Monday, November 14, 2011

Tantrums Are on the Rise (Again...)

I just read Mummy in Provence's post for Stream of Consciousness Sunday, titled: Toddler Tantrums.   about her 18-month-old daughter's tantrums. I started to write a reply, then realized it was so long that I may as well turn it into a post. This is in response to her question:
"Any tips on how to cope with these Toddler Tantrums?"

Here's my response:

Little Guy's tantrums have been steadily increasing since they started, when he was around 18 months old. Nowadays, a "good" day is when he only has three or four. There are days when he'll have four in an hour! I attribute them to his increasing independence. He gets frustrated when he can't do something (whether he's not allowed or incapable - it doesn't matter which.) I also noticed that growth spurts can lead to more tantrums, too. Between being hungrier and more tired, plus he's probably a little achy from growing pains, he gets extra-crabby.

Sometimes he will throw a tantrum because he cannot have something he wants, but knows that it is impossible for me to even give him. Yesterday, he wanted to watch Thomas and Friends... on TV, not the DVD's we have. Thomas was not on TV at that time, so I told him that we would have to watch a DVD if he wanted to see the show. This led to a ONE-HOUR TANTRUM - I kid you not. A couple of days ago, he wanted to go to the library at 10pm. He is well aware of the fact that the library is only open in the daytime, when it's light outside. It's as if he's asking for the impossible just so he can let loose with his emotions. It drives me nuts and I often find myself taking it personally. I need to walk out of the room, cover my ears, and count to 10, 50, even 100 just to keep my cool.

The good news is, the more he is able to effectively communicate with words, the shorter the regular tantrums have become. I started to ask him to talk to me from the time his vocabulary suddenly had a growth spurt, around 2 years old. My mantra has been "I can't understand you when you cry or whine. Please use words to tell me the problem." If he is too upset to talk and I've given him enough time to feel that he's shown me how displeased he is, I'll ask him questions using vocabulary that he needs. "Are you feeling sad because you can't do ___?" And: "You must be very frustrated that the puzzle piece won't fit there." When he can tell me what the problem is, at least he knows his feelings have been validated.

I also communicate my own emotions to him. "I am becoming very angry because you are just screaming and crying and won't come talk to me." It lets him know that I can feel the same emotions as he does. It also makes me feel better to let off that little bit of steam. Just saying that I'm angry/frustrated/sad aloud makes ME feel that MY emotions have been validated!

I don't give in. This sounds mean, doesn't it? The thing is, with Little Guy, I've learned that giving in once means he'll try the tactic 1,000 more times. What I do is offer alternatives. I don't just give him one thing: "The library's closed. We'll go to the park instead." I don't give him an infinite number of choices: "The library's closed. What else would you like to do?" I give him two options: "The library's closed. Would you like to go to the park, or go for a walk?" He's back in control of the situation, yet he's not completely overwhelmed with choices.

Recently, he's started having tantrums that seem pointless. Today he had one because one of his Hot Wheels ran into another one. HUH?! He's the one in charge of the damn cars, and now he's sad because he made one car be mean to another? I quickly learned that the cars have absolutely nothing to do with these outbursts. About 95% of the time, I can stop him in mid-scream by offering a hug. "Wow, you must feel very sad about your Mercury Coupe getting hit by the Viper! Why don't you take a break from your cars? I'll bet you'd feel better if we laid down on the bed together and I gave you a bunch of big hugs." Sometimes he falls asleep, ans sometimes he's back in action and feeling happy in a few minutes.

Sometimes, there's absolutely nothing I can do. He just gets himself so upset that anything I say or do just feeds the fire. That's when I feel some big mama anger bubbling up. I need to step out of the situation, and fast. I'll gently set him on the bed and let him scream, hit, kick, etc. I will tell him once or twice to let me know when he's done so we can talk or hug. Then, I have to mentally take myself out of the situation. I'll watch TV - any show! - with Closed Captioning on and really pay attention to it. Sometimes I head to Facebook or enter a couple of giveaways. Anything to keep my mind occupied. I'm always in the same room with him to make sure he stays safe and to be here for him when he's ready.

Finally, I don't hold a grudge or act superior. I'll never rub his nose in the fact that he did all of that screaming for nothing because he didn't get his way. I won't act angry with him after he's finished all the yelling. I never bring the subject up again, as in "Remember the last time you wanted to ___ and I said 'No'? You freaked out and cried and screamed." It just reminds him of a bad time he had and tells him that I might still be angry about it because I remember it. I'm working on getting my husband and oldest to avoid these things, too. When they do it to Little Guy, I can really see how badly he feels about himself. Who would want to make a little one feel sad and ashamed? Why would a parent ever want their child to feel as if they didn't love their son or daughter as much just because of an emotional outburst?

Now, I'm no expert on the subject of tantrums. My oldest had less than FIVE tantrums - ever. When people used to complain about their kids' tantrums, I'd be secretly rolling my eyes at them. Now that I'm in over my head with them, I understand. I also know that it's important to listen to other parents' solutions to the question of how to deal with them. I sometimes wonder if I'm raising a bratty little boy and it scares me that he could grow into a nasty adult. So, now it's MY turn to ask:

Do you have any tips on how to deal with tantrums?


Buy me! said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

We are very firm about our boys responding with "yes, ma'am" or "yes sir" when they ask for something, especially when they are upset about the response. This does not always stop the tantrum, but it frequently does with our boys - especially Manasseh. Most often, if a tantrum lasts more than a couple of minutes, we walk away and ignore it. The boys aren't getting the attention they want, and we don't get stuck in a power struggle that way.

Some days Cassius will throw a fit for an hour about going to bed - we tried to work with it and help him use words, but it seems like while he's throwing a fit is not the best time for us to work with him, we all just end up frustrated.

We do work on identifying feelings as well. "You are sad because you want a kiwi and it's not time for dinner." And we work on letting them know that we understand what they are requesting. "I hear you telling me that you want a kiwi, but we already ate dinner at home." Sometimes offering solutions helps too, "You can have a kiwi for lunch tomorrow."

All of that aside - sometimes we get responses like, "I want cry bout my kiwi". Or just continued screaming and arguing - that's when we tend to step out of the argument and let them calm down on their own. They come around eventually!

And yes, he did want a kiwi - cried all the way out of the store, then all the way home, and for a little while at home. He got a kiwi the next day.

Buy me! said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Sorry, that was a really long response, and it wasn't even from the account I usually respond on!
Jen Crum

OneMommy said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I don't think I have any additional tips to offer - mine is 2 1/2 and I have noticed that as his talking improves the tantrums are becoming a little less... Sometimes. LOL.
Had to tweet this!

Alicia C. said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

@Buy me! LOL! When I first read the comment, I thought maybe you had a serious stalker: "Wow, she gave her kids the same names as Jen! Creepy..."

And, as for the long comment - this post started off as a comment! When I finished typing, I realized how long it was and copied and pasted it into a blog post. As you know, I can't seem to shut up in the comments I leave! (Heck - I can't even write a Wordless Wednesday post without at least 2 paragraphs!)

Jen Crum said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

lol, I Was working on a blog page for our house that is for sale (hence the name buy me)...