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.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/187321533″ params=”color=ff5500″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

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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Toddler Thursday: Anatomy of a Tantrum

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Categories Development, Discipline, Single Parenting, Toddler ThursdayTags 1 Comment

When my twin daughters were 3, I tried to capture in words the horror and glory of toddler tantrums at our house. I’ve reworked that post for How Do You Do It? for this week’s Toddler Thursday.

Anatomy of a Tantrum: What a tantrum really looks like and how to handle it

Full-Body Tantrum (J)

J’s tantrums started when she lost her temper, felt frustrated, or felt that she had been treated unjustly. They could happen anywhere: at home, in the car, at daycare, at the grocery store, at the theatre.

She usually started by sitting hard on the floor or lying on the floor. Early on, she’d throw herself backwards, but learned the hard way that our tile was too hard for that. She refused to get up or move. Her response to my physical attempts to set her upright was to arch her back and twist away.

Next, she started to whine, louder and louder, repeating whatever her complaint was. For a few months, she started prefaced all this by growling. She’d swat with her hand at whatever she could reach: me, the floor, the wall, her sister, her teacher. If she happened to have something in her hand, she’d throw it.

If I hadn’t talked her down by the time we’d reached the swatting stage, J would start to scream. The child was loud. Very, very loud. Finally, tears would pour down her face, she’d accept a hug, and beg for her blankie. She’d sniffle into her blankie and ultimately apologize.

Verbal Tantrum (M)

M’s tantrums usually stemmed from feeling misunderstood. Often, if I said no, she thought it was because I didn’t understand what she was asking for, and then things got ugly. I found it effective to avoid tantrums with M by stating my negative responses like so: “I understand that you want [some completely ridiculous thing] and I am telling you no.”

M tended to start crying first, then escalated to screaming if I couldn’t understand what she was saying through her tears, or thought I couldn’t. She stomped her foot on the ground. She wasn’t as likely to lie (collapse) on the floor as her sister, but she did resort to name-calling, “Mommyhead” being a favourite. She didn’t hit, but she did push at me if I tried to hug her. If I caught it early, distracting her with a snuggle and book worked well. After the snuggle we could discuss her unacceptable behaviour and its source.

M was much less likely to stay in time out during a tantrum than her sister, and it took her much longer (think hours rather than minutes) to calm down once she was fully engaged.

Terrible Twos or Terrible Threes?

Age two wasn’t so bad with my daughters. The threes, on the other hand, were quite horrific at times, although the rewards have been as great. As I’ve mentioned before, age three was, hands down, my least favourite age. My friend April has a theory about why the “terrible” stage increasingly waits until age three. It comes down to parenting styles. Her explanation is that our parents’ generation was less permissive to us at an early age, and less tuned into kids’ pre- and non-verbal communication. By age two, we were ready to explode because we felt misunderstood. Our generation of parents’ responsiveness to infants and toddlers causes our kids to put off acting out until later, when they really begin to realize how powerless they are.

Parental Survival

How did I handle these tantrums without another parent present to back me up, my now ex-husband so often deployed overseas? Obviously, I often didn’t.

I tried to use the same techniques I’ve taught the kids. I did (and do) a lot of deep breathing. I sometimes removed myself from the situation after I’d made sure the culprit is in a safe place. Sometimes, a glass of water and small piece of chocolate helped. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I sat in my room for 2-3 minutes until I felt ready to tackle it again.

My daughters and I often talk about the need to take a break when we start to feel overwhelmed, in order to avoid a tantrum, and all three of us practice this. M reads a book or draws, often putting completely hilarious signs on her door announcing her need for privacy. Jessica snuggles her blankie, and I lie down quietly on my bed, wash dishes or fold laundry, or take a shower.

M and J’s preschool teacher used similar techniques in the classroom. When a child started to “throw a fit”, they were removed from the situation and asked to sit away from the group until they had calmed down. Once they were calm, the teacher discussed whatever the conflict was with them, and made sure that the child understands why their behaviour was unacceptable.

