People talk about the ‘terrible two’s’ with such ferocity that one may expect to walk into their child’s bedroom on the morning of their 2nd birthday and find their little darling has been sneakily replaced with an unrecognisable screaming banshee. Of course, this isn’t the case, but it is still a fraught and emotional age for children. Their awareness and understanding is at a much higher level than previously, but their communication skills may have not quite caught up, causing high levels of frustration. They experience intense emotions all of the time, and don’t yet have the emotional capacity to process and deal with them.
My son began tantruming on a fairly frequent basis at about 18 months old. They would quite often start at a tame level with him just being a little upset about something, escalating quickly to full-blown meltdown. The tantrums were always caused by some emotional upset — for example, having to get onto a busy, noisy bus whilst hungry and tired. The only thing that would ever stop that tantrum before it had begun was nursing.
Nothing is more calming for a toddler and their mother than nursing. The hormones released are calming, grounding and connecting. When your toddler is fractious and tantrum-y, it is very easy to begin to feel like it is us-against-them. If the tantrums happen in public, it can be very stressful what with ever-helpful onlookers either tutting, staring or offering unsolicited advice whilst Banshee Child rolls around on the floor. If you can nurse your child just before that tantrum takes hold, it will help you both calm down and feel connected again. Your emotions are likely to have a big impact on the intensity of their meltdowns; if you can be calm then they will be much more likely to calm down themselves.
Of course, sometimes tantrums happen in the blink of an eye, going from 0 to Banshee in less than 3 seconds. Some toddlers will still be receptive to the suggestion of a nursing session during a meltdown, but some will simply be too far gone. In that case, riding out the tantrum together and ending it with a nursing session will help calm and connect you both again.
The world is a very big, scary and confusing place to a toddler. They simply aren’t capable of processing the complicated and intense emotions that they will experience on a regular basis. Being able to ‘check in’ with mama and spend a few relaxing minutes in your arms is enough to make them feel grounded and capable of dealing with whatever it is they are dealing with. When you are breastfeeding a toddler, the emotional benefits sometimes overtake the nutritional benefits and nursing becomes one of the most valuable and important tools in your mothering toolbox.