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My daughter’s worst tantrum happened a few years as we were finishing up a daycare tour. I didn’t warn her before it was time to go and she refused to leave. I took her, screaming and kicking, outside the building to a less crowded but safe area, and put her down.


My baby girl kept kicking and screaming as I stood there as calmly as possible, for about 15 minutes, as I watched her tantrum. She didn’t want me to come to her, so I waited. People walked by, they stared. I felt anxious and sweaty, but I tried to remind myself that this isn’t as terrible as it feels.

I smiled to passers-by, and even got some empathy and encouragement from strangers who have kids. After my little one was all cried out, she ran to me and I held her. She was calm and it was all done. We learned together that day and she never had a tantrum like that again.

The truth is, most children can’t regulate their own emotions until later in life. Sure, we “know” that, but do we really? As parents and caretakers, we have so much to offer our little ones, even in moments that we feel utterly powerless. Here we will examine triggers, and how you can help your little one overcome the temptation of a tantrum.

What to know first

Emotions

Being in touch with a child’s emotion is important when trying to divert a crisis tantrum. Through understanding their emotions, we can take a step further and understand their point of view. What is it they feel? Sadness, anger, humiliation? Avoid asking if they are tired, because this is a body feeling, not an emotion. Being tired can play a huge impact on the emotions, yes, but the little ones aren’t thinking about that right now.

Triggers

Understanding your child’s triggers is key to understanding tantrums. What triggers your child to throw a fit? Overstimulation, change in routine, bedtime, crowds, sharing toys… broccoli? Once we know what tends to set off our little ones, we can be better prepared.

How to take action against tantrums 

Warning

Children understand, and do better, if things are explained to them before they enter an over-stimulating experience. If you’re going into something that might be hard, like going to a store that has toys, tell them beforehand, clearly, that you aren’t buying toys today. If you’re at the park and it’s time to go home, let them know in advance, and set a timer on your phone, showing them what will happen. If you know that your kid hates to share toys, ask them to hide one favorite toy they don’t want to share and agree the share the rest in advance. Like us, children appreciate some warning.

Eye contact

Nothing works better than getting down on your knees and having eye-to-eye contact with your child. Make sure when you talk to your child you ask them to look at you in the eye, but not in a threatening way. Rather, a safe place for them to gaze. They may try to squirm and avoid it, but calmly work on directing their eyes to you when you speak to them. You can even go a step further and ask them to repeat what you told them. This allows for more effective communication.

Modeling

Our children struggle with self-soothing and regulating their emotions. Knowing this is important. Children watch us, they sense us. As adults, we do have the power of self control. We have the power to be soothing and smiling. Keeping your cool during a tantrum may feel impossible, but it’s not. Remember that you don’t have to “feel” your child’s feelings, that you are a separate person from them. That you are not “bad” or “wrong” as a parent. Forget what other’s might think. This is natural – all kids get upset sometimes.

I recall a time when a small child came to play. Younger than my daughter, he grabbed her precious toys and grabbed at my daughter. I decided to get down on the floor and model for my daughter how to handle the situation. I played with him, yet set boundaries of not pulling on hair. My daughter watched me and began to take over, playing with the boy herself. I modeled keeping cool for her, and handling something new.

Reflecting

Reflecting can be a pretty powerful tool from the parental tool bag. When your child is starting to show warning signs of tantrum, get down to their level and tell them how you think they are feeling, ask them if you are right.

Small children can learn to identify their own emotions this way, which is great for later on. “Alexa, you’re feeling sad/angry/lonely?” Again, avoid, “Are you tired?” because this is a body feeling, not an emotion. As a toddler, if my daughter was sad she learned quickly to tell me so. I can tell you that nothing pull on the heartstrings like a toddler saying, “I’m sad,” as she cries calmly. This helps the child learn to communicate with you, and reduce meltdowns.

Redirecting and play

Redirecting a child’s attention is a great method. This isn’t just sticking a teddy bear in their hands and expecting them to change their thought track. It’s a little more clever and calls for a bit of creativity.

