Unlisted: Confronting the Inner Toddler

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Have you ever seen a toddler in a full-blown meltdown?

The toddler doesn’t even have to be your own. You may be in the store and hear that scream across the building as the child fights with their parents. They flail about, throw themselves down, run at their parents in a bid to be recognized. Tears may or may not be involved, but shrieking at high volumes is a must.

Sometimes we watch with pity for the parent or with a sense of schadenfreude if we disagree with how the parent is parenting. If it isn’t our kid, we feel grateful. If it’s ours in the middle of a tantrum, we’re mortified.

Toddlers throw tantrums because they are not capable of appropriately regulating their emotions. Sometimes we forget, but all adults are taught how to control their feelings, so we don’t have the same emotional outbursts in public.

If a toddler isn’t taught how to healthfully manage their emotions, they grow up into adults who aren’t able to regulate emotions in a suitable way. There are public examples of this everywhere: a tweet steeped in emotional lies; an incident of road rage over nothing; or someone trying to bully for counter space in a crowded cafe.

Personally, we may not act out in such egregious ways, but there’s a chance we let out our inner toddler without realizing it. For those of us who do manage ourselves appropriately in public, our inner toddler may be quieter but still speaks out at the worst times.

Usually when we want to make changes. Toddlers are notorious for resisting change.

We all have Toddler Moments

I would like to say that I am a well-adjusted adult. I couldn’t make this claim a year ago, perhaps as recently as two months ago. I had a lot of external and internal moments of conflict. I knew how to fake being well-adjusted, but I have enough examples where I behaved closer to a toddler to safely say I was not well-adjusted.

I am still new to the “being well-adjusted” scene so I may not be able to make that claim.

What do toddler moments look like?

Do you find yourself saying “I don’t want to change,” but know that you should? Do you have a project you need to work on but you procrastinate on it? Do you avoid “adulting?”

Any time you metaphorically put your foot down and “decide” not to do something you should, you are having a toddler moment. Just as a toddler is resistant to being controlled or change a behavior, you are acting like one when you don’t want your adult self tell you what to do.

You probably don’t realize it’s happening, which is why I say “decide” in such a way. Many times the decisions we make in the day happen on an unconscious level. When you can’t bring yourself to work on a project, you decide not to work on it. Even if it feels like your body and mind are working against you. You have opted to avoid working on it rather than finding an alternative solution.

Like a toddler who stomps their foot down and refuses to move another step, so do you refuse to move forward.

Toddler moments aren’t a bad thing. It’s our emotions telling us something: I am out of regulation and I need to get into balance. What doesn’t work is when we recognize these moments for what they are and choose not to make a change for our own self-care.

Coping with the Tantrum

Once you realized you are having a tantrum, take a moment to analyze how you are feeling. Ask yourself a few questions in these moments:

  • Why am I feeling emotionally dysregulated or behaving in a way I don’t like?
  • What catalyst set me off?
  • Why am I resisting this or this change or this episode?
  • How can I change my approach to be more healthy?
  • What do I need to take care of myself and regain emotional regulation?

You probably don’t have a degree in psychology, so being able to fully answer these questions may not be possible. You may even end up with more questions than answers as to why you are “throwing a tantrum.”

The action of taking a few minutes to think about the tantrum may be enough time to help shake you out of it. When dealing with a toddler, one tactic is to distract them. Thinking about the source of your resistance can serve as a healthy distraction to move you forward.

Some other tactics we can use for ourselves (geared originally for toddlers):

  • Avoid the potential for “tantrums” in the first place. Take some time to figure out what might cause you to resist in the first place. If you hate emailing someone, make that your first project of the day so you don’t “forget.” If you know a particular situation will be stressful, give yourself a timeline for how long you stay. If you find someone causes you to react badly (and you can’t avoid them), use reflective listening.
  • Provide yourself with choices or alternatives. We love an option or the appearance of choice. You may have to work on that project, but can you delegate some of it to remove stress? If you can’t transfer it, consciously say you are “choosing to work on this project.”
  • Remove yourself from the situation temporarily. Going to the other room, finding a five-minute distraction, or moving onto a different project for a few minutes are all ways to remove yourself from a potentially volatile situation. Just don’t let this remove keep you from doing what needs to be done. Don’t avoid doing a task by continuing to avoid it. Face the source of the “tantrum” head on.
  • Stay Strong. We tend to give in to these “tantrums” in a negative way, so we have to remember to positively reinforce them. Each time you positively handle a “tantrum,” reward yourself. Self-care, self-soothe, or just acknowledge what you’ve done with pride. The more you positively reinforce your behavior, the easier it will be to make it a good habit.

Do you have tantrums? How do you handle them if you do? What works best for you? Leave a comment with your thoughts and experiences below.

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Featured Photo Credit: Marco Albuquerque on Unsplash

One thought on “Unlisted: Confronting the Inner Toddler

  1. I must admit I used to have tantrums years ago, but not any more. However, in my head, there’s often a toddler saying ‘no, just leave me alone’, or ‘I don’t wanna’! Great tips, I especially think the aspect of removing yourself from the situation that’s causing the upset can be really helpful.xx

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