Thoughts on Raising Toddlers: Learning Limits and Steering Our Horses

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Thoughts on Raising Toddlers: Learning Limits and Steering Our Horses

Thoughts on Raising Toddlers: Learning Limits and Steering Our Horses

At a MOPS retreat recently, we had a discussion about raising toddlers.  I am so thankful that we were able to approach this subject together in a measure of grace, honesty, and intention. One woman shared that her son has had problems with tantrums. Her solution is to “ignore to extinguish,” so she lets the passion die out and then she has a quiet talk with her son.  Faced with the same situation, her husband will firmly say, “No screaming,” and if it continues, their son gets a spanking.

I love what St. Therese of Lisieux had to say about a mother’s love in the context of a toddler’s misbehavior:

I assure you that the good Lord is much kinder than you can imagine. He is satisfied with a glance, with a sigh of love…In regard to myself, I find it easy to practice perfection, because I have learned that the way to Jesus is through His Heart. Consider a small child who has vexed his mother by a display of bad temper or disobedience. If the child hides in a corner through fear of punishment, he feels that his mother will not forgive him. But if instead, he extends his little arms towards her and with a smile cries out: ‘Love, kiss me, mamma, I will not do it again,’ will not his mother press the little one to her heart with tenderness, and forget what the child has done? And yet, though she knows very well that her dear little one will misbehave again at the first opportunity, that means nothing if the child appeals to her heart. He will never be punished…

Someone brought into the conversation a quotation from a book she had recently read, Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches by Rachel Jankovic.  She read it all out loud to us. It was quite long, so I can’t quote it in its entirety here, but I’ll give you the best part of the whole:

We tell our girls that their feelings are like horses- beautiful spirited horses. But they are the riders. We tell them that God gave them this horse when they were born, and they will ride it their whole life. God also set us on a path on the top of the mountain together and told us to follow it… When our emotions act up, it like the horse trying to jump the fence … A good rider knows what to do when the horse tries to bolt- you pull on the reins! Turn the horse’s head! Get back on the path!*

She goes on to clarify that the horses are not what’s causing the problem. It’s ok to be passionate, to have feelings- even strong feelings.  The goal is trained emotions. As she says,

A well-controlled passionate personality is a powerful thing.**

Recently, I had two meltdowns with my girls.  In the first instance, my 2-year-old was eating gogurt, and she couldn’t get the small bit of yogurt left to come all the way up the tube. Instead of wanting to learn how to slide the yogurt up the plastic tube, she wanted a whole new gogurt.  I could feel the heat rising, I could tell a meltdown was coming in full force.

What does a good mother do?

I didn’t know, but I got her another gogurt. First of all, she is two. She gets frustrated all day long by the things her five-year-old sister can do… put on her clothes, shoes, and socks, go to the potty all by herself, put on her seatbelt, etc. Second, noticing she had been having a growth spurt, I thought she might be hungry enough to eat another gogurt. Third, I didn’t want lunch to turn into a marathon battle-of-the-wills when I could instead play the peacemaker in this particular situation. So although gogurts are sort of expensive, I decided not to turn a a moment of frustration into a tantrum. I got her another one. I did put the rest of her first gogurt in a cup with a spoon, and I saved it!

I decided that was a battle that wasn’t worth waging. Maybe I was a pushover. Maybe next time I will stick to my guns. Maybe next time she will be ready and old enough to learn.  I just had a feeling, “Now is not the time to make a big fuss.”

Jankovic also clarifies, talking about her toddler daughter: It wasn’t any kind of deep malice that got her into those cupboards looking for chocolate chips- it was just a simple lack of control.  I know what it’s like to feel out of control. I’m having an internal spiritual fit about a difficult friendship right now. I want to have peace, I want to feel good, and I want to know God’s will. I anxiously pray. I repeat my prayers over and over again. Then, I have a fit about my fits. Why do I get so angry? Why do I stress about all these things?   When I feel the heat rising and I’m tempted to be short with my kids, I know something is wrong. And I ask God- not very politely- to please Help me GodHelp me, this is so hard it hurts!

I can also tell you another story about the girls that went a little differently. I had just gotten a new spice rack.  I was pouring spices from bags into jars, and they became overcome by their desire to join in the party. I told them firmly, “These are not toys. You can find go toys to play with. Mommy is not going to let you play with the spices.” They both became so impassioned by their desire to pour spices into jars, that they laid down on the floor, completely consumed by a fit. I can’t remember if they were hungry and tired, but all I knew was, there is a line and they can’t cross it.

I ignored them for a few minutes, and remained firm. The passion passed over like a dark cloud, and soon they were happily playing. I didn’t argue back and forth with them. I simply set the rule, stood my ground, and waited for the emotion to pass. And it did.  And I can tell you that it doesn’t always pass without a course of further action. But, like riding horses or steering a ship, they will gradually start to comprehend how to steer their emotions in the right direction- how to harness the passion and use it for good.

In the mean time, I’m here, showing them what is ok to feel frustration about, and that it’s not OK to blow up about it. I’m here to teach them the difference between screaming and simply crying. I’m here to teach them about learning limits, without letting them fall into sin. Gradually as they develop the ability to reason, these things will become second nature. I can also keep a prayerful heart, and seek God in these things. I’m thankful that I have the grace of the sacraments to help me when times are hard. I’m glad they will know this peace as they get older, as well. I’m also comforted by this verse: “Whatever you ask the Father, He will give you in my name” (John 16:23). I earnestly plead for Godly children, who comprehend self-control and all the facets of God’s Holy Spirit and his fruit.

Soon they’ll know for themselves. Until then, I’ll keep being their Mom. I’ll keep teaching them. And, I’ll keep buying Gogurt!

….What are your thoughts?

*Quotations taken from Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches, by Rachel Jankovic

1st quote- pg. 29

**2nd quote- pg. 30, 3rd quote- p. 28

Copyright 2013 Tacy Beck

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4 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I am having a rough patch with my 3 year old daughter and came to Catholicmom.com looking for some guidance and inspiration, and I found it in this post!

  2. As a horseback-riding instructor, wife and mom to two sons (ages 4+ and <2), I was completely drawn into your post as it made the most sense of emotions and how to deal with them as I have ever read anywhere. Heartfelt thanks for your post – now off to find that book! And, I might add, many adults (myself included) could benefit from this information and apply it to themselves – something I plan to do immediately as I can completely relate to the concept! God bless you.

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