Imagine your child is getting cranky as you wait for your order at Starbucks (for example). What can you do? You can’t just walk out of the store without your lifeline cup of caffeine. Instead, take your child and walk around the shop. Point out interesting things like pictures on mugs or colors you see. If they’re old enough, ask what they see.

Use your environment and make something out of it. You’d be surprised how much children love straws or sugar packets. Have your child say hello to strangers who may be happy to smile and coo at your little one. 

Offer choices

Offering choices is a very effective technique when working with children. This can be used in all sorts of ways, from the food they eat to what they do. Offering choices gives your child power, and what more do they want than that? Even asking questions that seem like you’re giving them power can work wonders.

For example: “Jimmy, do you want five more minutes at the park, or six?” Once they make a choice, follow through with it. Allow your child to feel that they have some decision-making power in their daily lives. Another example: “Johnny, you have a choice, if you throw sand we go home now, if you don’t we can stay longer.”

This can be a learning process, as you follow through with your statements. “Jimmy, remember, you wanted seven minutes. Now the timer is up, time to go. Next time we can come back, but only if you can stay calm when it’s time to go.”

Again, it’s giving him a choice: If he isn’t calm maybe he won’t get to come back to the park tomorrow, but if he works to be calm then he gets to come back. When offering choices, remember that your tone is important – children sense that asking in anger may be a form of punishment.

Apply these techniques to a hypothetical-but-real-life scenario

Mom needs to bring her daughter, Ana, to the grocery store. Mom knows Ana tends to want to grab things off the shelf and throws a tantrum when she can’t keep them. Mom tells Ana before leaving the house that she needs to go to the grocery store. Mom kneels down to make eye contact and says, “Ana, we cannot buy a toy today. You have a choice, you can come with mommy to the store now but no toys, or stay home.”

Ana wants to go, but she wants a toy. She won’t agree. Mom says, “Okay, no store,” and mom waits. Ana is upset, but Mom waits until Ana understands that she won’t get a toy. Mom has Ana repeat that she understands she won’t get a toy again later.

At the store, Ana sees a toy. Forgetting everything, she begins to ask for it. Mom makes eye contact with Ana softly. “Ana, remember what we said? No toys today. I know it makes you sad, you want it now. But maybe another time you can get it.” Ana may tear up, but mom keeps her loving cool. “I know, it’s not easy, but I know you can do it, your my big girl! Can you help me remember what we needed? Was it cereal? Mommy forgot!” Laughing, mom keeps talking and encouraging Ana to help her.

In this vignette, we see that mom knows her daughter’s triggers. She decides to warn her child that there would be no toy, offering a choice to stay home or come with. She has eye contact and is physically level with her child. She sees her daughter beginning to show emotions and reflects that back to her, identifying the emotion. The child has a chance to understand and put a word to the feeling she has. Mom keeps her cool, and models behavior, reminding the child of their agreement. Later, she cleverly redirects the child in a way that helps her feel empowered. Mom is playful and loving. Tantrum avoided.

Through these techniques we learn so much about our little ones. We learn how we can act rather than react. We can outsmart the tantrums, and help our children grow and learn. I believe that most tantrums can be avoided with extra understanding and support. Try it. What have you got to lose? I know, just your sanity.  

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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We've seen the tired old trope in articles, commercials and television shows so many times: working moms just have too much to do. They're chauffeuring kids around to evening practices, making lunches after said kids go to bed and staying up till the wee hours of the morning catching up on their relentless and stressful jobs. The message is clear: working moms are tired and burnt out. They don't get enough time for themselves because they're so busy giving it all to their families and their jobs. But does this really line up with the working mothers you know?