In truly horrendous cases, the director or assistant director would be called in to remove the child from the classroom and had a serious discussion with them. Most tantrums were not reported to the parents, but a pattern of an unusual number of tantrums from any one child resulted in an informal conversation with the parent or a note home if the parents’ schedule and the teacher’s don’t coincide.

What do tantrums look like at your house? How do you handle them? How do you avoid them?

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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What Are They Thinking?

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Categories Behavior, Development, Discipline, Frustration, How Do The Moms Do It, Older Children, Overnight, Parenting, Perspective, School-Age, Single Parenting, Sleep, Talking to KidsTags , , , , , , , , Leave a comment

What are they thinkingHow often do you look at your kids and say, “What are you thinking?” If yours are anything like mine, it’s probably about every 30 seconds.

I know we can’t ascribe reason to our children’s reactions to the world. I know that their brains aren’t fully formed and they don’t have the experiences yet to lead them to good decision-making. I know all that, but still, I’m human, so I ask, “What were you thinking? Why did you do that?” I mostly ask silently, without hope of response, because I really do try to apply humankind’s growing understanding of child development and psychology to my parenting. My kids are too young to know what they’re thinking much of the time.

What’s nice, though, is that my children, at 7, are old enough to be capable of attempting to answer.

We’ve been having a serious issue with 7 year old disobedience of late. (Okay, it’s not that serious. I don’t need an intervention yet. I’ve only yelled once. But it feels like a backslide to age 3. All the great progress of years 4, 5 and 6 has vanished.) As I told my daughters, M and J, on leaving church this morning, their behaviour there having been way out of bounds, I’m not used to being the mommy of kids who don’t listen. I’m used to being the mommy of role models.

We had a family meeting after lunch. I was honest with my J and M. I told them that I felt like perhaps I hadn’t been a very good mommy recently. I had been trying to help them make good decisions, because that is my main job as their mother after making sure they have their needs fulfilled. (A lot of our decision-making comes down to a discussion of needs vs. wants.) I wasn’t seeing good decisions being made consistently.

J was the first to respond. She told me that she thought that I was a very good mommy. She had tears in her voice when she said that the problem was her listening and M’s. I asked if they wanted help going back to being excellent listeners and role models. They said yes.

I asked them how I could help. They didn’t know. They both thought that the consequences we employ are reasonable.

  1. I dock their allowance varying amounts for different transgressions. They get $3 a week, and I reduce it in $0.25 increments for things like leaving their dirty clothes on the floor, chasing the cats or leaving their shoes on the dining table. (What was she thinking?)
  2. I supplement their allowance for good behaviour. If J puts her clean laundry away without my having to hound her, she gets an extra $0.50. If J leaves her dinner plate on the table and M picks it up for her without taunting J about it, she gets $0.25. There’s no set fee schedule.
  3. Photo Credit: Dave Dugdale
    Photo Credit: Dave Dugdale

    I’ve instituted a politeness jar, where we deposit a nickel each whenever we interrupt someone, forget to say “Please,” “Thank you,” or “You’re welcome,” make an inappropriate face, or are intentionally hurtful. I contribute to the jar too, although I haven’t had to put in more than a dime a day so far. I mostly struggle with appending “please” to my commands/requests. We contributed our collection to the local YMCA recently, and our next collection is intended for the food pantry.

  4. Toys that aren’t cleaned up lose their place in the girls’ open access toy collection. They become toys that the children must ask permission to play with. So far, they’ve lost Monopoly, Scrabble, paper dolls and markers.
  5. I wash, dry and fold clothes that are in the laundry basket. I need a 2 day warning if a particular item of clothing is needed and is dirty. If the girls still can’t find what they’re looking for, tough. This meant that J couldn’t fully participate in water play day at summer camp last week. She couldn’t locate a swimsuit. (As it turned out, there were 3 clean ones at the bottom of a very large bin of clean clothes they’d been avoiding dealing with. Natural consequences.)

I suggested that perhaps we start our efforts of behaviour improvement with sleep. It’s very difficult to make good decisions without enough sleep. Especially with school starting in a few weeks, we need to get serious about bedtime. Perhaps a focus on bedtime would be a good step in the right direction.

