Wednesday, February 13, 2013

About Temper Tantrums

Being a mother is not easy.  Let me say that again.  Being a mother.  Is. Not. Easy. But I get better at it as I go along.  Some of the things which troubled me as a young mother have become easier.  There are an awful lot of things I wish I'd known when I started.  I can't count the number of times I've kicked myself and shouted, "Why did it take me five (or six, or seven, or even eight) babies to figure this out?"  But I do wish I'd known then some of the things I know now.  Here is another post in a What I Wish I'd Known (or WIWIK) series.

When I was a young newlywed, we lived in a very quiet apartment building.  Lots of college students, lots of single professionals, lots of newlywed couples, but very few babies and no children at all.  By the time my first was born, we had moved into an simple trailer park with a similar demographic.  When he cried in a group setting, most everyone thought it was adorable, as I hushed his wails and scurried out of the room as quickly as possible.  I was never quite sure where his crying or whimpering or babbling was allowed, and where it was frowned upon.

Through the years and more babies, I've learned that, most of the time, quiet child noise is fine, (we don't go anywhere that children are severely frowned upon) but anything boisterous or angry is not.  And please, no temper tantrums.  Ever.

So what does a good mother do with a child in the throes of a tantrum?  Simple.  A good mother's children just don't have tantrums.

('scuse me while I fall over laughing)

All children have tantrums.  Most teens have tantrums.  Quite a few adults have tantrums.  Just watch TV if you don't believe me.  Hopefully, we are learning to not throw fits ourselves.  At least not in front of other people, and especially not in front of the kids.  Once you have that one mastered, you are ready to tackle a childish temper tantrum from an actual child.

The first thing I wish I'd known when my first children started having tantrums is that it's not about me.  I don't have to get upset or angry or yell at or shake the child.  He's not doing it to make me mad or to get even with me or because he hates me.  And even if he's old enough and sophisticated enough to try a tantrum just to rattle me, I don't have to let the child or the tantrum mess with me!  Stay calm.  Take a deep breath.  Laugh at how ridiculous he looks.  Then love him all the more (you can when you're not mad).

The next thing that I learned about temper tantrums is that they are often caused by a lapse in communication.  I think one reason that the "terrible twos" can be so terrible is that the little lass can't tell you what is on her mind.  She doesn't have the verbal skills to let you know what it is she wants, and it's terribly frustrating.  Hello, meltdown.  I find that when a frustrating moment is starting, if I stop, get on the child's level, and patiently help her work through the situation, we end up with fewer tantrums.  Not none, but fewer.  (And I've taught most of my kids sign language when they were just little.  They could sign before they could talk - signing is easier!  The communication goes way up, and the tantrums go way down.  I could really see a difference between the tots who signed and those who didn't.)

Another little tidbit that is helpful to know is that more tantrums happen when the little sweetheart is tired or hungry  Umm... this is true for me, too.  Tired = not thinking straight, more emotional, less able to articulate.  Hungry = less energy to function, more moody, more quick to snap.  Hence, I don't hash out financial details with my husband late at night.  Not a good idea.  And I don't take my toddlers shopping during naptime.  Or when they are hungry.  I might be able to push on for "just a few more minutes," but their little bodies are less forgiving.  It works much better if we just have a meal and rest schedule and stick to it.  Not always possible, but as a general rule.

So I'm calm, I'm helping my little guy communicate, we're well-fed and well-rested (both of us!) and we still have a meltdown on aisle 9.  He's screaming, everyone is staring, and you're at your wit's end.  What now?

Some experts say that you should ignore the child during a tantrum so he doesn't get the idea that if he wants to be the center of attention, he can just start screaming.  Makes sense.  Other experts will say that your upset child needs more attention during a meltdown so that he doesn't feel abandoned during his most emotional moments.  Also makes sense.  Love it when the "experts" don't agree.  They hardly ever do.   

Guess what?  YOU are the expert on your child.  Learn up on what the experts say (the child behaviorists and the child psychologists and (especially) the veteran mothers).  Then you are armed.  Try the approach that feels best to you.  If it doesn't work after a while, then try another.  As long as you parent with love and common sense, you are not going to seriously mess up your child.  Really.

Today at a friend's house, I made a toddler stay in the bathroom while he screamed out a temper tantrum (there was no quiet place to go, so we did the best we could).  He screamed while I held the doorknob and muttered apologies to our sweet hostess.  When he drew a breath, I would reassure him that I was there and he could come out when he finished screaming.  He did stop after a bit, and I held him tightly for a long while while he sniffled and settled down.  Later, I held a kicking tot, rocking him until he calmed.  Another time, I smiled in the face of danger (the little guy was swinging his fists at me!), and caught each blow, shook his little hand and asked "How do you do?" in a funny voice until his anger melted and he laughed.  We're in a tantrummy way right now, and the twins feed off each other, so I'm getting plenty of practice.

A tantrum in a public place is so much better avoided than dealt with.  It's worth the extra bit of inconvenience and planning.  And yes, it's ok to just leave your cart there - or take it to a store worker to hold for you - and hustle the screamer right back out into the car.  Or leave the restaurant before you can even order.  Or rush out to the lobby.  Or stick his little kicking legs in a snowbank for a moment.  Been there, done that.  

You're not a horrible mom.  I'd even take your child and distract her by drawing on the ice in the frozen food department while you check out, if you wouldn't think weird kidnapper thoughts about me.  You're doing great during this tumultuous time.  Go mom!  And when it's all over, you can lock yourself in the bathroom and cry a little if it makes you feel better.  Just don't throw a tantrum.

That's all.

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