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I Need Mama

There’s this balance that has to happen. The balance between comforting your child that is too young to do without, and providing consistency and consequences for their behavior. This is something I’m struggling with right now. My daughter is throwing tantrums at the drop of a hat…she screams over and over “I need Mama”. I have to balance rewarding the tantrum with setting boundaries and teaching her lessons. It is so hard. I find it harder than doing sleep training at 4 months of age. It is brutal when it happens.

Our daughter is 2 years old (25 months). We just got back from a week long vacation. We’ve been home for several days now and a few surprising and new behaviors have started:

1. Potty Accidents: Our daughter has been potty trained for months and rarely has accidents. She is now having accidents all of the time. Her underwear are always slightly wet by the time she asks to go potty.

  • We remind her that she needs to tell us before she goes, and that she needs to have dry underwear. We are now taking her to the potty before she asks to help get her back on track.

2. Bedtime: When we leave the room, our daughter starts screaming and crying. She’s usually saying “I need Mama”.

  • We don’t like to do CIO at this age for long. We let her cry for a few minutes, but then go in and ask what she needs. She usually just says “I need Mama”. Sometimes she’s asking me to lay down with her, or to come in Mama and Daddy’s bed. We are holding our ground with this and saying no. We are providing comfort and reminding her that she is so amazing at putting herself to sleep. I even tell her that Mama is in the way (which is so true). She rarely sleeps with me around! We eventually get her to calm down enough to leave and close the door.

3. Naps: Her mind is going a mile a minute right now. Her speech has exploded even more in the last week. She goes to bed and practices talking. She plays with her friends, “reads” books, etc. She stays in bed, but she’s continuing to stay stimulated for quite some time. She eventually goes to sleep and takes a decent nap.

4. Behavior: Caroline is very suddenly refusing to listen to direction, and refusing to do anything for herself. She then gets upset and starts screaming and crying. She throws herself on the ground and even bites her hand at times. All the while screaming “I need Mama!”. 

  • This is the one I’m currently struggling with at the moment. When she refuses to do something, I repeat that she needs to do ___. If she doesn’t listen, I change my tone and tell her she needs to listen to Mama. When she then doesn’t listen it usually results in a tantrum.
  • To the tantrums and screaming and crying, my tactics have been:
    • Telling her if she needs Mama that she is more than welcome to come over to me and get a hug (She refuses to come over to me and insists that I come to her. I do not come right away).
    • Explaining that I can’t understand her when she’s whining/crying/screaming/etc., and asking her to talk to me instead.
    • Remind her of ways she can calm herself down (squeezing hands together, taking a deep breath).
    • Providing her new choices (Caroline you can continue to scream, or you can come over to Mama and get a hug).
    • None of the above does any good. She’s still screaming after several minutes of trying all of these things. At this point I am ashamed to say that by the time we are on our 5th tantrum in about an hour, I get upset. I yell. I get mad. I tell her just come over to me if that’s what she wants to. Sometimes I tell her if she wants to continue to cry she can go in the other room. She leaves, and continues crying and screaming. She still refuses to come to me. I now feel like a horrible mom. I get upset because it is against all instincts to not just run over to my daughter and hug her. It is so hard.
    • I calm myself down while she’s in the other room, and continue to remind her she can come over to me and get a hug.
    • Mind you we still aren’t to addressing the original issue of not listening or whatever caused the problem to begin with. I’m just trying to get her to calm down without validating her tantrum.
    • Eventually to stop the madness, I go over to her and give her a hug. It stops the tears instantly. I am not doing this in the beginning because I feel that it just validates and rewards her tantrum and teaches her to cry and get what she wants. But I’m obviously doing it anyways, just after way too long of listening to her scream to the point that we’re both upset.
    • We then address the initial problem (usually not listening, or not being patient for 2 seconds for Mama to come).
    • If she’s thrown something I take it away. Today I took her easel away because she threw the eraser. (All because she asked me to come draw, and I said I’d love to, just one second). 

Why this is happening:

My guess is that Caroline is overstimulated. Her speech is just multiplying like crazy right now. Her mind is as busy as I’ve ever seen it. It’s impacting her sleep (bedtime was the first “symptom”). Then came napping, then came all of the tantrums. I think it is also the reason for the potty accidents. Her mind is so busy with other things, she’s just not focused on going potty in the bathroom. She catches herself and runs to me, but it’s never soon enough to have dry underwear. I think it all stems from the same thing, however- speech development and learning.

In addition to everything above, I have not been feeling good. I have been fatigued, in pain, and dealing with what seems to be really bad allergies. As a result, I’ve not been doing the best job parenting. We’ve had lazy days, we’ve been low key, and we’ve been staying home. I haven’t been doing as much as I usually do, and I know it’s impacting Caroline.

