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August 2013 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family / Toddlers

Tantrums to tranquility: Three deep breaths to calm toddler

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It’s 7 am on a weekday morning, and my 3-year-old runs toward the kitchen table to see what’s for breakfast. Standing on his tiptoes to peer at his plate, I sigh as I watch his nose crinkle, his cheeks pinch together, and his eyes fill with tears.

“Oh no, another tantrum,” I think to myself, as he opens his mouth to scream.

“I don’t want toast,” my son shrieks, marching away from the table. He stomps his feet and shouts his demands like a drill sergeant. “Give me cereal! And banana, not pear!”

I feel my body tense, preparing to explain all the reasons he must eat his toast — and stop crying now. I tell myself I can reason with him. I can explain that he had cereal for breakfast yesterday, that the toast is already made. I can explain that we don’t always get what we want, that we can’t always have our way, and surely he will understand.

But my son is only 3, and because tantrums are a normal part of his world, of his development and changing brain, he continues to cry, stomp, and scream, tempting me to give into his demands and retreat to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal, or worse, resort to yelling back at him.

Then I remember I have another choice, one that’s been saving my son and me lately from the frustration and exhaustion of life’s tantrums.

“OK, you don’t want your toast,” I say, standing next to the table, as my son hears my words, prompting him to shriek even louder. I remind myself to remain calm.

“Let’s take a deep breath together.” I breathe in, exaggerating the movement of my upper body, puffing my chest out like a penguin, and then blow air out through my mouth in a loud whoosh.

My son continues his protest, eyeing the cup of milk next to his plate as if he might knock it to the floor at any moment. I resist the urge to revert back to the “old way” of doing things, of raising my voice or trying to reason with my son as if he is an adult.

Instead, I move the cup from the edge of the table and continue to breathe, in through my nose and out through my mouth.

“Come on,” I say. “Three deep breaths.”

Sometimes it feels like my son will never calm down, and that I’ll be breathing there next to him, in and out, for an eternity. Other times, he quickly joins me. He takes a short breath, fidgets, and cries a little more, then breathes in again, mimicking the sound of my whoosh. If I’m lucky, one breath follows another, until my son is calm and ready to eat his toast.

Breathing deeply together and practicing calmness may not be the easiest or fastest way to help my son through a tantrum, but it is the best way, for both of us. When I am calm, it helps him feel calm, and we can weather the storm together.

And when my son turns to me afterward and says, “I feel better, Mom,” I always feel better, too.

Heather Van Deest is a freelance writer looking for more chances to practice calmness each day.

Updated 7:01 pm, October 28, 2016
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