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Toddler tantrums: Getting to the base issue

As a typical three year old, Sunshine has tantrums on occasion. “On occasion” meaning most every day. Usually it means she’s tired or hungry or something like that.

Sometimes I cannot account for a root cause at all. I just don’t understand why an afternoon can be going along fine, then all of a sudden, she’s on the floor wailing because Woody dared glance in her direction. Then again, I’m not three. Of course I don’t understand.

One evening recently, Sunshine melted down as soon as we arrived home, and continued to melt down again and again throughout the evening. Clearly she was tired from a fabulous day with her little girlfriends at school, but it had been a long while since I had seen her quite like this. I was careful not to play into the first part of the meltdown, but when it became clear it was something more than your typical tantrum, I made every effort to help her. I made sure she had a snack while I made dinner, and still she whimpered. After dinner I sat down with her, read to her, held her. Nothing worked. “Mommy, I’m sad,” she cried.”I hear that, Sunshine,” I said, “What are you so sad about?””I’m sad because I can’t have what I want,” she continued, tears streaming.”What is it you want, my love?” I asked.She continued to cry, not answering me. She seemed unsure how to convey her feelings. Then said, “I’m sad, Mommy.”I kept trying to figure it out. “I know, love. I hear that you are sad.” Sunshine tried again, “Mommy, I’m sad because I can’t have what I want.”I said, “Are you sad because you can’t have everything your way?”Sunshine looked hugely relieved that I understood her, even though she was still crying, “Yeah!”I held her close, and smiled to myself. I made sure not to laugh. “I know, love, I know.”I thought about how to proceed. Of course she’s sad she can’t have her way all the time. I get sad I can’t have my way all the time, too! This is a pretty big life lesson. Even though we may be able to identify the issue at three years of age, it likely will take most of a lifetime to learn how to handle that issue if her mom’s progress is any indication. It’s such a basic human issue.After a few moments, I realized there was no great way to proceed here. She’s too young for a deep conversation about it, so I just held her and said, “Yes, Sunshine, I know. I feel sad that way, too, sometimes. I’ll keep helping you try to figure it out.”

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