A Toddler Tantrum Protective Shell

I realize that she has been screaming for a few minutes now.

That’s not true. I don’t know how long she’s been screaming. The screaming stops the fabric of time. My attempting to comfort her has no effect.

I give her a moment to work out her feelings for herself as she will eventually learn to do. I try my tricks.

ABCDEFG…..*screaming*……(then in the same tune)…… Twinkle Twinkle Little Star…..*screaming*

“Can you point to what you want?”, I ask. But I missed the window for communication. We must reach deeper into the bag of tricks for bigger tactics.

“Where’s your brother?”, I ask her.

That gets her attention. She knows that her brother is like her. One of the little people in the house. Must stick with him. Where is he?

“Should we find him? Where’s your brother?”

She starts to look around. She points in random directions.

Sunboy joins us and talks to her in a baby voice, “It’s okay, little baby”. He pats her head. How did he become so nurturing? It calms her. A distraction. Admittedly a cheap trick, but I’ll take it.

She’s moved on. Let’s hear it for siblings! I cautiously take a deep breath.

Thankfully, Flowergirl does not have many tantrums and even fewer complete meltdowns. We are fortunate that she has a sunny disposition and communicates well for her age. We are not immune, however.

When faced with a toddler tantrum or meltdown, a protective shell immediately envelops me. I earned that shell through many a tantrum when Sunboy was going through this phase. The shell enables me to be calmly present for my child during a wild, screaming tantrum when the scope of it moves beyond their ability to communicate using either words or signs. I keep my cool by sequestering the part of me that wants to run away inside of a deep shell. Ahhh….it’s much quieter in here. The screaming rolls right off. Well, most of it rolls off. Let’s be honest, this is an epic one.

From within my shell, I can see she’s still screaming, but I can still parent her. I can stay right here and wait for her to finish. Release her frustration of being relatively powerless in this big world while I keep my sanity. Love as expressed by the staying, even if ignoring the tantrum is part of my bag of tricks. Even when she’s unbearable. In the end, a parent makes it through a toddler meltdown only because time continues to move forward, even if we do not know how much time has passed.

Surviving a toddler meltdown is like surviving an ocean wave. Nothing to do except let it wash over you. My protective toddler tantrum shell is a buoy to keep me from being overly tousled. At least most of the time.

Added after publishing: I’ve received a few comments from readers indicating that not everyone survives tantrums and meltdowns in this way. I’ve attempted to describe what I do to create my “shell” in the comments. I’ve never really thought about this before, but I think it’s a type of meditation.

My question to you is, if you do not have a protective shell, how do you survive tantrums? Please share!

11 thoughts on “A Toddler Tantrum Protective Shell

  1. Please please tell me how did you build this shell? Does it build on it’s own over time? I want parenting advice. Please.

    1. All I can say is that for me it built over time. It feels like I’m going into myself, deeply, in an almost meditative state. I used to do Tai Chi, I studied hypnobirthing techniques on my own and I do circular breathing when I do pottery; I have a little experience with deep meditation but I’m certainly no expert.

      I asked my husband if he does something like this. He does and said, “Not sure what I do. I think I go outside myself. Maybe watch from above.”

      So, I go deep inside and he goes outside! I think we both just try to take a step away from the physical reality so we’re not fully experiencing it. Does this help explain it?

  2. I guess so. I would love to do anything that helps me behave like an adult during such toddler meltdowns. I feel i become a child myself since I feel my control slipping along with my patience. Maybe with time I will develop these skills gradually.

    1. This isn’t easy stuff we’re talking about. I like Shorelinemommy’s examples for redirection and refocusing. We can never have too many tactics for dealing with tantrums. If one fails, move on to the next, like I did above. Another idea we used with my son is just to quickly wrap him up and take him outside. The change in environment would sometimes break him out of his cycle. A little harder to do at your daughter’s age but another idea.

  3. The only technique I’ve perfected so far (in my meager two years of parenting) is to distract, redirect, and refocus. It doesn’t always work but I try my very best to pull my toddler out of his tantrums by refocusing his attention on something else, even if that means bribing him with apple juice (his favorite). Perhaps this isn’t the best method but it’s the only way I can handle these outbursts without losing my own cool. I know he doesn’t realize what he’s doing so my attempt to help him is to make it stop as quickly as possible. Like I said though, it doesn’t always work and I certainly don’t always keep my cool! :)

    1. Great ideas, Liz!
      I try to distract too. For some reason, the Alphabet Song and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star both tend to be mesmerizing for Flowergirl, as are a couple of songs I made up about her. Like you say, our favorite tactics don’t always work so I’m so glad that we’re sharing ideas here for our collective arsenal! I think apple juice or whatever else helps everyone get through is fine. Perhaps next time I’ll see if offering a sippy cup helps! Toddlers tend to get into a cyclical state sometimes and it’s hard to know what will break through. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. It’s amazing how the screems of a baby cut into the flesh. I think you have taught yourself a coping skill that is hard to develop.

    1. The screams really do go deep, Ronnie.
      When I wrote this, I assumed that everyone did a similar type of “protective shell” meditation that I do. The responses are making me step back and think about what I do! I love how this has become a sharing about tantrums and different ideas about how people handle/survive them, shell or no shell.

  5. Great post! I am not a parent but I have been a toddler teacher and a nanny. Creating that protective shell is extremely difficult but so necessary during melt downs. Love: “The screaming stops the fabric of time.” It’s so true! Thanks for posting this link on my blog, I will definately be back to see what else you have to share!

    1. Great, Emily! I’m following your blog now too. Good to find someone else who understands these things!

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