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I Feel The Earth Move

How to deal with tantrums.

Tantrums. Every kid has them, every parent dreads them. Here’s how we cope with our tots.

Nicole:

From birth, my daughter has been difficult. She was incredibly colicky and the first six months of her life were a trip on the road to hell. My pediatrician told me once that she was the loudest baby he’s ever heard, and he is an incredibly popular ped so he has a tremendous amount of patients... and mine was the loudest he’d EVER heard.

Fast forward to 18 months and her tantrums were at their highest. If she didn’t get her way, Mommy had hell to pay. Screaming, throwing herself around, stomping her little feet. And we had a hard time controlling them because while she was incredibly verbal for her age, she didn’t have the words to tell us what was wrong or what she wanted and obviously reasoning was out of the question (as reasoning with an 18 month old is like trying to pry french fries out of my hand while I’m PMSing... impossible).

We tried everything. We always reward good behavior with praise, we tried speaking calmly, we tried stern voices, we tried punishment. The only thing that helped were time outs because it gave her a chance to mellow out. Our time outs are a little different than the standard time out. We make her sit by herself while she’s freaking out and screaming and once she calms down we go and sit and talk with her. This works best for us because she gets so worked up that nothing but giving her a chance to relax will help the situation.

Fast forward to now at almost two and a half years and she still has crazy tantrums but not nearly as often. Her reasoning skills have since improved along with her verbal skills. She is able to explain to me why she is so upset (most of the time...) and even if she can’t she lets me talk through things with her.

Our worst times of the day are when she is tired though, naptime and bedtime. If you came to our house around 12:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., you’d think we were torturing her with how bad she is screaming. It’s awful and brings tears to my eyes and frustration to my heart. We have tried everything. I ended up calling my pediatrician and explaining everything we do and he told us to try to reward her with something in the morning if she goes to bed without a fit. So last night was our first attempt and it worked! We told her if she went to sleep without any fuss, she would get to pick a toy out of the toy bag in the morning (and this is when I ran to the dollar store and a bought a bunch of little things she could pick out of a bag). In the morning she jumped up when I came in and said “Toy bag??” So here’s hoping this continues!

As for the daytime tantrums, we still use time outs and they still work. I have a very standard approach. I calmly explain to her why she’s going on a time out, I sit her down, she screams her head off and when she’s done I go in and we talk about why she was on time out and almost always she can tell me why and says she’s sorry. This is what works for us, and I totally get this will not work for everyone, but it’s worth a shot if you’re out of ideas!

I know I’ll be dealing with worse things as my children grow than tantrums, but right now they can be so frustrating and disheartening. At the end of the bad day I really can feel so defeated. But I always try and tell myself that today was a hard day, and hopefully tomorrow will be better, and if it’s not, there is always the next day... and I usually say this with a cocktail in my hand!

Bethany:

My daughter has been pretty easy-going most of her life. She has always been a good listener and pretty good at following directions. It wasn’t until about six months ago that she actually started throwing tantrums or telling me “no.” I’m not sure why now, but it may have something to do with a few things: she now has a baby brother and so she has to share Mommy, and she is getting older and testing her limits.

She has only had a few full-on tantrums. Most of the time it is just small outbursts such as saying “No!” when I tell her something, or sometimes even screaming. This is all pretty minor and doesn’t really concern me. The one thing she has started doing that does concern me is that she now hits. Not people, but things. It’s pretty strange actually.

When she is frustrated with me or has told me “No!” and doesn’t get the response she wanted, she will hit the chair she is sitting on, the coffee table, the floor, etc. She never hits hard (it’s really more of a frustrated pat) and she never hits people, but it still bothers me that her response is to hit. She is not as verbal as other kids her age, so I’m pretty sure this has something to do with it. I can only imagine that it must be incredibly frustrating not to be able to say what you are upset about. I always tell her the same thing, “Oh no-no. We don’t hit in this family.” And I always have the same firm but sad look on my face when I say it to her. This usually works, but not always.

When she has a tantrum or just refuses to listen, I do not give her an option. I make her look me in the eye while I talk to her. I again state what I have said and have her repeat the important part back to me so that I know she has heard me. (For example: I say, “No, we don’t push!” and then make her repeat back to me, “No push.”)

This generally works great for us. The few times it doesn’t work, I have her go and sit on her bed until she calms down. This has worked every time. Soon after going into her room one of two things happens:

1. She screams for a minute and then quietly comes back out and gives me a hug, or

2. She falls asleep (which explains why she was so cranky in the first place!).

Rachael:

When I had Sabine I couldn't imagine what I could have possibly done to deserve such an easy going, polite and well-behaved child. She responded when I asked her to do something; She would pick up her toys, she stopped when I said, “stop.” I mean, she actually listened to me! My mom friends used to speak of what a “good girl” Sabine was, which really made me feel like I was doing something right in light of the fact that I had not the slightest clue what I was doing.

Then, we began rounding the corner to her third birthday and suddenly... an alien took over the body of my angelic, wonderful, obedient little girl. I swear!  It started with “No”s, and then graduated to flat out refusals, which then led to outright defiance. The one time she really pushed it was when she decided to send her dinner flying across my living room while giving me a knowing grin and the evilest little look I’ve ever seen from a 3 year old who wasn’t named Damian.

Fortunately it only took one time of seeing Mommy lose her Schmidt and she’s never done it again, but I still can’t get past the fact that she was ever like that in the first place! I understand that she’s testing her limits, and that’s normal, but why does it have to be so difficult? She’s pushing, and I’m grasping at anything I can to try to figure out how to maintain the upper hand.

Whenever Sabine starts in on a tantrum I ...

  • I try to remain consistent and just react the same way whenever she does something that’s unacceptable.
  • I give her a choice: she can either do what I’ve asked or she can stand in a corner until she’s ready to behave.  

This tactic probably won’t work on every kid, but it works like a charm on mine. She HATES being in a corner. The most unnerving aspect of this discipline thing for me, is it seems that she thinks I don’t love her if I punish her.

For example, today she refused to pick up her letters, so I told her she could choose to pick up her letters or she could put her nose in the corner. She chose the corner, but then wailed, “But Mommy, I still love you!” Which broke my heart. “I still love you, too” I said, and tried to explain that I wasn’t mad, but that she needed to listen when I asked her to do something, and reiterated that she could come out of the corner as soon as she was ready to pick up her letters. Within a minute she was on the floor picking up her letters and singing to herself like nothing had ever happened.  

I guess the lesson I should take from that example is that my punishment doesn’t harm her in any way and isn’t going to be the cause for many years of therapy later in her life, but that doesn’t make it any easier to dole out and enforce.

There is no one answer on how to deal with a tantrum. Every kid is different and so is the tantrum they throw. It’s one of the many things we as parents have to figure out along the way. Just know that you are not alone!

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