Like any good 2-year-old, Rex can be moody.
Most of the time, he’s an absolute delight, but when he’s moody… watch out.
We were at the grocery store recently when he suddenly decided it was time to go into an angry funk.
He wanted a sucker, he wanted the cat food from the shelf, he wanted to tell me something really important, and then he didn’t want to tell me anything at all.
In a good mood, there are 4 appropriate responses to Rex’s whining:
- Repeat what he just said so he knows he’s being listened to.
- Tell him I’m sorry he’s upset.
- Distract him with something else.
- Ignore him. (This one actually doesn’t work, but sometimes it’s the only response that will keep me from screaming at the top of my lungs.)
One of these is bound to soothe his tantrums when we’re dealing with regular, run-of-the-mill frustration. But when he gets in these particularly intense moods, nobody knows what he wants — not even Rex, himself.
He began by whining about the sucker, so I combined response #1 and #2: “You want the sucker, Buddy? I’m so sorry.”
“NO!” he screamed, loud enough for anyone on the other side of the store to hear. “I not Buddy!”
I then moved on to response #4 and ignored him.
He cried about the toothbrush I was letting him hold, so I offered to put it in the basket.
“NO! I hold it!” he shouted.
“OK,” I said. “You hold it.”
“NO! I talking to Emma!” came his angry reply. And then he threw the toothbrush in the basket, only to immediately turn around and try and reach for it again.
I attempted to use response #3 and distract him by asking him to help me find the Cheerios.
“NO! I want Lucky Charms!” (Of course.)
Response #1 and #2 again: “You want Lucky Charms? I’m sorry.”
“NO! I was talking to myself!”
And on and on.
At the beginning of our shopping shenanigans, I had been greeted by several store employees as we passed them throughout the store. But as his crying, yelling, and protesting grew louder and more frequent, I noticed we were suddenly a little floating island — nobody was coming near us. (Not that I minded the space.)
And then in front of the canned tomatoes, Rex was done. He grew tired of my rotating responses, and finally figured out how to just tell me what was wrong.
“Help me feel better!” he shouted at me.
Because of the shouts mixed with tears, I misinterpreted his meaning and thought he was telling me he felt better (even though he obviously didn’t, but you can’t expect accuracy with toddlers). So I used response #1, and said, “Oh, you feel better now?”
“NO!” (I really didn’t expect a different answer, but it was worth a try.)
“NO!” he shouted again, and spoke more slowly. “Help me feel better!”
Finally understanding and with my heart breaking into a million pieces, I stopped the cart, leaned in and hugged him hard while I whispered about how much I love him. He calmed down right away and let me dry his tear-streaked cheeks.
I couldn’t believe that’s all he needed. He probably needed it right from the get-go, but I was too focused on trying to placate him that I didn’t even think to just reach out and show him he is loved.
There’s an acronym I sometimes use that helps me understand what my kids need during a tantrum.
When your child is feeling anxious, moody, or just generally unwell, have you checked to make sure they’re not:
I definitely knew Rex was angry (as did everyone else in the store), and I had no doubt he was tired. I suspected he was hungry, but it never occurred to me he might be feeling lonely.
No, he wasn’t by himself, but he was still lonely. He was being misunderstood and probably wasn’t feeling validated for his feelings at all. And I know that feeling. Sometimes, I can’t pin down the precise thing that’s bothering me, but I know I just feel like nobody gets me.
So as we finished our trip through the store, I stopped during a few more tantrums to give Rex a validation hug. And when we rounded the corner to the produce and remembered the free bananas that Smith’s makes available, I was eager to cross off the big, fat H from Rex’s H.A.L.T. acronym.
Unfortunately, Tired was still stronger than Hungry. I peeled the banana peel all the way off, which apparently ruined Rex’s plans. “NO!” he shouted, tears springing to his eyes. “I wanna be a monkey!” I didn’t know this, but monkeys eat their bananas with peels pulled only halfway down. (Obviously.)
At Smith’s, you’re only supposed to take one free fruit per child, but this time I greedily took 2 so I could peel the second banana in the “correct” way and let Rex be a monkey, goshdarnit. If anyone noticed, I don’t think they cared. In fact, they probably cheered. He was much quieter as a monkey, after all.
And as he happily ate as a monkey, I sighed and threw some Andes mints into the cart for myself on the way to the register.
After all, I needed to take care of the H in my own H.A.L.T. acronym.
During much happier times. No H.A.L.T. in sight.