Elisabeth Rohm: Life in the Toddler Battle Zone

As a new parent, I have heard about "the happiest toddler on the block." It’s a title that easily rolls off the tongues of most parents. But until you’re in "it" with your toddler, you have no idea how useful those skills learned from Harvey Karp’s book will be. But implementing them in public is somewhat impossible. When you’re out in the real world things get a little more complicated.

Am I the only one, or are we new parents shocked and amazed by public tantrums? Why did our friends seem to leave out these valuable highlights? They must have been so happy to pass through the terrible twos that they could only recall the bliss of parenthood. Yet, all the preparation would not have made a bit of difference when my daughter Easton evolved into a toddler who could no longer make it through breakfast, lunch, or dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. It was so easy to travel, dine, and go to public places before our children could toddle off in their own direction. Along with their graceful new steps come their words and with those words an awareness of their independence.

Now I’m not one who is easily embarrassed, but after the multiple displays of tears and screaming over what used to be so sweet and pleasant, like family meals and entertaining outings, I have become more sensitive to my daughter’s needs. But it’s complex to know when to indulge versus when to correct. I have found myself negotiating and communicating in tender tones that get me nowhere. The next question is, "How firm do I need to be?" This is a tough question for someone like me who would prefer to avoid conflict altogether. I have for the most part found the tricky balance but, whew!

We still attempt to eat at some of our local establishments but we are prepared for the possible outcome to be a rushed and chaotic experience. We as parents have to not put them in environments where they are bound to fail (at least by the world’s standards of etiquette). Yet it is important that we, with gentle discipline, push them forward into social circumstances that teach them respect, tolerance and manners. I know it’s a very narrow and confusing line to walk. I feel for all moms as we try to decipher how to avoid public meltdowns and how to lovingly nudge our kids forward and not overindulge their toddler ways. We want to raise sophisticated kids who know how to hang with the adults, right? Not only is it unenjoyable but its also a tad embarrassing when we cant soothe our misbehaving little ones in any other way then to remove ourselves from the situation altogether.

Who could have predicted that when we took our darling 19-month-old daughter to see How The Grinch Stole Christmas that she would so violently reject it. Now, of course, it crossed out minds that 4:30 might be a challenging time to take her out and about because that hour of the day is usually allotted for nap time. But, we had visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. Not to mention the droves of other children seemed to outweigh our instincts about naps and structure. I confess that one of the many great pleasures of parenting is the freedom and joy that I get from reliving our childhood. But, when our children have already showed us the difficulty of sitting still for more than 15 minutes, I ask you, “What was I thinking?" and "Who was I trying to entertain, myself or her?"

If we insist on helping them grow, mature and move forward through their phases, we cannot be mortified by their laying on the floor in the lobby of the theater amidst hundreds of audience members or wriggling to get out of their booster seats when their tiny tummies are full and we’ve only just moved on from our appetizers. I'm not suggesting that we avoid environments that may be overstimulating for them, but I am saying let’s leave the embarrassment and anger at the door. We knew what we were getting into, didn’t we? Let’s find that gentle balance between discipline and acceptance of who they are right now at these trying toddler times. After all, we have to pick our battles wisely.

With love from my house to yours,
Elisabeth Rohm

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Watch Elisabeth on 'Heroes' on NBC at 8 p.m. on Mondays.

How do you handle your toddler’s public tantrums? Chime in below!

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