Here's a secret many working mothers have figured out: less really is more. The minimalist movement—simplifying your life and stuff to gain more time—has revolutionized life as a working mother. The minimalist mom gets a full night of sleep, has time with her kids and, importantly, has time for herself. Here's how:

1. She says no.

A minimalist mom knows her limits, her interests and what the tipping point is for herself and her family. So, she limits volunteering to what interests her and what she can reasonably fit into her life. She guards her Wednesday nights—the night she always takes off from family duties to hit a yoga class or do something for herself—fiercely. She also says no to her kids: it's one out-of-school activity at a time and Sunday mornings are always for family. She's also mastered saying this at work: No, I can't take your work on. No, I won't be staying late to finish your last-minute request.

2. She knows where to spend her money for increased quality of life.

She would rather hire a bi-weekly cleaner than buy a pair of designer jeans. Weeknight meals are easy and from the slow cooker or just a simple spread of crackers, cheese and fruit. Fast food and takeout is expensive, and she'd rather spend that money on a babysitter and three courses at that new trattoria for date night. She is happy to buy the expensive snow boots for her oldest so they last through all three kids—saving not only money, but also time shopping. The kitchen renovation can wait until the youngest is out of daycare. Until then, she'd rather use fun money to buy an extra week of vacation and road trip as a family. Her spending aligns with one of her biggest values: having time for the things and people she loves.

3. She doesn't care what other people think.

Her workwear is five outfits for each season and no more. It's professional, flattering and easy. No one notices if you've worn the same outfit for seven Tuesdays in a row. She doesn't care what grandiose delicacies are brought for the school bake sale: She brings the same delicious butter cookies (the ones that they can freeze a quadruple batch of dough for) to every event requiring a cookie or baked good. Keeping up with the Joneses—who are stressed out and broke—isn't her thing.

4. Her kids do some things, not everything.

The family lives by a shared Google calendar and there are set rules around weekend playdates and kids' activities. Their kids have a healthy mix of structured activities and unstructured play time. She is a person first; chauffeur, playdate arranger and sideline soccer mom second.

5. She delegates like the boss that she is.

She hasn't done kid laundry since her oldest could reach the stacked washer dryer on his own. Her husband alternates meal planning and grocery shopping with her every week and makes all the kids' dentist appointments (she does the doctor appointments). She only takes the dog for a walk when she wants to; otherwise the kids do it. When an older kid forgets his or her lunch at home, they know that they have to figure it out for themselves: raiding their stash of granola bars in their locker or borrowing money from a friend for lunch. She understands she can't do it all, but rather, she and her family can do the basics together.

6. She knows what she and her family need (and want).

Her non-negotiables are her running group that has met every Saturday at 7 A.M. for a decade, a long weekend away with her spouse every fall and bedtime stories with the kids at least three nights a week. She knows what people and things fuel her—this makes it easy to say no to things that don't. She has a rule for friends that invite her to those kitchen gadget/jewelry/leggings parties: if she knows the salesperson well, she'll buy one item but won't attend the party. Every other invitation is a no.

7. She has hard and fast rules around taking work home with her.

Her team knows that if they have something urgent after 6 P.M. they better call her. She doesn't check email once she has left the office until 6 A.M. the next morning. When she gets home from a week of work travel, she takes a four-day weekend. Her schedule is blocked out from 4 P.M. onwards. so she isn't scheduled into end-of-day meetings that could run long. She meditates for 10 minutes at the end of her shift so she can leave the work stress at work. She guards her personal time and mental space fiercely.

8. She views work as a break from family time and family time as a break from work.

Being mentally present and engaged at work and at home means no guilt over enjoying her balance of work and family life. She cheerfully enjoys that there's no diapers to change for nine hours a day Monday to Friday, and when she's home she revels in being out of her office and untethered from her phone and laptop. Learning to quickly switch gears from work, family and personal time is a skill she has mastered to simplify her life.

The minimalist working mother doesn't do it all: she does the things that are important to her and to her family. Her list is unique to her and no one else. How she spends her time and her money directly aligns with what she values. This ethos of living her values makes it clear, fast and easy to make decisions. She knows that time is her most valuable resource and she spends it wisely at home and at work.

Originally posted on Working Mother.

