Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How I deal with Tantrums


First let me preface this by saying that I love being a mother. I really do. It is what I love most in this world. I thank god every day that I was blessed with my daughter...

BUT....That tiny little three-nager has moments that make me question why anyone would ever want to do this thing called motherhood.

P started throwing tantrums at 18 months of age. This correlated with starting baby school which made me feel doubly guilty as a new working mom. However, over the last two years I have figured out some ways to help shorten the length of her tantrums and lengthen the amount of time between tantrums.

I, by all means, am not a psychologist and I am not an expert. I am just a Mom who has one too many times given the knowing nod to a fellow Mom who was tussling with her toddler in the aisles of Publix. I have many times offered a nice comment like, "I've been there girl. Hang in there." I believe that these types of interactions are powerful between moms. I appreciate when I get these types of affirmations myself, so I love to pay it forward.

Let's just get that all out of the way here. You are doing a fantastic job! Don't let your toddler's tantrum define you. It is not your fault. It is just a symptom of the age. It's developmental. Don't listen to those other bloggers and "friends" of yours who claim that their two year old never acts the way that your child does. They are full of it....BIG TIME!

Now on to what I have found that works for my little tantrum thrower!


1. Pick your battles
OMG I hate that I am using this overused phrase, but it is just that true. You have to learn to pick your battles with these little monsters. I would venture to say that I am displeased with 75% of P's behaviors during a day. But if I corrected each and every thing that she did that I didn't like, then that would be my only interaction with her every day. AND it will most certainly end in a frustrated toddler who is primed for a throw down.

Instead I try to focus on a few behaviors each day, and rotate through them. I still hit them all each week. I just focus on one at a time. Yesterday it was the fact that she was refusing to take naps during the day, whining, and nose picking. Today I will pick something else like noise level or paying attention to me when I talk.

Part of the issue is that I spend so little time with her during the week that I really have to be careful about the negativity. Which brings me to number 2.


2. Use positive behavior reinforcement
After a few tantrums we start to figure out what is likely to send our little angel over the edge. The trick is to avoid, avoid, avoid like the plague if you can. BUT there are some things that simply cannot be avoided.

 For the longest time my daughter would throw a tantrum over her clothes in the morning. I had bought all of these really cute shirts and ruffled pants and she HATED them. Every time I tried to put her in the clothes she would throw a tantrum, and we would all end up late to work/school. She has to get dressed, but she doesn't have to wear those clothes. I had to let it go for both of our sanity. However, we occasionally still disagree on what she should wear.

So I figured out that a lot of her friends were wearing skirts with their uniform tops to school and that P wanted to look like them. This is why she was pitching a fit over pants for awhile. So we chit chatted and I told her that if she could get dressed every morning without throwing a fit for four days, then I would let her pick out a dress to wear to school on Friday. On Friday, they get to wear what they want anyway, so I was really giving up nothing, and P felt like she was gaining something. Everyday that she got dressed without crying or whining--I gave her loads of high fives, kisses, and verbal praise. It really works for my kid. All she really wants is for me to be proud of her.


3. Provide choices
Another area that has the tendency to set P off is food. There are certain things she likes and the list is VERY short! Her doctor wants me to be a little stricter on her in this department, by sending her to bed without dinner if she refuses what we are having, but in my house that has never been productive for me. What we end up with is a 3 hour tantrum and a child too wound up to go to sleep. So I had to improvise.

Since J and I normally like to eat dinner a little later (especially now that soccer is in season) P was needing to eat earlier anyway. I started offering her choices for dinner. Since she pretty much won't eat any of the meals that I make--it is not a big deal to me at this point. I let her pick between two options. If she won't choose, then I just make her what I want, and put it in front of her. If she eats it, then fine, and if not, then I don't really stress too much. I have learned that she will not starve. If she is hungry, then she will catch up somewhere. For the most part she will make a choice, and eat what she chose with a smile.

4. Don't be above bribery
I know, I know, all you perfect moms out there are gasping in horror that I am suggesting that bribery is a good parenting tactic. Well, you can all kiss it, because this is the tool that works best for my child. AND I DON'T CARE WHO KNOWS IT!!!

While, I don't want to have to continue to bribe her her whole life--I do think that when used sparingly it is very effective. P's doctor claims that you cannot reason with a child under 5 years old. I firmly disagree with this notion. My daughter is able to asses consequences and rewards of different options and has been able to for a year. If your child cannot yet, then I do not suggest trying to use this method.

My daughter loves stuffed animals, candy, Peppa Pig, Mickey Mouse, Disney Princesses, movies, Disney World, the park, and any kind of trip. She would rather be out and about than at home. I have noticed that if I keep her in all day everyday she will have a meltdown after a few days. She needs to get out even if it is just to run an errand or go to the playground. Since she loves these things--they hold power with her. I have been known to hang a playground trip over her head to get her to take an afternoon nap on the weekends. She will go to sleep without problem. EVERY. TIME. I'm just saying. Find what your child loves, and reward them with it.


5. Validate your child's feelings
Ultimately they are tiny humans with big people emotions. They cannot fully communicate to you the momentous feelings that they are experiencing. They  just don't have the vocabulary yet. Therefore, I find that helping my daughter communicate her frustrations can stop a tantrum that is brewing.

When P is getting upset she will clam up and stop talking. She will revert back to 18 month old P, who just pointed and grunted when she wanted something. I HATE THIS! It drives me nuts. But instructing her in that moment not to whine and "use her words" will almost certainly end in a full on floor slapping, leg twitching tantrum. Don't do it! You can address it later. I promise your child will remember.

Instead I give her the words that she lacks. It sounds like something straight out of a therapist's mouth, but I swear that it works so well for her. Here is how it goes most of the time.

P--Grunts and points in direction of lollipop that I have just said she could not have until after she has eaten her sandwich.
Me--"I understand that you're getting frustrated and angry at me because I told you that you could not have the lollipop. I am not saying that you cannot have it later. I am not trying to make you angry. I just want you to take a few more bites of your lunch. Can you do that for me? Then you can have your lollipop."
P--Whines and then shakes her head yes and picks up sandwich.

Once she completes her end of the deal--I reward her with the lollipop. Later that night I will talk to her about using her words and not pointing when she wants something. When she is calm and in a better mood.

I hope these tips make sense to you, and that you have success with your toddler tornado.

I am also interested in knowing what works for you? I would love to try it out as well.

Caroline

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