M and J agreed to try it out. We wrote “Get to bed on time!” in large letters on the mirror in the girls’ bathroom, where we would all see it constantly. We would convene another family meeting after lunch next Sunday and review the effectiveness of our focus on sleep.

The rest of the afternoon went pretty well. J called her grandmother to get her tuna sandwich recipe, insisting that there was no way Grammy’s yummy tuna had mayonnaise in it. “Eww, mommy!” Of course, Grammy’s recipe turned out to the same as mine. We had tuna sandwiches for dinner. With mayonnaise and relish.

Photo Credit: reb
Photo Credit: reb

Then came bath time. The girls were surprisingly non-combative when I told them to put up their things and get ready for bed. If they could be completely ready for bed by 8:00, we could watch 15 minutes of Star Wars before bed.

Things were going fine in the bathtub until I drained the excessively bubbly water to replace it with some clean water for rinsing. I asked both girls to scoot up the tub because the water would start coming out cold and …

J immediately scooted her body down, her legs taking the full force of the water coming out of the faucet.

I looked at her for a full second in disbelief, then lifted her out the tub, still covered in bubbles. I began to dry her as she began to scream. The bubbles were bad, mommy. They would give her eczema. I wasn’t listening, mommy.

I asked her to blow her nose. She screamed. I told her that, on the count of 3, I would take a nasal syringe to her nose. It was either that or blowing her nose. She chose the latter. She was now calm enough to talk.

Me: “Do you know that you did exactly the opposite of what I asked?”
J: Nods
Me: What were you thinking?
J: You were wrong. The water doesn’t come out hot right away.
Me: If you’d have let me finish, you would have heard me saying that the water would come out really cold and then really hot. I didn’t want you to be exposed to either extreme!
J: Oh.
Me: You have to trust me. When I’m telling you to do something, I need you to obey first and argue second. You do know that you did the opposite of what I asked?
J: Yes. I didn’t know you knew it was cold.
Me: Because you didn’t listen. Because you didn’t let me finish.
J: I guess I scooted down because you told me to scoot up.
Me: Seems that way. Can we just talk if we disagree?
J: You didn’t listen when there were bubbles on me.
Me: That’s a fair statement. However, I did listen to what you were saying. I just didn’t think you were capable of hearing my response while you were screaming.
J: Oh.

So that’s what she was thinking. Great. I still don’t know how to deal with it. There’s no magic bullet here. Maybe I can work with the understanding that the girls’ disobedience is part of them realizing that the adults around them are fallible. It’s their way of questioning the status quo. It’s their way of getting closer to being independent adults.

Yeah, I know. Just wait until they’re teenagers.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012 and is usually better able to keep her love of puns out of her writing. 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 was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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The 7-Year-Old Tantrum

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Categories Anger, Behavior, Discipline, Feeling Overwhelmed, Frustration, How Do The Moms Do It, Parenting, School-Age, Talking to KidsTags 2 Comments

I’ve said before that parenting gets both easier and harder as our children get older.

Things get physically easier. Just think how much time you get back when your children become capable of wiping their own behinds!

My 7-year-olds can shampoo their own hair and M is starting to want to dry herself after her bath! If they hate the meal I’ve prepared, they can fix themselves something to eat. I can even stay in bed when they’re awake because they’re fully capable of pouring a bowl of cereal. I spent 4 hours (4 hours!!!) in a rehearsal this afternoon, focused on music while my girls sat quietly-ish on the other side of the room, reading, playing on their tablets, drawing and making new friends.

Things get emotionally harder. We have to teach our kids to be okay without us there to protect them. We have to help our children learn to tackle peer pressure, perhaps even bullying. We have to advocate for them at school with their teachers and administrators. Our kids learn about injustice and hate and we must teach them to live and fight for acceptance and love. Today, J said to me, “You and Sissy have perfect eyes and I have little lines.” She’s only 7. Age 7 appears to be when girls, at least, begin to criticize their own appearance, and my heart hurts. J happens to currently have eczema under her bottom eyelids.

The constant thread through parenting, the one that doesn’t let up until many years from where I am in my parenting journey, is the quest for self-control.

