Whole Parenting Family

Keeping my cool with a spastic tot

spastic toddler

Toddlers. So cute. So lethal.

Cue the long exhale. When I was first a mom of a toddler I died a thousand deaths, each and every day. I agonized over what to do when he protested naps. I texted my husband a billion times If he doesn’t stop screaming I’m going to die//can i die from listening to his whining//breakfast for dinner again–we fought all day and I’m too exhausted to cook//will he ever grow up or will he whine at college??

It was so hard to accept that my toddler couldn’t accept the word “no” nicely. It was so hard to hear the streaming of whining emanating forth from his frothy mouth. My brain face palmed a dozen times a day.

You see, I was still freshly off the working woman wagon, and I wasn’t fully immersed in kid world. I really thought I could control his behavior. I really really was wrong.

I wrote a lot about my struggles. Two Year Old Terror. Tantrums Rule My Life. Emotional Voice Finding. Power Parenting Doesn’t Work. I read a lot. I talked in my mom groups about it. I cried to my mom. I whined to my husband. I vented to my sisters.

And now that it’s my second go ’round with a two year old? It’s so much less frustrating! I do get irritated of course, but I rarely feel hot white rage of powerless agony. She’s different than he is, too. SweetPea is her own breed of spastic and has less staying power than SuperBoy did but is insanely more sensitive, too.

spastic toddler

My go to mental check list for keeping my cool when she’s lost her brain:

1) remember she’s a toddler. I’m the adult. And if I yell, it makes it so much worse because she will be reacting to my anger instead of her own primary reason for the meltdown.

2) remember her brain is really limited in its self-regulatory functions. Like, really, truly, limited. She’s not doing this to ruin my day. She’s doing it because she’s a growing person.

3) insist on certain behaviors and let others go. No hitting me or others. No shrieking. When she does those,  I either go to numbers 5, 6, or 7. She knows she can’t dump out an entire puzzle all over and not pick it up, but I’m probably going to remind her as she’s dumping and then help her pick it up instead of insisting she do it all herself.

4) reinforce action//consequence all day long and the same every time. it’s like training horses. We talk about what “we” do and don’t do. It’s in the air. The lines of desirable & undesirable. Why we don’t do this or don’t do that. And I try to follow through. So no idle threats because it is HARD for me to be consistent with two other kids besides her! And because, unlike you all lovelies, I’m inherently a softie and lazy and don’t want to have to be the bad mean mama.

5) nip the whining in the bud with incentives & choices. Oh, you’re upset you can’t color on the couch? Well, you can color on the activity book or the paper. And for little girls who listen and obey, they get a special something after naps! My bribes always come after naps. Just to have that extra incentive to go the Samuel L. Jackson to sleep.

6) hug it out. Crabby kids need tickles and hugs to knock them back into their normal happy selves. Sometimes works.

7) time in it up. I’m reading a really great book about behavioral psych and the affect of time outs. We’re doing time-ins which is way worse for every one but as of now, shorter in duration. She has to sit with me on the stair or the couch in the kitchen. She gets to see what everyone else is doing but not do it.

In her room? Too dang far away and that’s where she would prefer to be, thank you very mucho. Being stuck in the action but not partaking seems to be working as the ultimate incentive to behave more quickly. And regulate her own inner barometer. It’s her choice, to the extent her brain lets her 🙂

8) hold my breath and know this phase passes and if I do my job of setting firm boundaries she can rail against, quite literally some days, she’ll be better off and have a better sense of internalized discipline later. Gosh, I can only hope.

How’s your life with tots? Hope it’s not too insanivizing!

spastic toddler


  1. Rachel @ Efficient Momma on January 5, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    These are great tips! Especially today…when I REALLY don’t like have a two year old. The whining…oh.my.gosh!

    • Natural Mama Nell on January 5, 2015 at 2:25 pm

      The flaying limbs! The screetching!

  2. Melissa on January 5, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    I love your posts on this topic. Age three has been ROUGH at our house and I’m so guilty of falling into the “only my kid acts this bad” mindset. I also forget that “fighting” with a 3 year old is completely unproductive.

    • Natural Mama Nell on January 5, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      No! I totally get it. Know all 3 year olds act like this and the only difference is how ww react. Otherwise they are all like this!

  3. Ellen That Chic Mom on January 6, 2015 at 8:49 am

    Great post and great tips! I also utilize the mom time out. I am on toddler number 4 and each one has been soooo different! For me I need to walk away before I loose my cool or I become the yelling mom I hate. Sometimes I feel like it’s harder having a toddler with older kids as I forget they can’t help it and expect too much, I’m working on remembering that certain behavior in the toddler is not to make me crazy but when the 5 year old does it they were definitely trying to make me crazy!

