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Getting Angry With My Toddler

Photograph by Getty Images

Halfway through a cross-country, red-eye flight, both my toddler and I were over it. To break the monotony, I lugged him up and down the aisle and chatted with flight attendants.

We were still by the galley when he crossed from tired to overtired. Giggling maniacally, he reared back his head, raised his hand and whacked me on the side of the head.

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“Ouch, no.”

Still giggling, he yanked a hunk of my hair and in an instant my blood boiled.

“Ow, stop!”

More laughter, another whack on my head. I stuck my finger in his face and mustered up the meanest whisper he’d ever heard: “You stop that RIGHT NOW.”

His little face froze just before he burst into tears. Cradling his sobbing face in my neck, I teared up too. “I’m sorry, baby,” I whispered into his ear. “I know you’re just tired. I’m tired too. I’m so sorry.”

Wracked with guilt, I held my now quiet and cuddly child and thought, “Oh my god, it worked.”

I'm not surprised that my toddler acts unreasonably, but I'm surprised by how unreasonably I react when I lose control over a situation.

Did I really have to prove to my toddler that I could win?

One day with a toddler has more frustrating moments than I can count, and most of the time I know how to deflect, walk away or—more often than not—laugh out loud. (Have you ever seen a tiny human fling himself to the floor, kicking and screaming because the dog stole his cracker? It’s kind of hilarious.)

But under the layers of my normally calm and collected motherly self, there lies a button that only my little one knows how to find. And it’s usually triggered by a total loss of control, whether it’s exhaustion, a new environment, or because the plans in my head are completely thrown out of whack.

The other day, I decided it would be genius to pop him in the shower with me—we’d save time and it would be fun. He had different opinions.

Somehow that situation escalated into me, naked in the bathroom, stripping him down to only his socks. He was crying and I was yelling, “I just need to wash your butt!” Then I unceremoniously dumped my screaming child into the bathtub, socks and all.

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Moments later, he was splashing happily in the tub, and I was reeling over the crazy lady who had taken over in a situation that wasn’t even important in the first place. Did I really have to prove to my toddler that I could win? I know better than to enter a battle of wills with a 2-year-old.

But moms make mistakes, too. And the first step in being kind to my kid is remembering to be kind to myself and remembering, while the fastest way to regain control is to exert my authority, it’s certainly not the smartest.

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