toddlers. tantrums. transitions.

“I don’t like your opinion, man!”, he yells at me across the table.

I look over, startled, and take in the scene. We are sitting at the kitchen table eating. My 3-year-old is standing on his chair staring at me aggressively with a hard nose-crinkle and one raised eyebrow. I look at him and then to my husband with a questioning look. My husband shrugs his shoulders and gives me a look that is half-smirk and half confusion.

We’ve been quoting The Big Lebowski in our house a lot and it seems he’s taken some liberties with said quotes and come up with his own. But, why, out of nowhere did he get so upset with me?

I stop and look at him, assess the situation. What happened? Did he hurt himself? Did he ask me a question I didn’t hear and is now frustrated by the lack of response? I go through the list asking him what happened. He replies with grunts, getting increasingly more upset. I decide to cast a larger net and extend my questions to things we did earlier in the day.

“Are you upset because Daddy has to work? Are you mad because we pulled the carpet up out of the bedroom?” ...That last one, I finally get a nod. He stops kicking. Big crocodile tears streak his tiny face as he looks at me through a curtain of hair.

Our house, our lives, and the seasons have all been in transition lately. We have been slowly remodeling our house one room at a time over the past several months. It’s been mostly painting up to this point and since neither my husband nor I have that much extra time to commit to the project, it has been slow-moving.

However, the pace recently got turned up to 11 because we are also ripping out all the old carpet and installing wood floors...by ourselves, and the floor shipment arrived 6 weeks early! We were not prepared. So, we had to get prepared. My husband took time off of work and finished all the painting and immediately started ripping out carpet and moving furniture around. In short, we now live in a construction zone and have set a maddening pace to finish.

Up until this point, my son didn’t seem to be affected by all the change, but on this day while relaxing and goofing around with us at the table, he remembered he was upset about it.

As an adult, especially during a global pandemic that is keeping us all at home, I think we are really looking for a change. My life used to be in constant flux. I moved constantly, feverishly tried to tick off climbing projects never to return because who wants to visit something they conquered and risk having to project it all over again? Those were big changes.

Now, I will do almost anything to change up the day to day monotony including trying new recipes, home improvement projects, mini-road trips, and getting in touch with old friends. That last one by the way, if you’re doing this too you’re not alone. I read an article recently that says there has been an upswing in people getting in touch with old friends and that “There is a large body of literature that focuses on the positive effects of nostalgia. Nostalgia improves social bonds. It can also improve the meaning in our life and our self-esteem,”.

These are all great ways for adults to cope with the pandemic, but kids? For kids, change is hard. They are still figuring out the structure of their lives and how they fit into it. They cling to familiar things to anchor them to the “known”. It’s why bedtime routines and favorite stuffed animals are so important at this age. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me at the time but, of course, changing up the only house he’s ever known and changing how it looks, feels, and even smells is a huge upset for him.

I am thankful that I could talk to him about what the issue was so I could help get him through it but I know that’s not always the case. Chances are that with the seasons changing, daylight savings, the election, the pandemic, and maybe a household project or 12 (I mean, what else are we supposed to do with all this free time at home?!) you are also dealing with an extra irritable kid.

Here are a few things I’ve found that help ease the changes.

Kids tend to bottle up tough feelings like anger, frustration, and sadness if they are in a situation like daycare or a new friend’s house to make it through. It’s a survival skill. They don’t feel comfortable or relaxed enough to let those emotions out because they either don’t have access to us or there are too many people around. Finding a few minutes alone with my son to connect and talk about what’s going on is sometimes just the thing to get him to put down his guard and let it all out. If I know what’s going on it’s a lot easier work through.

Extra sleep or downtime is a huge help when he feels overstimulated by too much change in his environment. I try to put off errands and writing during the day so that he can have more of my attention.

A healthy diet and lots of water also keep him from getting too wound up or anxious. After all the Halloween candy he was definitely more irritable than usual. We did talk about candy and sugar and how it affects his body and his brain, but let’s not kid ourselves...he’s 3! I’m sure some of the talks are sinking in but realistically we are up against CANDY here, so I’m doing my best. We did make a compromise and introduced “breakfast candy” as our newest routine. He gets to choose one piece of breakfast candy each day to eat for breakfast. It’s only been one day, but I am leaning on that piece of candy HARD. It’s already been the motivation to go to sleep and wake-up!

Getting outside has been huge for us. He generally fights me at first but once we are outside and away from all the turmoil of the house construction it’s hard to get him back inside! It helps to go to familiar parks or hikes he already knows, he has more than enough unknown in his life right now. Plus, fresh air is good for the brain, body, development, creativity, all that crap. Haha, you know what I’m talking about!

If at all possible go slowly. If I can ease him into change a little at a time rather than springing it on him out of nowhere chances are better he’ll be able to roll with it and sometimes not even notice it.

Lastly, routines. No matter how much is changing around us that wake-up routine where we snuggle for 5 minutes and then power ourselves with farts to the kitchen (just a hypothetical example, of course!) is what’s holding him together right now. It’s something he can depend on. And stuffed animals? The more the merrier, I say. Last I counted we were up to 20. This is NOT an exaggeration. He insists on sleeping with every last one and carting them around from one spot to the other in the house.

What are you doing at your house to deal with all the changes this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips!