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When your inner toddler throws a tantrum

Last night, Brock and I were coaching some folks who are working on impulse control. And more than one of them described times when an urge to eat something felt almost like an addiction. The more they tried to resist, the more overwhelming it felt. Sometimes, giving in–even though they knew they’d have regrets–felt like the only option.

But framing a desire as an addiction can make us feel really powerless. It also shifts all the focus onto the object of our desire, rather than our own thoughts and feelings–which is where the action really is.

Brock suggested that it might be more helpful to think of that part of ourselves as our inner toddler rather than our inner addict.

Deciding to resist an urge or craving can easily trigger a temper tantrum from your inner toddler. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of an actual toddler’s temper tantrum, you know how easy it is to get caught up in that emotional storm–and when you do, you have lost control of the situation.

But if we can step back and access our mature adult brains, we realize two things:

  1. We can see that the drama is totally out of proportion to the reality. For the toddler, getting the thing they want literally feels like a matter of life and death. As adults, we can see that it is merely a passing squall. We may even be able to see the humor in the situation, which allows us to respond more gently.
  2. We may also be able to see that the toddler needs something–just not the thing they are demanding. Perhaps they need a nap, or a cuddle, or less stimulation, or something more interesting to do. This can turn irritation into compassion and allow us to care for our toddler more effectively.

The next time you find yourself in the grips of a desire or craving, see if you can visualize that inner toddler who truly believes that they cannot live without this thing. Recognize the adorable absurdity of it all.

And then, instead of trying to reason with your screaming toddler, disciplining them, or simply giving in to an unreasonable demand (thereby perpetuating the behavior), see if you can figure out what that little person really needs.

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