When toddlers are going through the learning pains of dealing with all their big emotions, they can get the best of any parent. A dad on Reddit shared a story that illustrates this reality and rang all too true for others in the Parenting subreddit community. Writing under the handle DadatWork62, the Redditor shared that his 3-year-old "has been having trouble with hitting when he feels frustrated. We've talked and talked about how hitting is not okay, and that he should stomp his feet or yell in his room if he's feeling angry or frustrated. He is getting better, but regulating emotions is a struggle for even the best 2-year-olds." Recently, the L.O. lost his cool, causing a whirlwind of events and emotions.
The original poster (OP) explained that the family was winding down for bedtime while watching TV: "We told him before we turned the TV on that we would be watching just one show, then off to start the bedtime routine. He agrees, saying, 'Okay, Daddy.' We do this often if he's been a good boy in the later part of the day. Fast-forward to the end of the show. I say, 'Alright bud, time to go brush your teeth.'" That's when his toddler announced "very rudely and angrily that he wants to watch another show." The dad "declined and restated what we agreed to before the show began." But the 3-year-old proceeded to "yell and closed fist hit me in the leg. Not hard like an adult, but toddler hard, and he definitely reacted out of anger."
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DadatWork62 admitted that he was "fuming," sharing, "Getting hit is never pleasant, but it's especially bad when this is something we've been working on for some time now. I roughly picked him up and we sped through the teeth brushing and book reading process. He usually gets to be interactive with the bedtime goings on, not this time. Dad was not allowing any pleasantries here: 'No, we don't get to find letters in the book, when we hit' and 'No, you don't get to help brush your teeth, when we hit.' Normally, there's some cuddles, songs, and conversations about our respective days before I leave his room. This time, as soon as the book was finished, I just said good night, tossed him his blanket, and turned the light off."
This was admittedly a "pretty big breach" of the pair's bedtime ritual, in the OP's opinion, as he wrote that he believes "bedtime is something I hold to be very sacred." He said he's always comforted by the dialogue he shares with his L.O., but this time, because he was angry, he didn't offer his usual "I love you, see you tomorrow, buddy" as he left his room.
"As I was leaving his room in a huff, and as the door was closing, I hear my little guy barely mumble something under his breath. I poke my head in the door and sharply ask what he was mumbling about," the dad continued. "He replies, 'I love you,' in a meek voice. My precious little boy shared the acknowledgement of love that I typically do as a parent, because I wasn't feeling very parental. At that moment, my son was a bigger person than I, and it caught me completely off-guard. I just lost it."
DadatWork62 shared that in that moment, he went back to his son's room, sat with him, held him, and "ugly cried with him for what seemed like forever." He shared, "I told him over and over how he's still a good boy, that I'm so proud of him, that I love him too, and that it makes both of us sad when we hit. When we both regained our composure, he fell right asleep. I laid him down with his cuddle bear, then I went to my wife who had just laid our newborn down for the night. I proceeded to sob all over her as I shared what had just happened. I'll remember this moment forever and I still tear up writing this."
Parents on Reddit commended the father for doing his best in a challenging situation. Burritolove7 wote, "You’re a good dad, he’ll remember that moment too I’m sure," to which DadatWork62 replied, "Thank you. I'm not always the best, and it's hard not to get caught up in the moment. It was reassuring that he wanted to remind me that he loves me. He knew he messed up and that I was sad. Parenting is just a whirlwind sometimes..."
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A Redditor named WeLiftedThisHouse pointed out how the dad's reaction was on-point, writing, "Empathizing and strategizing are so important, but very often the behavior won’t change unless there’s some kind of age-appropriate consequence. This time, he was able to experience your anger in a safe way and see how you handled it. That’s important for kids. Now he knows that nobody is perfect and adults get mad too. You set a good example of explaining why his behavior was wrong. That’s hard to do when you’re angry. You are awesome. You still did the bedtime routine, you still took care of his needs. But you also let him know how much it hurts. I think you handled this absolutely perfectly."
Others commiserated, as they're currently in the same boat. Skipena wrote, "My 2-year-old daughter is the same. She just hits when she gets upset and it’s been the same for us. This story really make me cry a little bit, because I can see this exact thing happening with us."
The dad's approach makes it clear that no matter how frustrated you get, it pays to acknowledge the wide range of complicated emotions that pop up, as well—and to try to talk the situation out with your L.O. before saying goodnight. One of the biggest lessons this dad and his son learned centers on vulnerability.
As Redditor Cirobin put it, "We spend so much time trying to teach and nurture our children. So many days it is them teaching and nurturing us too. I think moments like the one you shared build trust with your L.O. It shows him that things can go wrong and still be mended. You can both mess up, and your relationship will still be okay. I can't stress enough how foundational and important that is for a child. It makes them feel safe and allows them to take risks and be vulnerable. You're a great dad. Keep fighting the good fight."