I tried just hugging my toddler when he was acting out and this is how it went
Everyone who has ever been in possession of a toddler or young child will be able to tell you all about temper tantrums so epic you literally wish the ground would open up and swallow you whole.
It is terrifying. And humbling. And the first time it happens just a very scary "Oh-my-GOD-what-is-THIS" experience most of us will go through. And through and through.
My little boy is currently going through that phase. Has been, to be honest, for about a year now. The thing is, most of the time he is the sweetest, most affectionate, adorable little thing ever, and then, all of a sudden, something doesn't go his way and BOOM; calamity.
And I mean proper, proper tantrums. Where he will scream and lie down and kick my shin and just generally be impossible to even attempt to reason with. And while these episodes are bad enough when they happen within the four safe (and non-judgemental) walls of our own home, they are even worse (for me, anyway) when they happen in the middle of Marks & Spencer's. Or Tesco. Or the playground.
These are the moments when you feel like everyone's eyes are on you and the sweat slowly starting to trinkle down your spine. Minutes feel like hours, and toddlers, the little f**kers, are great mind-readers and will sense your stress and panic, and take their tantrum up a notch – just for the hell of it.
When we first got to this phase, I struggled with how to act, and how to discipline my little boy. Surely one must be meant to punish this crazy behaviour, no? And so I tried. Begging and threatening and being strict and angry and even attempting to bribe him out of a tantrum as if my life depended on it.
It wasn't until a friend of mine, who happen to be a pre-school teacher back home in Norway, told me that when he is being at his very worst, that's when he needs my kindness and compassion the very most.
And these words changed everything for me. Suddenly I realised that fighting fire with fire is never going to work – not then and there, and not in the long run. I think there’s this fear of reinforcing the behavior, and so most of us think we have to punish, remove toys, ignore the behavior, and respond with a poker face when toddlers (and kids) are acting out. But it turns out the opposite might be the far better option.
So the next time my little boy started acting out and literally just being at his most horrible, I crouched down to his level and just held him in a hug. I didn't say anything at first, didn't try to calm him or shush him or threaten him to stop, I just hugged him.
And slowly he relaxd into my arms and just let himself be hugged. I could feel his breath get calmer, he became less tense and after a few moments, he explained to me, as best he could, why he had gotten angry.
Just think about it – when you have had a rough day and you are at your wits end, is a hug not really the best thing for it? The one thing that can melt away the stress and sad feelings?
As adults, we can realise this and actually ask for a hug. Most toddler's won't. Not only because they might not realise that a hug is what they need, but also because when we are in the heat of the moment, or feeling a surge of our emotions, it makes it much harder to think rationally. When considering our children and how they are developing their prefrontal lobe (the part that does a lot of the planning and decision-making), it then makes sense that they have much more difficulty in expressing themselves calmly when under stress.
But when we, as adults, see this, and offer a hug, or even just some verbal reassurance, you are helping calm your child so they can hear you better. You are not automatically reinforcing their behavior.
In fact, from a simple hug your child can experience these messages from you:
“You mean the world to me.”
“I love you no matter what.”
“I see that you are still learning and I am here to help you.”
“You are not alone in this.”
“I see how hard this is for you right now.”
“I accept your feelings.”
“Your feelings do not define you.”
“You are not defined by your mistakes.”
“I want to help you learn new ways.”
“You can count on me.”
The way Mother.ly explains it was that when you continuously show your child that they are not “bad” even when acting out, the recording that is in their mind changes so that they know they don’t need to be stuck in being or acting in a "bad" way.
What will happen is that they get better at calming themselves, and will realise they can do better.
My little boy's tantrums have definitvely gotten fewer and further between since we started this, and I love how he will know just offer me a hug when he has done something he knows I won't approve of.
What do YOU think, mamas? Does it make sense to 'hug it out?' Do YOU do thi? Let us know in the comments or tweet us at @Herfamilydotie