You can feel it coming before it's started. The way they look at you, their little wheels are turning and they're preparing for all out war. The hurt and anger on their face, the way their fists ball up, and then they get very still just before it all lets loose. A wave of madness, anxiety and tears.
Toddler meltdowns are epic.
They're so full of passion and fury and hurt feelings. And most of the time, it's all I can do to not start laughing.
Yes, toddler tantrums are awful and they're unfortunate, but in the comfort of your own home, they're mostly manageable once the toddler has calmed down. It's the public ones that are SO. MUCH WORSE.
The crying and the screaming and the kicking and the hitting? It's all amplified when there are other people watching. Every time Henry has a meltdown (thankfully not too often), I can feel my cheeks turn red and hives explode across my chest. I'm immediately thinking about what an awful parent I am and that surely others are thinking the same thing too.
Why can't she handle her kid? What is his problem? Why is she such a horrible mother?
During a toddler meltdown, if you happen to catch the eye of another parent, chances are she's going to smile at you with that all knowing "yes, I've been there, you're doing great, it'll be over soon, just keep holding on". But then there are the other looks. The ones from the people without children, or the parents whose toddlers somehow never throw tantrums. Those looks are enough to make you want to run and hide. To make it feel as if you are doing everything wrong, when in fact, it's just a part of parenthood.
I've experienced both of those looks. One of them leaves you feeling like you're a part of a community of people just trying to survive each day as a parent. The other makes you feel like everyone has things figured out except you.
As Henry is now just a week away from being three (!), his tantrums have gotten louder as he becomes more of aware of his perceived injustices. And I've become more adept at dealing with them. I get down to his level and talk to him and tell him that I understand why he's mad. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it makes him more upset. But I'm trying. And at the end of the day, that's the best that we can each do as parents.
Next time you see a parent trying to handle a meltdown, give her a knowing nod. Let her know that life happens and toddlers don't get it. Let her know you aren't judging her and that she's doing great. It'll make all the difference in the world.