A Bit of Context

M and J were given Samsung Galaxy tablets for Christmas when they were 5 years old. They’re the only grandkids on the paternal side. My ex-in-laws are actually very good about respecting our rules and expectations for the kids, but they channel all their grandparental spoiling powers into over-the-top gifts.

We don’t really watch TV at our house. We’ll watch a movie together every month or two; I’d actually been living in our new house for about 3 months when I unpacked the TV remote and realized we hadn’t noticed that it was missing. Screen time is, instead, time spent on the girls’ Galaxies or my iPad.

We have a loose policy of no screen time during the week, although I will occasionally allow J and M to use their Galaxies for research or as Spanish-English dictionaries in support of homework. On weekends, I may give them an hour or two to play games, watch movies on Netflix, or research various topics. The most recent Google search was “Is magic real?” which led them to a Youtube video of a stage performance by a magician that they thought was, “Awesome!”

Before they can have Galaxy time, I usually require that the M and J have dressed for the day, brushed their teeth and hair and eaten breakfast. I’ll also ask them to pick up around their room, help me with chores, and take care of any other responsibilities that are relevant. They are not allowed to download anything new without my permission and they need to be in a room where I am within earshot. Any inappropriate behaviour results in the immediate loss of screen privileges.

What Happened Yesterday

J and M requested Galaxy time yesterday morning after we got home from the gym. They had taken care of the basics already. I reminded them that I would be going to choir practice in the afternoon and asked if they would rather save their screen time for then, and they both elected to cash it in in the morning at home instead. I agreed.

J went over to the charger and grabbed the tablet off it. M screamed at her. “Why did you do that? Get your own Galaxy!”

J tried to explain that she’d failed to read the name on the tablet and had thought it was hers, but M was too shrill to hear her. She snatched her tablet away from J and stomped off. I considered intervening, but J seemed to have things under control.

While I was taking my post-workout shower, M came into the bathroom to ask what J’s name was in some game they both play. I told her I didn’t know. As I was drying myself off, I heard her growl something at her sister. I quickly dressed and asked M into her room for a private conversation.

Me: M, I’ve observed you talking rudely to your sister twice today, both times over your Galaxy. What’s going on?
M: I asked J what her name was! And she didn’t know! And I asked her was it XXX. And she said no! And then I asked you and you didn’t know. And then J said it was XXX. I asked her that. It was so frustrating!
Me: I understand that you were frustrated, but your tone of voice was completely inappropriate. You also got upset when she mistakenly picked up your Galaxy this morning, and weren’t very gracious about accepting her apology. She just made a mistake and thought it was hers.
M: I didn’t know that.
Me: You didn’t know that because you didn’t listen to J’s explanation.

At this point, M began to cry.

M: This is not fair! J’s getting more Galaxy time than me.
Me: I understand that you feel that this time is unfair, but we have to have this conversation because of choices you made. I need you to speak more politely. It would also help if you listened to me and sis the way you would like us to listen to you.
M: This is not fair!
Me: I agree. It’s not fair that J is getting Galaxy time right now and you’re not. You can go back to your Galaxy after we’ve discussed what’s causing you to be rude to your sister. Is something bothering you?
M: I don’t know. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. She sobbed and fell into my arms.
Me: Oh, sweetie. I can help you try to figure it out. It’s a big step for you to acknowledge that something is wrong. That’s the first step.
M: Gritting her teeth. This. Is. Not. Fair. Getting louder. I. WANT. MY. GALAXY. TIME!
Me: When you calm down, you can have Galaxy time. Screen time is a privilege and tantrum-throwing is how to lose privileges.

At this point, M went into a full 3-year-old style fit. She threw herself out of my arms onto the ground, arched her back, drummed her heels and screamed, “Not fair! Not fair!” I knew full well she wouldn’t hear anything I said, but I still told her what was going to happen so I knew I’d done my part.

Me: You can stay in your room without your Galaxy. I’m going to go to the living room with Sissy and rest my ears. If you can get control of your body while it’s still screen time, you can get it back.
M: LEAVE ME ALONE.