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When I was pregnant I worried about what would happen if the baby cried for me while I was in a deep sleep. Like so many pregnancy worries, though, blocking out my baby's cries was something I didn't really need to be concerned about. An alarm clock can go off inches from my head and I'll sleep through it for hours, but if my baby cries at the other end of the house, I'm wide awake.

It turns out, the sound of my baby crying impacts my brain very differently than a beeping alarm.

I'm hardly the first parent to make this observation, and science is on to it, too. There's plenty of research about how a baby's cries impact its mother on a physical level. A study of mother mice published in Nature found that adding oxytocin (a hormone released in strong doses during labor and lactation) to the brains of the mamas changed the way they processed the sound of crying pups—and helped them learn how to recognize and respond to the sounds.

A dose of this “motherhood hormone," it seems, leads to increased sensitivity to the sound of your child in distress.

According to Robert Froemke, that study's senior investigator, this suggests oxytocin amplifies the way the auditory cortex processes incoming cries from our own babies. He says the same seems to be true for female mice as female humans: The sound of a crying baby stirs up a great sense of urgency.

This physiological reaction allow us to develop rapid, reliable behaviors to our babies' cries, says Froemke. In time, it also helps us learn what the cries mean—and how we can respond in a helpful way.

When our babies cry, “[as parents, we] don't know what's really going to work, we just try a bunch of stuff. Let's change a diaper, let's feed the baby, let's do a little dance," he says. “Eventually we learn this repertoire of parenting skills because we're all in, we're all invested and that baby depends on us absolutely to take care of it."

Researchers believe that it may be this hormonal shift in the brain that alerts a mother to the sound of her child's cry.

Mothers' brains have a different level of sensitivity to crying babies

In humans and in mice, dads often respond to a baby's cries, but the brain chemistry is a little different: According to Froemke, extra oxytocin doesn't speed up the reaction to crying pups in male mice the way it does for females.

"There is a difference in terms of [ a father's] sensitivity to oxytocin. We think that may be because the male oxytocin system is already maxed out," he explains, adding there is something about living with a female and child that contributes to a natural oxytocin increase in mouse dads. (Further proof moms aren't the only ones to deal with big hormone changes.)

But when it comes to the brains of human parents, there is more evidence that the brains of men and women respond to crying babies differently. A study published in NeuroReport looked at the brains of 18 men and women who heard a baby crying while inside a brain scanner. The women's brain activity suggested an immediate alertness, while the men's brain activity didn't change.

That study suggests there are gender differences in the way we process baby sounds, but a lot of dads will tell you they can't and don't sleep through a baby cries. And that's for good reason: According to Froemke, it's no biological accident that babies signal distress in a way that can pierce parents brains even when our eyes are closed.

"Parents have to sleep, too," he says, but, "Sounds penetrate our brains, they tap into something deep and we can quickly rouse from a deep slumber, jump out of bed and tend to infant needs."

Just as my son is biologically wired to be my personal alarm clock, I am biologically wired to hear him—even if I can still sleep through everything else.

[Originally published October 18. 2017]

[Editor's note: This story is a letter from a woman to her husband. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]

To my husband,

We met when I was 22. We started building a life together. We became each other's best friend, cheerleader, guidance counselor, and shelter from the storm. We laughed together, cried together, and stood up in front of all the people who matter to us and vowed to stay together until one of us dies.

We said the words without irony or hesitation, knowing that while we weren't perfect, the problems we could face in life would never be enough to break us.

And babe, I had no clue what our future held. But I knew I wanted to experience it only with you.

Then we got pregnant! And when our son was born, I marveled at the fact that we made a person. You and me. It honestly still blows my mind even five years later.

I'd heard women say things like, I fell in love with my husband all over again once I saw him as a daddy. I love watching you be a daddy, too—but just like becoming a mother has been transformative for me, becoming a father has been transformative for you, too. And it has taken us some time to get to know the new versions of ourselves.

We worked together—mostly on the same team—and have shared so many beautiful lessons and experiences together. Everything is new when you're a first-time parent! And this new dynamic of three definitely threw us for a loop—I wasn't used to sharing your attention with someone else, and I wasn't used to sharing my attention with someone other than you.

