My daughter spent the first two years of her life with a halo over her head. Metaphorically speaking, of course. She was a good sleeper from the very beginning, sleeping through the night only a few months in. She weaned herself off the boob at about the same time her teeth started poking through, saving me the trauma of chomped-on nipples. At events and in restaurants, she sat there: quiet, attentive, and with perfect posture. She even made it easy on me during my work day, sitting by herself in the corner, flipping though books as I worked my ass off on my laptop.
Then she turned two.
On the morning of her second birthday, it was like a flip had been switched. By the time we got through breakfast, she'd already had three meltdowns. During one of them, I encouraged her to take some sun breaths. "Breathe in," I said, sucking air up through my nose and reaching my arms up overhead, "and breathe out." I let my breath go in an abrupt sigh and flung myself forward into a forward fold. She flailed about in her high chair, almost hitting her head on the wall. I felt ridiculous for thinking yogic breaths could possibly make a dent in the impenetrability of full-on toddlerhood.
Eventually, I fell back on the one thing I always criticized my husband for falling back on: I took out my phone and showed Em videos of herself.
Though Em has always been a comparatively easy child, I've dabbled in my fair share of calming techniques, from the practical tips doled out by childhood development experts to the more woo-woo suggestions passed around by my fellow yogis.
Now that Em is two, these tips have really been put to the test. How have they held up? Let's see:
Ignore your child.
I've read in multiple books and on parenting websites that when your child is acting up, you should withdraw your attention. They'll eventually lose steam. So I've averted my eyes. And I've turned my daughter's high chair around when she's flung food about, waiting the requisite one-minute-per-year-she's-been-alive before turning her chair back around. It's like the cry-it-out method for the waking hours. AND IT WORKS. Though to be honest, some temper tantrums take longer to burn out than others and your eyes might start bleeding and the life might drain from your body before that happens.
Make a mind jar.
One of Em's hippie dippy board books has a craft project at the end for something called a Mind Jar. It's like a snow globe for feelings. Each piece of glitter you drop in is supposed to represent a thought or incident or emotion that's been giving you anxiety. When you're done filling your jar with all of your negative thoughts, you're supposed to shake it up, set it down, and then just sit with your breath, watching each piece of glitter fall to the bottom. By the time all of those swirling bits of glitter have settled, your swirling thoughts will have theoretically settled as well. I suspect this is more effective for me than it is for my toddler, but she is, at least, momentarily intrigued.
But you can't reason with a toddler. That's just fact.
Don't lose your cool.
This is impossible. Let's forget I ever mentioned it.
Take a few sun breaths together.
There was a time when my daughter would happily roll out her pint-sized yoga mat next to mine, joining me in series of sun breaths, letting the flow of movement and breath act as her main focus. Let's not fool ourselves. That time has passed.
Talk about their feelings.
By which I mean that you should acknowledge your child's feelings and then explain why it's too damn bad that they want this or that, because it's just not happening. I'm hoping this might become more effective as Em grows older and starts listening to reason. But you can't reason with a toddler. That's just fact. (Fun story: While I was writing this post, I asked Em if she wanted a nap because she was being extra clingy. "No," she said. And then she RESPONDED TO HERSELF with a "that's too bad." I don't know whether to feel proud or horrified.)
Play a singing bowl or Tibetan tingshabells.
Because I'm a yoga nerd, of course I have both of these things in my home. Sometimes, I let my daughter ring one of them and then I encourage her to listen very carefully until she can know longer hear the vibrating tone. No. You shut up. I can get entire moments of silence with this one.
Avoid situations—such as hangry-ness or exhaustion—that might lead to toddler meltdowns.
Listen lady (or whoever first started doling out this Captain Obvious-worthy advice), I am hyper-aware of how long I might be out of the house with my daughter. I am a slave to her sleep schedule. I keep her rolling in a steady supply of Cheerios and sippy cups. If I could avoid every damn situation in which my daughter might become slightly uncomfortable, I would. But I would also no longer have a life.
OK, this is technically not advice. But it is what happens when my spirit has been broken.
Bottom line: there is no foolproof way in which to survive the toddler years. God be with you.