I picked up the tablet and took it with me as I left the room. M ran out of the room and screamed.

M: DON’T THROW MY GALAXY IN THE TRASH.

She repeated herself I don’t know how many times, while J and I ignored her. She retreated into her room. After about 5 minutes, I felt calm enough myself to dare enter the Cave of the Out-of-Control 7-Year-Old.

M: STAY OUT OF MY ROOM. YOU’RE NOT WELCOME HERE.
Me: Okey-doke. I love you. See you when you’re calm.

About 15 minutes later, I went into the girls’ room for a hairbrush. M had shoved her toy box against the door in an attempt to keep it shut, but I walked in anyway.

M: I told you to stay out!

I ignored her, grabbed the hairbrush, and left the room. It was another 30 minutes before she ventured out, sniffing.

M: Did you throw my Galaxy away?
Me: Of course I didn’t. I just brought it out of your room because you need to be calm to have that privilege.
M: I’m ready to calm down.
Me: Okay. Can I help you do that?
M: I need snuggles. Can I snuggle?

I held her for a while and then pointed out where her tablet was. There was only about 10 minutes of screen time left, and both girls meekly put their tablets away when I asked.

Me: M, you are within your rights to feel frustration, but the way your approached your sister was not okay. You were venting anger instead of solving a problem. And your tantrum? Completely unacceptable.
M: Everyone throws fits sometimes.
Me: I disagree.
M: Yuh-huh.

I didn’t have an immediate reaction to that, so I let it go and picked the discussion back up in the evening.

Me: I’ve been thinking about what you said about everyone throwing fits. I think everyone feels frustration and anger, but there are lots of better ways of expressing it and dealing with it.
J: Like reading a book or taking a cozy bath with good smells. She meant essential oils.
Me: Well, those are ways to calm down, but that doesn’t actually give you chance to fix the problem that’s causing anger. I think those are great ideas, but often you need to go back and deal with the problem. Do you understand? Another great way to get frustration in your body out so your brain can think well is to exercise. Run around the backyard or do some jumping jacks!
M: J shouldn’t have taken my Galaxy.
Me: How about you ask her what she was thinking?
M: What were you thinking, J?
J: I forgot to check the name. I’m sorry. I thought it was mine.
M: I’m so embarrassed. She began to cry again.
Me: I’m sorry, sweetie. I know that doesn’t feel good. Please use today as a lesson that you need to use the Golden Rule instead of assuming that people are hurting you on purpose.
M: My less time of Galaxy was fair, Mommy. I behaved terribly.
Me: I bet that was really hard to admit. I’m proud of you for recognizing what you did wrong. Next time, talk to your sister and come to me for help, okay? We’ll figure out our problems together.

What Happens Next

M obviously learned her lesson, but will that learning stick? Will J think twice the next time she feels like giving into rage? I have no idea, but I continue to hope that these discussions will trigger something in my girls to cause them to take ownership of working on self-control.

You know where I learned my self-control? It came from a deep desire to model for my children how I want them to behave. Perhaps the self-control I want for them will be out of reach until they have a reason as good as mine to learn it.

I hope I don’t just scare those of you with younger kids, but this is pretty par for the course for age 7 so far. I have no idea whether my approach will bear fruit, but I can’t really come up with any other ideas.

Is teaching self-control part of your parenting strategy? What techniques have worked for you?

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 in order to better protect their privacy and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Discipline and Love

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Categories Behavior, Difference, Discipline, Parenting Twins, School-Age, WorkingTags , , , , , , 6 Comments

“Why are you acting like you love J and not me?” my 5-year-old M asked me this morning, her voice full of tears.

That was quite the knife through the heart. Within minutes of learning that there were two little people growing in my womb, I had promised myself two things: I would never play favourites, and I would treat our children as individuals.

I wasn’t playing favourites today, of course. M would be allowed to snuggle up against me with her blankie too, once she’d served her well-earned 5 minutes in time out.

Here’s what led up to this moment:

We had a small quantity of chocolate milk in the fridge, a spring break treat. I had split it evenly between two cups, and offered them to the girls to tide them over while I prepared breakfast. J took a cup from me and downed the milk in one swallow, while M tensed every muscle in her body before wailing, “But I wanted that cup!”

