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unrealistic expectations of toddlers

Although it’s been occurring daily for at least the past two months, I am still not adjusted to the meltdowns my toddler has each day. In fact just last night, as we returned home from a late dinner with family, my husband carried a kicking and screaming toddler from the truck to our front door at 12:30 in the morning. In defeat, I told him, “We can’t be the ONLY people in this neighborhood with a two-year-old. How come we never hear anyone else’s kid raising hell?” My daughter went to sleep wearing her winter coat last night. After a thirty-two minute tantrum we discovered all the fuss was because she just didn’t want to take off her coat.

No matter how many “Ages and Stages” updates sends me on a bi-monthly basis, I sometimes still feel like I don’t know what the hell I am doing when it comes to managing my daughter’s temper tantrums. I know what it feels like to time runs to the store for toilet paper in between meticulously scheduled nap and mealtimes because you don’t want to be embarrassed in the middle of Target. I understand what it feels like to avoid the toy aisle or the candy in the check-out line because you know you’re not buying those things for your kid today and once they figure out the Skittles are not coming home they are going to lose their ish. So whenever I see a mother trying to peel a frantic toddler from the big red Target balls in front of the store, my instinct is to give her an encouraging smile or a nod of support, not roll my eyes and whisper to my husband about how someone needs to control their kid.

So it always amazes me when folks who are childfree or haven’t parented a toddler since Paula Abdul was doing choreography with a cartoon cat think it’s cool to tell my toddler to, “Shhh!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the mom who’s going to let my child act a fool and ruin some stranger’s Sunday morning when they only wanted to grab some shaving cream and throw pillows on clearance. If my kid is being a jerk and slightly annoying you, imagine how it must feel for the person who has to abandon their cart and drive their erratic behind home. But whenever I find myself about to lose my mind, I remind myself: My toddler isn’t doing anything she isn’t supposed to. It’s my job to teach her how to handle her emotions, support her growing ability to problem solve and assure her that I’m going to be there for her, runny nose, tear-streamed cheeks, strangers’ irrational judgment and all.

The child resource group Zero to Three confirmed in a survey last year that if you’re expecting toddlers to play quietly and not make a scene, then you’re the one with the problem. The study entitled “Tuning In” found most parents overestimate young kids’ ability for self-control, something they call the “expectation gap.”

Matthew Melmed, executive director of ZERO TO THREE explains the survey’s findings in detail in a press release:

“Having realistic expectations for a child’s ability is critical for supporting healthy development and minimizing stress for both parents and that child.”

“For example, if a parent thinks a child is capable of greater self-control than he actually is, it can lead to frustration for the parent and possibly more punitive – rather than supportive – responses.”

 “Are You Expecting Too Much From Your Toddler?“  an article featured on highlighted several key points from the survey, beginning with findings of parental expectations:

  • 56 percent of parents believe kids have the impulse control to resist the desire to do something forbidden before age 3.
  • 36 percent believe that kids under age 2 have this kind of self-control.
  • 43 percent of parents think kids are able to share and take turns with other kids before age 2.
  • 24 percent of parents believe kids have the ability to control their emotions, like resisting tantrums when they’re frustrated, at 1 year or younger.
  • 42 percent believe kids have this ability by 2 years.

It also emphasize some facts when it comes to child development:

  • Self- control actually develops between 3½ and 4 years, and takes even more years to be used consistently.
  • Sharing skills develop between 3 to 4 years.
  • Emotional control also won’t develop until between 3½ and 4 years.

Mehmed thinks it’s important for parents, caregivers and all you judgmental Target shoppers to remember that parenting in the early years is more about teaching than discipline:

“The early years are about teaching, not punishing. When parents have realistic expectations about their child’s capabilities, they can guide behavior in very sensitive and effective ways.”

Does this mean I will be getting the bulk order of Skittles from BJ’s because I now know my child is biologically incapable of self-control when she can’t have what she wants? Absolutely not, but it does make me empathize not only a little more with those raising toddlers, but also my toddler herself. Life is hard enough when you’re an adult who has lived a little life to know that things aren’t always fair and you can’t always get what you want. Imagine when you’ve only been on this Earth for a few years and you’re making sense of all of that for the first time. In addition it’s difficult for you to find the words to express you’re pissed, you’re disappointed and you just don’t understand why you can’t wear your winter coat to bed. So the next time you find yourself about to “shush” your sister’s toddler, your friend’s three-year-old or the pre-schooler of some random person on the train who is going ape s**t, remind yourself: Toddlers can’t control their inner a**hole, you however have had years to perfect controlling your own.

Have you ever been “parent-shamed” for your toddler’s behavior in public? How do you handle your child’s meltdowns?

Images via Bigstock

Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a  passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about  everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.





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