Parenting

Life with a strong willed toddler – a survivor’s story

As I write this we have just survived dinner. It started off ok but before long Tinker was having a complete meltdown because her Yorkshire puddings weren’t cut up right – I did not actually get to the bottom of which is the correct and incorrect way to cut up Yorkshire puddings, in fact I suspect that tonight there was only ever going to be an incorrect way. She ended up saying she hated us (ouch!) and hiding under the table poking our legs because we ignored her. At this point as me and Mr Totsy rolled our eyes the older kids finished their plates and wisely made a hasty retreat. Before long Tinker realised she wasn’t getting anywhere and asked for a cuddle, which she got. Two minutes later she was happily eating her dinner (albeit decanted onto a different plate without the poor butchered Yorkshire puddings) and was laughing happily at Totsy who was saying ‘yeah!’ to everything. 

It is such a relief these days that Tinker’s tantrums which at one point were a constant black cloud over our lives, threatening to erupt into a full blown hour long storm if we so much as dared to ask her to wear weather appropriate clothing (or in fact any clothing!) or accidentally gave her breakfast in the pink bowl (even when she had insisted on only eating from the pink bowl for a fortnight) or gave her a biscuit in the living room when she had wanted it passed to her in the kitchen etc etc are now few and far between and very short lived.

While all toddlers have tantrums, some are way worse than others. Tinker (along with Jess, my firstborn) has been particularly difficult through this stage. We have recently lived through a year or two of Tinker’s moods dictating the household mood, where just getting dressed and having breakfast felt like going into battle and I have to admit it was so tough at times. Huge kudos to Mr Totsy who joined our circus just as Tinker hit prime tantrum age, yet he still stuck around and helped to keep me sane, whilst having to navigate uncharted territory with a volatile, strong willed toddler dictator. It was a steep learning curve for him – our early relationship was less romantic candlelit dinners and more me muttering ‘pick your battles’ and ‘just ignore her’ through clenched teeth while Tinker kicked and screamed in the background. It really is a wonder we made it through, but to his credit he never wavered. 

Life with a particularly ‘strong willed’ toddler is tough. I like to think by the time Tinker got to this stage I was older, wiser, had more patience and had learned to pick my battles e.g. You don’t want to wear a coat, even though it’s freezing? Fine, we’ll just take it with us in case you change your mind. You don’t want to keep your arms in your car seat? Tough, I’m doing the straps as tight as possible, so you can’t escape, scream all you like. But even with 25 years of parenting experience I did not have all the answers. 

There were many days when she ground me down. When I felt like the crappest mum ever. When I thought the tantrums had taken over our lives. When I felt like I was treading on eggshells yet still failed to avoid a meltdown. When I felt I was doing it all wrong. When I couldn’t be bothered attempting to go out because it was just too much hassle. When my jaw ached because I had clenched my teeth all day. When I felt helpless. When I cried. When I lost my temper and then absolutely hated myself for shouting at her. When I felt like an utter failure. 

But we made it through. There is light at the end of the tunnel. These days her tantrums are far less frequent and lack the ferociousness they once had. Life is easier and calmer as a result. 

Obviously just as life with Tinker gets onto more of an even keel Totsy at 18 months is now hitting the tantrum age. I hope I don’t regret saying this, but I don’t think she’s going to be quite as ‘strong willed’. Feisty? Yes definitely. Completely irrational about minor details? I don’t think so. She is just a much more placid, easy going kind of toddler. I hope and pray this is not just the calm before the storm.

If you are dealing with a strong willed toddler right now, I feel your pain. Unfortunately I have very little advice. Obviously pick your battles and try to stay calm. Always always always ask if they want their sandwiches cut into squares or triangles. Try distraction techniques (E.g. oh my goodness, was that a fairy I just saw in the garden? I think it was a fairy dancing on the grass, how amazing. Or is it just a bumble bee, can you come and have a look and check for me?) Make sure cuddles follow every tantrum. Try to be understanding, life can be very frustrating for a toddler who can’t understand why everything doesn’t revolve around their every whim. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you shout with frustration or cry helpless tears. We have honestly all been there. You are doing your best. You love your child and they know this. And one day you will look back and realise you did it, you survived. Phew. 

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