The Secret to Dealing With Toddler 'Whiplash' Moments

The Secret to Dealing With Toddler 'Whiplash' Moments

The key to averting a toddler meltdown is so much more than simply distracting them.

By Nicole Fabian-Weber

You may not be familiar with the term, but any mom of a toddler has experienced something called a whiplash moment. Don't know what a whiplash moment is? Allow me to paint a picture for you ...

You're sitting there with your toddler, and she's talking to you about something adorable with her adorable voice, and she looks adorable doing it. Then, boom! Seemingly out of nowhere and unprompted, a switch flips, and she does a 180. She's screaming, kicking, crying -- the works! It looks as if someone just took over the body of the sweet child who was just sitting before you. Maybe she's tired, hungry, or simply wants to exert her power over you. Whatever the cause, you just experienced a whiplash moment. And it isn't fun.

Being that I have a 3-year-old daughter, I'm more familiar with these kinds of moments than I'd care to be, and I'll be honest: Some days (usually when I have five or more hours of sleep), I'm better at dealing with them. Like many first-time moms of toddlers, I've tried it all when it comes to figuring out the best way to handle these challenging moments. I've tried being assertive. I've tried removing my daughter from wherever we are in hopes that a change of scenery will do the trick. I've tried ignoring. I feel like I really have tried it all! But the thing that always seems to work best? Distraction. Seems so simple, but there actually is a bit of an art to it, I've learned.

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I don't claim to be an expert, but from my experience, quite often, simply saying, "Ooh, look at this toy!" doesn't work when you're in the throes of a whiplash moment. You need to be craftier than that. You need to "give power back" to your little one, so to speak.

So, for instance -- and this is what works for us -- when my daughter starts freaking out about how she doesn't want to take a bath or about how she wants to watch a television show, I need to really throw her for a loop -- all while not losing my cool myself. In the bath situation, I'll say something like, "I know you don't want to take a bath, but it's going to be really quick, and you know what? I'm going to tickle you like crazy when we're going up the stairs!" I'll then start chasing her around, trying to tickle her and her mood seems to instantly shift. Crisis averted.

In the case of the television show request, which I find comes when she's "bored," I'll say something along the lines of, "Oh, really? I was just going to see if you wanted to blow a million bubbles together?! It was going to be so much fun!" Again, crisis typically averted, and it’s all thanks to distraction and the way in which I distract. Making it seem like I really, really wanted to blow bubbles goes so much further than simply dangling the option of blowing bubbles. Kids feed off our energy, right?


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At the end of the day, I've come to realize that the art of distraction can involve mustering up energy or an attitude you may not have on that particular day. For instance, when I'm exhausted and not in a very good mood, and my daughter is really trying my patience, putting on a happy face and jumping up and down to tickle her doesn't always seem appealing. But I've also found that it's so much better than dealing with a tantrum that seemingly comes out of thin air.

Nobody ever said parenting would be easy, right? So, put on your happy faces, mamas! Your kids -- and your sanity -- will thank you.

How do you deal with whiplash moments?

Nicole Fabian-Weber is the mama of a toddler girl and a baby boy. She lives outside of NYC and writes for The Stir and numerous other online publications. She loves summertime and rearranging her furniture.

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