Raising Baby T. Rex: Temper Tantrums and Dinner Dance Parties

Remi is a good listener, 95% of the time. She’s at that developmental stage that happens in the year between two and three, where kids learn to assert their independence. She’s always been stubbornly independent, so combine that with hitting this stage and she’s a volatile little spark of a dino. When she wants to do something, she wants to do it. She wants to put on her shirt by herself and her pants and her shoes.

We let her do it, but she often still needs a little help as she learns how to, you know, get her foot all the way into her pant leg. BECAUSE SHE’S ONLY BEEN ALIVE FOR 26 MONTHS. If she catches us helping her, it’s all over. The pants come all the way off, the whole event must start over and she scolds us with an emphatic, “No! Noooo!”

Still, we can usually get her through it without a total meltdown. I think it says something about this stage of child-rearing that a mini-meltdown feels like a decent, reasonable outcome. Here are some things Remi has shed tears over during a mostly manageable mini-meltdown lately:

  • Not wanting to wear any shirt (not even the horsey shirt),
  • Not wanting me to change her dirty diaper,
  • Wanting me to put her shoes on so she can go outside to play at 10 pm,
  • I tried to color with her,
  • I put a blanket on her at naptime.

Those were all dealt with fairly quickly. She moved on from the shirt when we went downstairs for breakfast. She thrashed and wailed until she gave up and she let me change her diaper and then I distracted her with a book as she was emotionally recovering. She put the shoes down to watch Moana. I put down the crayon and backed away slowly. I don’t try to cover her at bedtime anymore so she can “cozy” her blankets herself. We worked it out every time.

When she’s overtired, though, it’s a different story. Yesterday, when I arrived to pick her up, the babysitter said, “Guess what we didn’t do today?” and laughed. Remi didn’t take a nap at the babysitters’ house. She wouldn’t go to sleep for them. She was having too much fun playing with the babysitter’s four-year-old kid. She seemed okay when I got there. She was laughing and running around and having a great time.

That is until I tried to put her jacket on. In a grand combination of not wanting to leave her neighbor friend and demanding to put her winter coat on herself (something she hasn’t quite mastered yet) and us having to leave because the babysitter needed to leave soon… well… I’m sorry to my neighbors who got to hear my barefoot, jacketless child shrieking uncontrollably as we walked across the street to our house.

On a normal day, we could have de-escalated from there. But she wasn’t having a normal day. She didn’t want her shoes off… or on. She starting throwing anything she could get her hands on, which is a no-no for us. (We’re trying to teach her not to deal with her anger in physically aggressive ways.) She kept pulling her jacket down and wailing, “Jacket!” and throwing herself on it. She wouldn’t listen to me and just kept going on her rampage. For an hour and a half.

Dealing with a toddler having a temper tantrum is a lot like putting out a fire. When there is a fire happening, it doesn’t really matter why it’s happening. The cause of the fire becomes completely irrelevant once you’re tasked with putting it out. The fire is ON FIRE. That’s all you can focus on, because once you lose the ability to contain it, it will feed on anything in its path, growing more and more voracious.

How you put the fire out doesn’t matter, either. Throw water on it to shock it into submission. Contain it with sand until it fizzles out. Stop, drop, and roll and roll and roll and roll until it’s pressed out. Just don’t give it more fuel.

I tried all the tools in my parenting toolbox. I sat her down and talked to her calmly about her feelings. I put her in time out for two minutes to cool off. I did some short, stern voice. I did some calm, reassuring voice.

I took some steps I’m not proud of, including a “stern” voice that was more like unhinged angry yelling. Also, trying to forcibly strap her into her booster seat (she usually gets in her seat and straps herself in, but she was refusing dinner) which resulted in her thrashing so hard she fell off the counter-height seat head-first and almost landed on a pile of plastic toys that she’d dumped out in retaliation.

At the worst point of this marathon of tears and rage, the baby was in her 5th time out and I was Googling, “overtired toddler temper tantrum.” Remi was released from time-out after two minutes, but just sitting there still sobbing. I tried a new tactic from the internet: ignore the temper tantrum until it stops? Thank lesbian Jesus that Waffle got home from work at that exact moment.

Usually, Waffle and I work as a team on discipline, but I just wanted Remi’s temper tantrum to stop. I had definitely lost control of the situation. She was crying so hard that she was choking. She was so mad at me that she wouldn’t let me come near her, so I couldn’t pick her up to console her or talk to her. She was also so mad at me that she ran right into Waffle’s arms, snot dripping down her face and her hair slicked to her cheeks with tears. He held her and patted her back and shushed her like she was a little baby, like we did when she was an inconsolable newborn. She nestled her whole face into him and… fell asleep.

We let her sleep for just about 20 minutes because we didn’t want to mess up bedtime, but she needed that power nap. When we woke her up, she groggily decided she was ready for dinner. She ate well. We played and had fun until her actual bedtime and then she went to sleep.

As much as I loathe the temper tantrum stage, I love how aggressively independent Remi is. What if I was as certain of myself and emphatic about my life decisions? What if I could just yell, “No!” the next time a man unnecessarily and impractically holds a door for me and make him close it so I can reopen it myself… instead of walking faster so as to not inconvenience him and mumbling, “Thank you.” What if I stood up in a work meeting and was like, “I do it!” when someone ignored my potential? What if I openly cried when someone hurt my feelings or immediately rallied when someone hurt my pride? What if I actually… took pride in all my accomplishments every day?

