Saturday, August 7, 2010

temper tantrums: how do you deal with them

I bond with the moms I can share the hard times with. I feel out of place when I'm at the play-ground and all the moms there seem so happy, leaving me with a "have a good rest of the day now" as they cheerfully gather their kids to go home. Lilly's reached the terrible twos with its awful temper tantrums, and any outing involves the risk of a body flung to the ground, "no!" She doesn't want to go. Or she insists we go.

Returning to the yoga mat and heart-to-heart conversation with good friends help me regain perspective and some inner calm as I set and maintain the boundaries, over and over and over again. and again. Hold the space for her while she throws herself on the floor, screaming, throwing, kicking. Reminding myself of Catherine Newman's hilarious portrayal of parenting a two-year old in Waiting for Birdy, or Thelma Harms's wise "12 Building Blocks of Discipline" which emphasize realistic expectations from toddlers, that we don't overreact, and that we be patient with our children and ourselves. That we express love and catch our children "being good" as much as we correct. Other building blocks include setting up a safe environment and sensible limits, that we strive to perform predictable behavior and communicate clearly with our body, intonation and words.

But it's hard. It's hard at the house, it's hard at the mall, it's hard at the play-ground, it's just plain hard everywhere.

So I return to good friends and talking with them is a life saver. First we bitch, then we ask each other, what helps you get through it? What helps make the day better? We share strategies that help us, from balling with our babies snuggled close up in our lap, or modeling deep breathing. Leaving the house for an activity, or returning to the house for calm. A quiet time together before dinner preparations to make the witching hour go by more smoothly. Or a cocktail hour when partner returns to house, making dinner while he or she plays with the child(ren), snacking, maybe even chatting a little.

These conversations are like therapy and life-coaching in one to me. I return to mothering with a sense of integrity, strength, and resourcefulness with more trust in my own instincts and my approach to parenting.

What helps you?


  1. Throwing them off balance by suddenly (usually off the top of my head) changing what's going on and suggesting a different activity (if possible). Like, interrupting the fussing and screaming by suddenly saying, "Hey! We're going to do ice-cube and water play in a big Tupperware on the patio! Come on!" or "Hey! We need to wash your trikes and bikes. Let's do a "car wash" on the driveway with buckets of water and rags!" or "Hey! Let's do Play-Doh outside!" As you can see, outside is a big part of this strategy! ;) ha ha. No really, you could do anything, even inside activities. The main idea is just suddenly "changing the subject" so to speak. Usually Genevieve will be immediately interested in whatever new idea I've just suggested. And usually it's the most haphazard, ad hoc idea imaginable. It's just whatever I can grab from my brain at the moment. "Swimming in the bathtub" works well too---put on her swimsuit and get out her beach towel and pretend the tub is a pool or lake. :) Hmmmm, do you sense a pattern here, involving WATER? (Don't all kids love to play in water?)

    Search my blog for "What-to-Do Wednesdays" if you need any quick activity ideas! I used to do a weekly feature. I should do that again.....

  2. I treat them differently depending on what I suspect the cause is. If it's crushing disappointment or sadness (like he thought he would get chocolate/a lollipop/ice cream and didn't or he wanted to put his own shoes on but got too frustrated or he wanted to play in the backyard *instead* of going for a walk or he ordered the pancake but really wanted the oatmeal), I hug him and hold him until he calms down. Then we talk about what happened. He will often request, "talk to me about why I was sad, Mama."

    If he's overtired or overcranky or looking for trouble or "not doing good manners" at a meal, he gets sent to his room until he is done crying. Once he feels calm he can come join us again. Just the time to chill out and have a good cry about it all usually puts him in a better frame of mind. He generally reemerges on his own after 5 minutes or so to come sit in my lap and cuddle and reintegrate into whatever's going on. And is a much better citizen for having been briefly banished.

    If he's being naughty about something he knows is a rule, he gets a warning and if the naughtiness continues then a 2-3 minute time out.

    If he throws a fit at the end of something good (turning off a DVD he wants to watch more of, leaving the playground, etc.), he doesn't get that good thing again for several days. This in particular has been very effective. "Ah, sorry, we can't go to the playground for a few days because you cried so much last time when it was time to go home. We'll try going again in a few days and if you are able to leave without a big fuss, then we can go more often."

    Some things that have helped us minimize temper tantrums are making sure he gets enough sleep, trying to give him choices (should we go to the bank and post office first and then the playground or the other way around?), giving him advance warning (you can play for five more minutes and then, remember?, we are going to go home and figure out what to make for dinner), making sure his basic physical needs are met (he's way more tantrum-prone when he's hungry or too hot or thirsty or his shoe is giving him a blister or he has a headache or isn't feeling well or whatever), and having reasonable expectations (both for how well he should be expected to behave and for how much I expect to be able to accomplish and how efficiently). Walking through the parking lot yesterday he saw water gushing into a storm drain. We had to stop and watch. Even though it was in a parking lot and we were late for a dinner reservation. Sometimes you just have to make a little room for the Wonderment of Childhood, schedule be damned.

    If he physically hurts me I just give him a look and walk away and shut myself in my room until I've calmed down. Sort of a negative time-out I suppose. This is quite effective, too.

    I also love observing other parents in public. You see terrible role models but also really great ones. A kid was touching too many things in the video store and the mother said, "come touch my skirt" and the kid had to come hold onto her skirt which was a "game" they had practiced. The kid was thrilled to be surprised by this game (and stopped pulling all the DVDs off the shelves).

    This is actually a trick in dog training, too. Trainers will tell you that it's pretty hard to get a dog to just STOP doing something. What you have to do is get them started doing something else. So if the dog runs barking to the front door every time someone comes over, you teach the dog to run and get a toy from their toy box instead. Then they're busy doing that and can't race to the door. They also have a toy in their mouth and can't bark as a result. So, I think Shan's trick is great--redirect the negative behavior into a positive one.

    So far these things are working. Fingers crossed.


  3. what resourceful mama friends I have! thank you, Tara!


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