I offered her the other cup. I offered to pour her milk into the cup J had just emptied. She didn’t want milk at all, she informed me, because J had the cup she wanted. This sort of interaction was par for the course at age 3, but not now. Instead of having the milk go to waste, I offered it to J. That was when M started pummeling me with her fists. Instant orders to time out prompted her accusation of my not seeming to love her.

M has been having some major self control issues all week. It’s been a stressful time for the whole family. J is more in touch with her emotions than the majority of adults I know, including me, so she’s been weathering this period unbelievably well. M, on the other hand, is either unaware of what’s really bothering her or unwilling to talk about it. I sat her down with crayons and paper yesterday, and drawing seemed to help some, but she has a way to go.

While she has a legitimate reason to be generally upset, this doesn’t excuse rudeness or hitting. She’s a month shy of turning 6, and we’ve been working with both girls on a variety of tools to help them maintain their composure and handle their emotions since they were 2. Deep breathing, playing with water in the sink, and taking some alone time with a book or toy are standard ways that both J and M deal with overflowing anger to make their way to a productive solution.

She finally calmed down. I explained to M that it was because I loved her that I took the time to help her behave like a grownup. If I didn’t love her, I wouldn’t care how she behaved. Surprisingly enough, she accepted that response.

A little later, M asked to play a game on my iPad. I told her that I wanted to let her play, but the fact that she wasn’t controlling her body well made me worry that she would break the thing. That cued another tantrum and time out. Once she returned, I told her that if she went 3 hours without a tantrum, I would have enough confidence in her self-control to let her play a game. Classic bribery, I know, but we work with what we have.

She made it 45 minutes until the next tantrum hit. She begged me to lower the bar. A tantrum-free hour should be enough, she thought. I do not negotiate with tantrum-throwers, so I held my ground.

It was afternoon before she asked if it had been 3 hours; I’d been head down in work and hadn’t thought about her request for the iPad game. I realized that she’d been playing nicely with J for 5 hours, blowing bubbles in the yard and inhabiting up an elaborate make-believe world that involved pirates and restaurant owners.

It wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I noticed how M had worded her pain to me. (I jotted the sentence down immediately for use in this post.) She had asked me why I was acting like I loved J more. She didn’t actually accuse me of not loving them equally. Even in her deepest frustration with me, she was confident in the content and equal partition of my love, even if she didn’t like how I expressed it.

I think M’s going to be all right. We’ll get through this. I just need to take my deep breaths, play in the water, and take some alone time every now and then.

What’s your approach to fairness in parenting? How do you balance the needs of multiple children?

Sadia telecommutes from El Paso, TX to her job in Austin and is thankful that her 5-year-old identical twins can entertain one another 8 hours a day.

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Not Their Friend

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Categories Balance, Behavior, Co-parenting, Discipline, Mommy Issues, Relationships, School-AgeTags , , , , , , , , , 7 Comments

We’ve been having some discipline issues around here recently. The girls have been talking back to me in a way that is not appropriate for 5-year-olds. Both M and J have had emotional outbursts that can be described only as tantrums. Age 4 and the first half of age 5 were nearly tantrum-free, so this flashback to age 3 was unexpected and unpleasant. I’d say something innocuous, and see one child or the other go rigid, rise on her toes, and clench her jaw before letting out a shriek. Despite my efforts not to, I would feel my own muscles tense and my blood pressure rise in response.

During the Reign of Tantrum Terror, also known as the Terrible Threes, I prided myself for being unflappable in the face of the girls’ outbursts, trying to show them how calm thought can work in one’s favour. I used to count slowly to 3, using both my speaking voice and my fingers, refusing the temptation to try to raise my voice over theirs. At 3, off the culprit went to time out, sitting on the floor facing a wall for a minute per year of their age. It didn’t matter if we were home or out in the world. If there wasn’t a wall available, a tree would serve just as well for a time out location.

