Sunday, 29 March 2015

Thoughts on Tantrums: Being There

Tantrums are becoming a normal but not-altogether-welcome part of our lives. She feels strong emotions, like anyone else, but doesn't understand how to process them. Something very normal, like a flash of anger or impatience or frustration is just overwhelming. I don't pretend to have all the answers; these are just my thoughts and current tactics:

I should say that my mom's advice on dealing with tantrums is to ignore them as best you can, and I suppose what I do is a version of that tactic; I just aim to remain emotionally and physically available, albeit neutral. What is the goal here, anyway? Just no tantrums? Then she needs to able to handle her emotions independently. That's the real goal, in almost all of our parenting choices - to foster independence. Her emotions aren't wrong, but it's pretty inappropriate for people to go around exploding them all over the place. So she has to learn.

What we're NOT doing:

Distraction: I really think this is just deferring the tantrum. They aren't DEALING with it, so they aren't LEARNING to deal with it. Also, I'm not some one-woman circus who exists to entertain my kid 24/7, and I don't want her to expect me to pull a rabbit out of the hat (to mix metaphors) every time things don't go her way. In England, in public, I think this can be especially tough as there is a sort-of unspoken social contract that you mustn't let your kid disturb anyone ever, but I'm not interested in trotting out something shiny every time she gets a bit cross.

Giving in: Being emotionally available is not the same thing as giving in. Let's say she LOSES HER MIND because it's time to leave the park. I'll be there for her, if she wants me, while she feels her disappointment and anger, but we're not staying at the park - that's for damn sure. It's not her fault that she doesn't understand why we have to go, and again, it's not wrong to feel disappointed. But I do feel that the temptation to stay for '10 more minutes' is another way to guarantee yourself more tantrums in the future - the disappointment hasn't been dealt with, and you've taught them an effective negotiating tactic. While I'm not interested in setting up an adversarial relationship or just 'showing her who's boss', I'm also not interested in rewarding inappropriate behaviour.

Abandoning her: As with sleeping, I feel that she needs to learn how to do this on her own, but I'm not comfortable simply leaving her to scream it out. The fact is, it's clearly not easy. And while I want her to be independent, I also want her to know that she is supported. So I'm there, and I will continue to be there as much as I'm able to be. That said, with more than one child, while I'd hope this was still possible MOST of the time, I highly doubt it would possible ALL of the time. 

Overly comforting: Being there doesn't mean spending the whole time cooing and singing and comforting either. I don't want her to need this, and frankly I don't think she wants it either.

What we ARE doing:

Labelling her emotions: I'm trying to give her the words that will eventually help her communicate in a more constructive way. It's as simple as telling her 'you're disappointed that we have to leave the playground', or 'you're frustrated that the bread isn't ready yet', or even 'you're tired - you're so so tired.' Might seem a little pointless at this stage, but I really believe it will help in the long run.

Taking her someplace private: If she starts to kick off at home, we go to her room, where she can roll on the floor and scream all she likes, but be near enough to her bed if she's actually just exhausted. If we're out, we find a corner or leave the scene of the crime. Not only does a change of scenery sometimes help in itself (my brother once quipped that babies are like people on acid - if things start to go wrong, change the setting), she's hopefully learning that it's not appropriate to, say, throw everything off the dinner table, or scream down the supermarket.

Neutrally being there for her: What do I mean by this exactly? I mean staying with her, just being physically present, without either lashing out OR excessively comforting. I literally just sit there, on the floor, and wait it out. If she comes over to be held, I hold her. If she wants to roll around, that's fine too.

Checking for physical problems: I'll often ask her if her teeth hurt, and she will actually indicate if that's the case. I may be hippie in many respects, but I reach for the conventional medicine so fast it would make your head spin (don't get me started on homeopathy). I don't see any reason not to give her a little Calpol (Baby Tylenol) if she's in pain.  

Trying to teach her coping tactics: Right now I'm trying to teach her to deal with impatience by counting to ten. I don't know if it will work, but it's the sort of thing my mom would have taught us - a little trick to teach her that whatever we're waiting for will actually be ready in no time at all. (Mom, did you do this? I don't remember specifically but I sometimes find myself counting as I wait for a late train or something!) Another one my mom used was to teach us to punch or bite a pillow instead of our siblings (!) - we're not to the violent stage yet, but I think it's a good idea.

I'll be honest, sometimes it's hard to find the patience, but I'm amazed at the well of resources I've found since becoming a parent. Is this because my parents gave me the tools to handle myself emotionally, as I hope to do with my one? Or just a mom superpower that comes with the baby? In the early days, one of my parenting mantras was 'dig deeper'. I'd say to myself (and sometimes my husband!), 'I know you're tired, dig deeper. I know it's hard, dig deeper. She needs you - dig deeper'. That said, moms are people too, and I know the day will come when I meet the end of tether. In the meantime I'll be counting to ten, waiting it out, being there.

What about you guys? What are your thoughts on tantrums? Again, I'm SO not an expert.

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