I should mention that it could also be teething. She does not have her 2 year molars yet. She told me the other day that her teeth hurt. So, while I don’t see any signs of teeth coming through, it is very possible that they are soon to come and bothering her. 

What to do about it:

This is the million dollar question. We have to give her opportunities to practice the skills that are keeping her awake. We also have to get her caught up on sleep. We have to get her to a state that is not overstimulated. She “appears” to not be tired because her mind is going full speed. The reality, however, is that she needs more sleep to get caught up. I know once this happens, the tantrums will settle and she’ll be back to her old self. The trick is getting it to happen. It is a viscous cycle of being overtired, unable to sleep, etc.

Every time she has a regression like this, I also note to myself that she needs more independent play. We just got back from vacation where she was constantly with someone and being entertained. We’ve had low key days at home since, and have been unable to do independent play (she screams as long as I’m not there). Again, we have to break the cycle so she gains her independence back. Today she was screaming because she wanted Mama to throw away her tissue instead of doing it herself. That is not my daughter! My daughter loves to do things on her own and LOVES clean up more than anything. Today as a change, we did table time (basically independent play with Mama close by). She is in her booster seat working at the table, while I was in the kitchen close by. Using this method instead of room time prevented her from screaming the entire time. She still begged for me to help with her every move, but was more understanding when I couldn’t come (since I was out of sight).

Hopefully we’ll get her back on track soon.

I took to the Toddlerwise book for some ideas…

I first came to some quotes that agree with my conclusion on why this is happening:

“There are some defiant behaviors that are actually only symptoms of other problems.” (Toddlerwise, page 103)

“Temper tantrums, for example, are often the result of an over-stimulated child in need of sleep.” (Toddlerwise, page 103)

I then went straight to the section on temper tantrums.

Here are the 6 things noted about dealing with temper tantrums in the book (page 160):

1. Make observations. Try and figure out when the tantrums are occurring so you can try and prevent them from happening in the first place.

  • Right now our daughter’s tantrums are happening every time she wants but can’t have Mama immediately. There is no pattern to time of day (other than morning, afternoon and night LOL), or to the type of activity that is going on.

2. Do not talk your child out of his tantrum. “Without realizing it, you are encouraging the behavior by rewarding it with attention and gentle words. To work effectively, a tantrum needs a sympathetic audience. talking provides that audience”.

  • While I don’t think we try and talk our daughter out of her tantrum, we do talk to Caroline. Perhaps this is validating and giving her the attention she wants. We try to keep our talk minimized to reminders (reminding she can come to us and get a hug, reminding her how to calm down). I think she still needs those reminders at this age, so I’m hesitant to no longer do that.

3. Use isolation. Place your child in their room, on a blanket, on the couch, etc. Do this until she is calm.

  • A couple of times, I’ve asked Caroline to leave or sit on the bottom step. I’ve told her that it’s ok if she needs to cry and scream, but she needs to do it in the other room. I tell her she can come back when she’s calm. Amazingly enough, she gets up and leaves the room. The fact that she leaves on her own is so heartbreaking. She gets more upset as she leaves and never calms herself down, so I end up going to her. 

4. Hold your child and don’t let go until she surrenders and the tantrum is over. 

  • Reading this made paragraph made me cry. For some reason I’d been sitting here thinking that if I’m not “supposed” to talk to her, I definitely shouldn’t go to her and hold her. I’ve been trying to stand my ground on this so I don’t reward her behavior. It is heartbreaking to not go to her, so I eventually go to her and feel like such a failure that I’m giving in. Reading this has me thinking I should go to her immediately to avoid the tantrum all together. *Insert big Mama tears* ugh! Literally, the second I show up she stops crying.

5. Make statements and never say “okay?”. Also, work on getting a “Yes, Mama” out of your child in acknowledgement.

  • This is a HUGE one in our house! My husband and I are both very consistent with getting acknowledgment from our daughter. We always have her make eye contact, apologize, and say “Yes, Mama” or “Yes, Daddy” before we consider everything done and move on. I catch myself if I ever ask something instead of making a statement, and I correct it immediately.

6. Do not give your child everything she wants. 

  • Done. Something my husband and I are great at. LOL! The neat part, is that looking back, Caroline RARELY throws a tantrum over not getting something. She throws tantrums because she wants Mama, or doesn’t want to do something. But she hardly ever throws tantrums because she doesn’t get what she wants. She’s so used to it she seems to accept it readily! LOL

My game plan after reading the book again:

Hug my daughter immediately! This will save so much heartache on her end and mine. It will prevent me from ever getting to the point that I yell and then feel like a horrible mother. It will prevent me from feeling like a failure when I eventually hold her anyway. We’ll also focus on getting her more sleep, and getting lots of talking practice in. 

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