I’ll confess that I had allowed the thick skin I developed during the Terrible Threes to melt away. At the same time, my children had learned to say, “No.” The first time that one of my daughters said “No,” when ordered to time out, I lost it. I yelled at her to go to time out, and this time she followed my instructions. I immediately knew that throwing a tantrum of my own wasn’t going to help things. All I was doing was validating the effectiveness of their unacceptable behaviour.

My relationships with both M and J became increasingly charged over a couple of months. My husband finally had to step in with some very constructive, but painful, criticism. He pointed out that the girls had learned that they could argue with me, and I was failing to rise above. I needed to remind them that “because Mom said so” carried weight.

He was right, of course.  I had been so enjoying the recent explosion of both girls’ critical thinking that I had been inviting them to offer their own opinions, and trying to show them, whenever I could, how I reached the conclusions and decisions that I did. In my attempts to encourage them to question the status quo, I had put myself in the position of their friend, not their mother.

I shed a few tears, and slept on it. Once I’d marshalled my thoughts, I sat M and J down at the dining table for a conversation. I told them that I appreciated their ideas, and loved our discussions, but I was the mother. When I asked them to do something, I meant that they should do it immediately. If they had questions about the why of things, they could ask them later, and I would decide whether or not they were open to discussion. I would also be the one to decide when they could be discussed. The girls would go to time out when I told them to, and they would listen to me. Period.

After a week of maintaining my icy calm, and an average of 3 time outs per child per day, we’ve settled back into solid mother-daughter relationships. Much as I hope to be a friend to M and J when they are grown, I am exclusively their mother in the here and now.

Do you find yourself becoming complacent and compromising your parental authority? How do you fix it?

Sadia is a Bangladeshi and British working mother of twins and American army wife living on the Texas-Mexico border. Her thoughts on matters of parenting, twins, and parenting twins can be found at Double the Fun.

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Quite the Contrary

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Categories Behavior, ToddlersTags 14 Comments

Saturday morning was probably one of the worst (non-sick) days we’ve ever had with our pair.  Specifically, it was the worst, and most persistent, bad mood and rotten behavior I have seen to date from my almost-2.5-year-old son.

Believe me, we’re no strangers to temper tantrums and general two-year-old funks in my house.  The moods shift with the winds, as toddlers do.  They get set off for no reason and proceed to wail for 15 or 20 minutes. That’s kind of the accepted day-to-day.  But they snap out of it.  We get out of the house, we go for a ride in the car, and the upset is at least broken up, if not completely forgotten.

Not this time.

Holy moly, I’ve never seen one this bad. Literally everything, every thing was wrong.  And not just wrong, but clearly going to bring about the end of days.  Or, at least, that’s what his tone and response would have you believe. He didn’t want to put on his shoes (jacket, hat, etc.). He didn’t want to eat breakfast (the one he had just demanded).  His snack cup didn’t have any raisins in it.  Oh, the horror.

We get in the car, thinking we just need an outing to snap him out of it.  NO get in the car! I don’t WANT to go on the highway (the kid usually loves highways.)  I don’t WANT to get off the highway! The killer was that he would just keep saying no, even if you gave him what he claimed to want, or vice versa.  I want some juice! NO! I don’t want any juice! That cup is wrong! I don’t want a top! I don’t want a straw! GIVE ME MY STRAW! The only word to describe him was “contrary.”  He wasn’t in favor of anything.  He was simply anti whatever was going on at that moment.

first snow 09

And while the moms of two-year-olds are nodding along in commiseration, you have to know that this went on (with intermittent hysterical crying) for no less than three hours.  He was in such a foul mood that he completely skipped lunch and I sat in a quiet room with him for 20 minutes, just to get him calm enough that I could put him in is crib for nap.  It was so off-the-charts, my husband and I literally had to laugh so that we wouldn’t cry.

So, here’s my question: what in the hell do you do when they’re like this?  For most behavioral issues, I’ve been trying to use the 123 Magic/time out approach.  But can you exactly “count” this type of behavior?  I’m sort of inclined to ignore it as best I can, but three hours?! Come on, we have to move on with our day somehow.

Thankfully, I know this time will pass, just like all the others before and to come.  But man alive, that was one hell of a day.

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