It took a few years to hit our stride. I think maybe we never had big things to disagree on before we became parents. It threw me off to be anything but harmonious with you. But just like we said we would on that gorgeous September wedding day, we found our way back. We stayed on each other's team.

And then I got pregnant again.

We were planning a huge life change already— moving across the country to start anew, restart your business and make a new future. I didn't have an easy pregnancy this time. And generally, for many reasons, life seemed harder than ever.

Our daughter was born and it didn't take long for postpartum depression to steal me away, for far longer than I should have allowed it to. I was scared to get the help I needed and I let it get the best of me. I'm truly sorry for that. I'm mostly sorry that I sometimes let it get the best of us.

It's easy to love a partner when it's just the two of you. Our priorities were never tested then—you were at the top of my to-do list, and I was at the top of yours. But—funny thing—this whole parenting thing seemed to make life a little more complex. And when your kids are little, and completely dependent upon you, there are many days when there just isn't much left over for anything or anyone else.

Babe, we're in it right now. Really in it. These are the parenting trenches. The baby years. These years can make or break us. And can I be so bold as to say: I think they're making us.

They're making us learn how to communicate better. How to find common ground when we disagree about real stuff, like the ways we want to raise our children. We're invested in not only the outcome but the short term effect. We're a team.

They're making us think about the future. Not just the fun stuff, but the difficult stuff like estate planning, life insurance, and college funds for the kids. They're making us challenge ourselves to provide our children with comfort and opportunities. We've always worked hard but the stakes have never been this high.

You know I'm the optimist, the dreamer, while you consider yourself the realist—but I think we can agree on this: going through some of the tough stuff with you by my side has shown me that we are stronger than the tough stuff. We can get through it. We can get through anything. As long as we hold on to each other.

Motherhood transformed me. Fatherhood transformed you. And having kids completely transformed our marriage. We'll never be who we were on our wedding day again.

Time marches forward—only forward. I miss the carefree version of "us", but I love this version even more. Because we know what we're made of now, and in so many ways we didn't before.

I'm sure that in our lifetime, many more obstacles will arise that will transform our marriage. But I've never been more confident that whatever may be, we'll find a way through it—together.

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Baking Christmas cookies together is a family tradition for many, but the Centers for Disease Control is warning parents that if your recipe contains raw flour or raw eggs, you really shouldn't sneak a bite before it is cooked, and neither should your kids.

The CDC is warning people not to eat raw cookie dough, cake mix or bread as we head into prime baking season.

The agency acknowledges the appeal of a spoonful of chocolate chip goodness but asks that we "steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick."

Salmonella from raw eggs is, of course, a concern, and so is the raw flour. According to the CDC, flour needs to be cooked in order to kill germs like E.Coli. That's why the CDC is asking parents to "say no to raw dough," not just for eating but even for playing with.

"Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too," the CDC posted on its website.

On the Food and Drug Administration's website, that agency advises that "even though there are websites devoted to 'flour crafts,' don't give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with." Health Canada also states that raw flour should not be used in children's play-dough.

The warnings follow a 2016 E.coli outbreak linked to contaminated raw flour. Dozens of people got sick that year, and a post-outbreak report notes that "state investigators identified three ill children who had been exposed to raw flour at restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and Texas. Restaurant staff had given them raw dough to play with while they waited for their food to be served."

The CDC worries that with flour's long shelf life, products recalled during the 2016 outbreak may still be in people's pantries (although the CDC notes that any raw flour—recalled or otherwise—should not be consumed).

If your kids do have flour-based play dough, don't worry.

Some parents are still choosing to use flour-based craft dough to make Christmas ornaments or other crafts this holiday season and are reducing the risks by A) making sure the kids aren't eating their art, and B) thoroughly washing little hands, work surfaces, and utensils when the dough play is over.

Other parents are choosing other types of craft clay over flour-based dough.


During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Two years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

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