Toddlers are fabulously energetic, curious, present, and full of wonder; they have big emotions both high and low, and man can their mood change quickly. One moment they are in a state of exuberant joy and then next they might be screeching like a pterodactyl in a near rage like state. Like adults they can get pretty darn hangry, they get extra cranky when tired, and sometimes they even feel lonely and insecure. Toddlers have rapidly developing brains and growing bodies but they aren't able to regulate their emotions (this is hard for most adults too), and they don't use logic or make rational decisions. In fact, I sometimes wonder if some of the conversations that I have with Leif might be what it was like for any sober person trying to reason with me at 11 pm on a Thursday night during my college years.
Toddlers are more primal creatures, they act on threats to their environment, which by the way is everything because everything is theirs. The other day at one of our activities Leif actually had a spat with another little fellow about being two years old, it went like this "I'm two, no, I'm two, no, I'm two." The truth is that everyone in the group was two, but when you're two, your worldviews are pretty narrow.
With an inability to regulate your rapidly changing emotions, little to no ability to be reasonable, and most of the time very few words to communicate with- it is no wonder that toddlers- scream, stomp, kick, cry, hit, pinch, push and sometimes even bite.
As a mom of an occasional biter, it's stressful. It is hard not to feel embarrassed or anxious, or worry that there is some deeper problem with your child. It is hard not to apologize profusely or wonder if the other people in the group dread you and your child being there. I know that these fears are partially a product of living in a society that loves to give things labels like good and bad behaviors, but knowing that doesn't make it easier to relinquish yourself from the real or perceived fears of those judgments. I mean some people do have a hard time containing the horrified expression on their face when these things happen, but you can also draw way too many conclusions about what other people may be thinking, especially when you feel stressed already. It's best not to make assumptions or read between the brow lines. As for the people that straight up make rude comments related to your child's behavior, simply smile and wish them well if you can.
All of these feelings and fears make it challenging to sit back and give your child space to explore the world and interact with others when you know he might attempt to snack on their foot or in Leif's words "scrunch a little babies head." I would like to think that I don't have to hover over him, I try not to as much as possible. I truly want to give him the freedom to learn and grow, yet I want to keep him and others safe. What we all need to remember is the innate nature of all beings, especially toddlers, is LOVE. Toddlers are not acting out of malicious intent, they do not understand sharing or consequences for their behavior, that is all part of the process of growing up. It seems like sometimes us adults (myself included) can lose sight of these facts and have expectations for behavior that are wildly unrealistic and because our brains have matured and we have been conditioned to "follow the rules" we react out of our own discomfort.
It helps me to remember that when I am feeling stressed, nervous or anxious about these behaviors; that he is upset in some way or maybe he's just overly excited, and I can't forget about how hungry or tired plays a role in these events. One of the most common reasons kids resort to any kind of hands or teeth on act of aggression is they are stressed or feel threatened in some way.
It also helps to recognize that my child is not the only one flashing his toddler muscles- though sometimes it can certainly feel otherwise- I know that whenever we separate ourselves, we suffer more.
Just the other day when Leif just happened to be taking a day off from being the aggressor- he encroached on another little guys territory and received a solid smack in the face. They both erupted into screaming and tears, his mother and I scooped up our little soldiers before more shots were fired. When we got them settled behind enemy lines, she launched into the overly apologetic role, and at that moment I felt it, the most essential piece of responding to this or any other challenge. COMPASSION. I felt complete and utter compassion for her, her child, Leif, and myself. I knew from that felt place just how she was feeling, I knew that her child was having a hard moment and that my child was scared by the event. We all deserve compassion and kindness when things get difficult.
After I reassured the mom from the aforementioned story, that everything was fine, we had a great conversation about how challenging it is to navigate all the feelings involved with rearing small persons. Actually, I told her I felt thankful because it felt like an opportunity to help Leif understand how other kids feel when he hurts them. Leif and I have talked about what happened several times since and though it may not click in now, it is part of the process of supporting him in becoming empathetic. My wise sister reminded me recently that nothing is perfect and it is how we teach our kids to repair the "cracks" in relationships that they will learn how to have healthy relationships.
The world needs more compassion, and that starts with each one of us, first practicing it for ourselves and from that for each other. It isn't always easy to have the presence of mind to hold the space for compassion when things escalate, when you feel anxious, or frustrated because your child is throwing themselves on the floor in public. However, if you can take a breath, draw in compassion and breathe it out. You might just notice that you feel better and you can handle whatever is going on with more patience and LOVE.
P.S. Here is a great resource for guided self compassion and love and kindness meditations