Toddler Thursday: Tackling Tantrums

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Categories Behavior, Toddler Thursday, ToddlersTags , 8 Comments

I’ve mentioned in the past that age 3 was my least favourite phase, primarily because of all the tantrums that I had to contend with. My local public radio station hosts a feature called Two Guys on Your Head in which two professors take a practical pop science approach to various matters of human behaviour and the brain. Recently, they talked about tantrums. You can hear the entire 7 minute discussion below.

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My 8-year-olds and I listened to this together, on my urging, and I was surprised by how much they took away from the podcast. When my daughter M began to whine about something and started to escalate, J looked at me and said, “Don’t feed her tantrum, mom. I’ll talk to her later.” For those of you without 7 minutes to spare, allow me distill it down for you.

  1. Tantrums are a black hole. Whatever energy you put in simply feeds the tantrum.
  2. Don’t reward a tantrum with attention. No matter how well-intended, it will simply extend the pain. You can’t rationalize it away.
  3. A tantrum is no fun without an audience. Place your child somewhere safe and alone until it abates.
  4. Give children time to calm down, even after the loud part of the storm has passed.

4 practical tips for handling tantrums, from a mom and two scientists.

Do your toddlers throw tantrums? How do you handle them?

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When Mommy Throws a Tantrum

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Categories Behavior, Emotion, Feeling Overwhelmed, Mental Health, ParentingTags , 18 Comments

Last night, I lost it.

After over two years of holding it together, I went off the deep end. I screamed at my kids. I don’t mean that I just raised my voice to get their attention. No. I screamed a throat-tearing hair-raising scream, letting out all the frustration of getting dumped for another woman, parenting alone, managing the house alone, our cats seemingly trying to kill each other, cat feces on my rugs, post-divorce drama, extended family drama, and kids who just don’t listen. I lay down on the floor and invited my daughters to kick me while they sobbed and begged me to stop being a monster. I marched into their room, threw everything on the floor that didn’t belong there into one of two 20-gallon totes until both were filled beyond the brim, and put both totes in the garage.

I lost it.

tantrum

I’m Sorry

I’m ashamed of myself. I would love to pretend that last night never happened, but I believe in parenting transparently and admitting my mistakes. I believe in letting you who come here to HDYDI to know how we really do it know that we mess up too, sometimes in epic fashion.

Both my daughters called me to task. J told me that I was supposed to be a role model to her and her sister. M told me that she didn’t want a monster mommy. M told me that she didn’t want me to sleep in her room… something I’ve been wanting for over a year, but not this way. J told me she wasn’t sure she would ever trust me again.

I apologized. I acknowledged all the things I had done wrong, all the things I should have done. I told the girls that while I wanted their forgiveness, I knew I hadn’t earned it and I certainly didn’t expect it. We cried together.

I told the girls that I think I understood a tiny part of how they felt, because they had gotten a glimpse of what my childhood had been like. I never wanted to them to have experienced that, and I would never let them see it again. I thanked whatever vestiges of self-control had kept me from letting my daughters see the depths of ugliness my own mother unleashed on me regularly when I was their age.

Where Did This Come From?

I’d noticed that I was starting to have depressive symptoms over the last couple of weeks–eating poorly or not at all, sleeping as long as the kids and letting the house slide even more than usual, having horrific nightmares, getting in conflict at work where usually I could swallow perceived incompetence–but I hadn’t done anything about it. I hadn’t forced myself into a routine of healthy sleep and nutrition. I hadn’t pulled out my sunlamp. I could have done things to prevent last night from happening and I didn’t.

Fixing It

So, starting today, I am taking action. I am going to take my antidepressants first thing in the morning, instead of whenever I happen to remember. I am going to use my sunlamp daily. I’m not going to let myself sleep in on weekends, no matter how tempting it is. Who knows, perhaps the science behind light treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is bunk, but if it’s the placebo effect that gets my mind in the right place, so be it. One would think that living in sunny Texas would be enough to combat SAD, but there’s something about the length of the fall and winter days or the quality of the light that puts me in a semi-hibernating state and messes with my mind.

The Kids’ Role

I reminded my daughters of my “brain disease” of depression. J told me that she’d noticed me acting strangely for a couple of weeks but didn’t want to hurt my feelings by bringing it up. I told her I needed her help, that she needed to let me know when I wasn’t myself so that I could take steps to fix it.

The girls also admitted to being able to do more around the house to help me. They’ve actually been enjoying having an open space in the center of their room, even as they rescue some toys from the bins in the garage. I have had to remind both kids to pick clothes up off the floor, but each item has required only one reminder, not dozens, and I haven’t had them whine at me about it.

School

We talked about where their kicking has been coming from, J’s kicking me having been the final straw last night. We’ve never accepted violence in the home, so I wondered out loud where in the world they’d learned to throw out a leg when frustrated. It turns out that boys at school have been kicking them and other kids. When I told the girls I’d like to speak to their principal about that, J asked me to hold off so she could talk to the school counselor about it herself.

What’s Next?

The children seem to have forgiven me. I’m not pretending that last night didn’t happen, but J and M don’t seem to want to talk about it any more. I suppose all I can do know is show them how I recover from seemingly unforgivable offenses, that deeds are the way to redeem oneself, that the non-monster mommy they’re accustomed to is who they can rely on. And I can confess my shortcomings to the world, manage my depression, and hold myself accountable.

Have you ever let your kids see your own ugliness? How do you recover?

When the Dust Settles

 

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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