I love that Remi is finding her voice and trying things on her own and asserting herself. I also need her to never skip her nap again. And learn how to put on her own jacket, goddammit.


# Queer Parenting Things I’m Currently Overprocessing

1. Oh, Xmas Tree

We’re not Christian or Pagan, but we love a well decorated tree. My mom puts up beautiful trees in her home every year and she uses fake trees, which is what I grew up with, including a huge nine-foot tall faux tree in the family room. Honestly, I always preferred fake plastic trees, until Waffle introduced me to real Xmas trees. I don’t love the extra work of watering a tree or having pine needles everywhere or the risk of bringing a whole spider colony into your home. What won me over is the smell. I love the way a fresh pine tree smells, a bright tingly clear-water smell.

For the last two holiday seasons, we didn’t have any trees up, fake or real. For the first Xmas, we were just barely alive parents of a newborn. Last year, we decided we didn’t want to put up a tree and deal with babyproofing it or watching Remi every second of the day to be sure the tree is safe from being pulled down. We got her a felt tree with little velcro felt decorations to play with instead.

This year, this very weekend, in fact, we’re going to get Remi’s first real tree! I hope she loves it! And doesn’t pull it down or try to climb it!

View this post on Instagram

Xmas butch.

A post shared by KaeLyn Rich (@kaelynrich) on

Imagine this situation, but, like, with a toddler making chaos in the foreground.


2. Feline/Baby Watch 2018

Look! This happened! It wasn’t a very long happening, but it did happen so yes that is good.


3. Things I Googled This Week

  • two year old temper tantrum
  • how long time out toddler
  • how to stop a temper tantrum
  • how to help overtired toddler
  • how to get overtired toddler to sleep
  • overtired toddler temper tantrum

4. Mom Bod

I’ve written about my mom bod and how making a baby gave me many feelings about my body in many ways. This past month, I took part in an all-femme naked photo shoot for the Adipositivity project and it was, honestly, one of the most beautiful and empowering things I’ve ever done for myself. Even though I espouse body positivity and try to live it, I was nervous about seeing the photo, what with my body being extra soft and big and shaped a bit different than how I used to be. It’s gorgeous. I don’t want to publish it here without permission, so you can see the photo and Substantia Jones’ other work on her site and order prints, even! If you were looking for a holiday gift that actually a nudie pic of me, well, here ya’ go! You’re welcome!


5. I’m Right Over Here

Remi’s new favorite song. We’re listening to it on repeat right now. Sound on.


KaeLyn is a 35-year-old (femme)nist activist, word nerd, and queer mama. You can typically find her binge-watching TV, over-caffeinating herself, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, eating carbs, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Rochester, NY with her spouse, a baby T. rex, a xenophobic cat, and a rascally rabbit. You can buy her debut book, Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution if you want to, if you feel like it, if that's a thing that interests you or whatever.

KaeLyn has written 207 articles for us.

32 Comments

  1. I’m a toddler teacher and I so feel you on the overtired tantrum moment. It’s so hard when they get that worked up!

    In re. kiddos putting jackets on themselves, have you tried the “jacket flip”? If she stands at the hood/neck of her jacket, puts her hands into the sleeves, and flips it over her head, boom! Jacket on! Then all you have to help with is getting the zipper started, and she can pull it up! It’s a miracle in my classroom.

    • Thanks, @strophoria! I love that your clock has started ticking! Mine never did tick…lol…still hasn’t, but regardless of whether or not you “feel the urge,” it’s 100% important to see visible examples of queer parenting. Much longer story than I can type out here, but looking for those stories is essentially how I started writing for Autostraddle way back in 2014! Maybe I’ll write about it for a future baby T…

  2. Dancing On My Own, very fitting for that whole “ME DO” phase of toddlerhood xD

    Having had episodes where I couldn’t use my hands with the dexterity required of a variety of tasks because they’ve decided to their best imitation of overstuffed sausage has given me some perspective I think on how frustrating it is to want to do something, not being able to do it no matter how hard you try and all the frustrations just gets compounded, multiplied when someone offers to help you.
    It’s like salt in a wound.

    Still no matter how much empathy small humans are so very loud, have such lungs.

  3. Still so excited that you’re back writing this column! Yes, what would happen if we reacted as immeadiately as toddlers do? It doesn’t always have to result in a temper tantrum, maybe it’ll be just a really nice Robyn dance party.

    • Thanks, @frannynotzooey! I promised I wouldn’t disappear on you all. Just took me 2 years to resurface. LOL.

      I wish every frustrating situation I encounter over the course of day resulted in a really nice Robyn dance party. Maybe this is a gift I should give myself.

  4. This all sounds so completely normal. 🙂 People would say to me, oh, Kiddo is two, how’s THAT going! Like of course it was going to be awful. And sure I was very happy to leave behind the tantrum-a-day stage, but even that didn’t last anywhere near the whole year, and really it was just cool to see her exploring her new independence and learning how to persist in the face of struggles. Thanks for the reminders!

    • That’s one of my favorite Remi Dance Moves: the double hand wave. It’s very 90’s at a rave in someone’s parents’ barn with glow sticks. I wish you could see her full body moves, @zeetwentysix. She has a full-body double-barrel fist pump that really only works in full-body mode.

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