    • Natural Mama Nell on January 6, 2015 at 2:05 pm

      That’s helpful to hear they are all different. Having experienced only two so far, who are fairly different, it is hard to tell.

  4. Audrey on January 6, 2015 at 9:29 am

    Nell, this is so helpful! We have two boys (ages 3 and 18 months) and our three-year-old has been pushing me to the limit lately. I’ve noticed that I get frustrated and yell more often, which ABSOLUTELY makes the situation ten times worse! Quick question, how do you make sure the kiddos get enough physical activity in when it’s freezing outside (we are in the Twin Cities, too)! I think that pent-up energy is only fueling the fire for misbehavior.

    • Natural Mama Nell on January 6, 2015 at 2:06 pm

      So hard! We literally run up and down the stairs. We are blessed to live in a big house with front and back stairs and we do laps five – ten times a day! We also race around the dining room table. Using the term “we” errr … Broadly 🙂

  5. Kayla on January 6, 2015 at 10:43 am

    My problem right now is that I just don’t know what she can and can’t understand. She’s 18 months old and very communicative, though she doesn’t say much. “No” just seems to encourage her to do whatever she wasn’t supposed to be doing with more gusto. If I remove her, she returns quicker. She wouldn’t sit still for a time out or a time in (and she’s an only child, so being held is not a punishment for her). The 18 month- two year old in between age is such a black hole of parenting. Any tips?

    • Natural Mama Nell on January 6, 2015 at 4:51 pm

      It’s such a tough age because they really cannot understand the long term consequence of us being mad or upset with them–they’re still learning the association between “no” and the action they’re not supposed to do. My kids were the same as yours! If removed, they went back faster. I just really reinforced the few “no’s” and tried to make our environment as yes-friendly as possible. And just gird your own emotions to know it is not about her not obeying or being bad. She’s not capable of being “bad” because she can’t put the thoughts together to maliciously do anything. Check out The Whole Brain Child–it REALLY helped me: http://www.drdansiegel.com/books/the_whole_brain_child/

  6. Sasha on January 6, 2015 at 11:51 am

    Just as a heads up from an international reader, you use a word which in the UK is seen as highly offensive. I appreciate that things don’t always mean the same across the pond but I thought you best know!

    • Natural Mama Nell on January 6, 2015 at 2:09 pm

      Oh, thanks! I have no idea which word that is!

      • Sasha on January 6, 2015 at 2:34 pm

        Ah, sorry should have put that, it’s spastic. It has extremely derogative connotations here!

        • Natural Mama Nell on January 6, 2015 at 4:49 pm

          Oh yikes! Had no idea! Will def not use it again!

  7. Amelia @ One Catholic Mama on January 6, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    We’ve always done the time-in thing, although I didn’t know there was a name for it or that it was a “thing” I just knew that my kids all freaked out at the forced separation of time-out. It definitely got them way more upset and frantic and just made things worse. So when our kids were toddlers if they misbehaved, we would pick them up and hold them, calm them down. Same thing if they hit or otherwise misbehaved. we’d keep them close and that helped them behave better. It’s not so much a punishment as a teaching tool, but it definitely helped. And my olders kids are all great kids.

    • Natural Mama Nell on January 6, 2015 at 8:40 pm

      So helpful to hear! Look at how your instinctual parenting is buoyed by science 🙂

  8. Jessi @ Our Midwest Nest on January 6, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    My little is only 1 month old, but these are GREAT things to keep in mind. Thanks for sharing. As a rookie mom, it’s been awesome reading things like this to start getting these things ingrained before I need to access my toolkit. 🙂

    • Natural Mama Nell on January 6, 2015 at 11:33 pm

      Congrats, mama! So glad you are here! We all learn from each other!

  9. nellie on January 7, 2015 at 12:07 am

    great tips! thank you for the reminders. i remember feeling somewhat like that with my first… and still do. she’s 14 & may dump a puzzle nowadays just to get my goat. the toddlers are just precious now in my eyes 🙂 happy new year!

    • Natural Mama Nell on January 9, 2015 at 1:05 pm

      Love it. Ha!

  10. Amanda on January 7, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    Love these tips, Nell! So good! All of them! And, so needed in my time. My first child was such a docile one and has recently started with some whining and trying to crack boundaries but child numero dos has been testing them from birth. Thanks for this and the encouragement!

    • Natural Mama Nell on January 9, 2015 at 1:06 pm

      I totally get it!!!!

  11. Emily on May 11, 2017 at 6:00 am

    I have been enjoying your posts so much, Nell, and this one is great – I had a long day with my two year old today! I do have to agree with Sasha, though – ‘spastic’ does have very negative connotations here in Australia too.

    • Natural Mama Nell on May 15, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      So sorry for the cultural difference!