and down and screaming, there is no more fruitful response than to walk away, put your pajamas on, and call it quits.  You’ll probably get a much better night’s rest too.

So maybe the hazing is somewhat beneficial – overall when I look at the big picture.  Really big picture.