The scenario plays out like this: My husband, my toddler and I make a plan to go to the playground. My toddler refuses to be strapped into his stroller en route to the playground. My toddler melts down before we get to the playground. Great.
Still, my internal Jaws music—that “dun nun, dun nun” beat that signals the shark is coming and you’re about to lose your cool—doesn’t sound until my toddler’s meltdown causes my husband to melt down. (Yes, this is a thing.) My spouse’s reaction: “He doesn’t want to go in the stroller? Let’s not make him go in the stroller!” It goes without saying that my husband, who I love, has a low tolerance for tears.
Cue the surge of mom anger. (No, I’m not proud of this.)
But that’s why the idea of an internal Jaws soundtrack resonates so much. According to a recent piece in The New York Times, tuning in to the trigger for your inner “shark music” is a critical part of navigating the complex emotions that define parenthood—and recognizing that the toothy creature bubbling up to the surface is something you can actually head off at the pass.
1. Why we should listen for the crescendo of “dun nun, dun nuns”
What happens when my toddler melts down followed by my husband? It puts me in a power position to either be defined or thwarted by my own response to this short-lived outburst. But instead of calmly and confidently navigating the situation like the mature mom I know I can be, I melt down too—snapping at my husband about his lack of help and getting overly frustrated with a 2-year-old full of dramatic (and very real!) emotions that are largely out of his control.
2. Ask yourself “When does the Jaws music come?”
What I’ve come to learn via the Jaws argument is that it’s much healthier to get to the bottom of why that inner shark music is playing in the first place.
In my case, my reaction stems from a repeated irritation at my spouse’s lack of boundaries—and control—whenever my toddler has a tantrum. Perhaps that’s because I’m a type-A person. Perhaps that’s because I like rules and structure. Perhaps that’s because, once upon a time, I believed it was a possible, even during the toddler years, to have control. (It’s OK to laugh.)
3. What to do when you hear the music
The minute you find yourself being pulled under by—or lashing out as a result of—your own emotions, especially when parenting, take a step back and reevaluate.
That moment where my son and spouse are both struggling? It helps no one if I cave and become the third person to lose control. After all, my husband, who owns the fact that boundaries are a weak spot he’s working on, undoubtedly steps up when it comes to other parenting areas at which I’m notoriously flawed.
And recognizing my trigger and doing my best to override it is the most important part of finding a cure. The Times piece mentions the Circle of Security parenting program, which uses decades of attachment research to look at the parent-child relationship from both sides (the child’s and the parent’s): “[By] simply calling [your reaction] by name, and reflecting on what our children [or, in my case, my spouse] need in the moment, we can turn down our shark music.”
A better way to handle the moment:
Me: Hey, honey, can you let me try to get our toddler into the stroller for a second? I think if we give him 30 seconds to cry, he will get over it, then we can proceed as planned.
In other words, the goal in the moment is to not let my stress response get the best of me and to use my words to calmly state an action plan. (In fact, for this exact scenario, my husband has expressed how helpful it is to have me simply take the lead. No lashing out.)
No one’s perfect and, as they say, we all have our moments, but actively trying to tune in to our feelings and rewrite the outcome is a worthwhile effort since it can lead to a more secure and predictable environment for your child, something that has loads of social-emotional benefits long-term.
Now, back to the playground.