If the average toddler is wilful, defiant and impulsive, then my first-born defies the norm. Miss A is even-tempered, kind, selfless and happy from dawn till dusk. I anticipated the onset of the Terrible Two’s, but when she turned 2 she remained a compliant child. “Just wait till she hits three – that’s when the Terrible Two’s really kick in,” people said. But if anything, she became calmer, more self-aware and more empathetic.
Miss A has never thrown a true tantrum. Certainly not the type I have come to know with my other girls. The one time she chose to assert herself after missing a turn on the swing, she protested with a tentative and clumsy foot stamp. It was so out of character she looked uncomfortable in her own skin. After a momentary pause we both roared with laughter. Even when attempting ‘temper’ she could laugh at herself. Priceless.
But before you stop reading and put me in the same category as the mother whose baby sleeps through the night at six weeks, bear with me. What she may lack in temper my younger two make up for, and with combined force, they are currently vying for the Terrible Two’s award.
Miss J was an early adopter of the Terrible Two’s. And Miss H was so advanced she began throwing major tantrums at about 10 months of age. She’s now 22-months and is a walking advertisement for the typical toddler: defiant, impulsive and insistent. She’s also delightful and funny but she expects things to go her way all the time.
I’ve read a lot of material about how to manage difficult behaviour and tantrums. Like most parents I know what not to do. I know I am not supposed to shout; behave like a two-year-old myself, or run screaming from the house in despair. But it’s hard to know what to do instead when you’re confronted with a flailing, screaming, kicking ball of toddler anger.
I can’t provide the solutions in an 800-word post but I can say I’ve developed my own coping methods. It begins with deciding if it’s worth my emotion. It also pays to distinguish between a tantrum and a meltdown. I have more sympathy for the meltdowns that can be partially explained by fatigue, illness, or other external factors. But I have little patience for the irrational and exasperating tantrums that are all about self-entitlement.
Here’s how some of the tantrums go in our household:
The Wardrobe Tantrum:
Miss H throws this tantrum every morning after breakfast. The tedious battle goes like this: I present something for her to wear and she shakes her head and screams. I present a different outfit; she screams louder. She then throws herself on the floor, arms and legs flailing as I try to overpower her. It goes on like this for some time until I insist that she wear something ‘temperature appropriate’ or I give in and dress her in a sleeveless dress when it’s 10 degrees outside.
My latest approach to this tantrum is the “I can’t be bothered with another battle approach.” I simply walk away and wait for her meltdown to run its course and let the crying wash over me like white noise.
The Food Tantrum
Miss H and Miss J are fiercely competitive when it comes to the age-old dinner time battle. The first food I present is met with immediate and irrational tears. Miss H glares at me as though a poisining is about to take place, when really I am presenting the same ham and cheese sandwich that she devoured the day before.
I’ve tried every technique in the book. I’ve negotiated, pleaded, bribed, shouted all to no avail. Now, I save my energy for the witching hour battles. Stay with me, I really do have a solution for those. So instead, I present and then I walk away. I stay calm. I don’t shout and I don’t negotiate. “Eat or go to bed,” I say. “Eat or bed.” “Eat. Bed.” And I repeat until they get the picture. Miss H is determined not to give me a break in the middle of the day so she reserves some of her energy for that battle.
The Witching Hour Tantrums (plural as they seem to be consecutive between 4 and 6)!
You’re exhausted. Your day has been a perpetual battle and you’ve given everything you can possibly give. Your partner rings to say they’re going to be home late. You’ve tripped for the umpteenth time on the blocks littering the floor. You have no more patience and your child throws an ear-piercing tantrum over nothing.
a.) Burst into tears and run to your room and hide;
b.) Scream and shout at them and then be haunted with guilt later on;
c.) Try placating them by speaking calmly and rationally; or
d.) Walk to the kitchen, open the fridge door and pour yourself a glass of wine. Take a big, slow sip, blocking out the screaming just for a minute.
I’ve tried all of the above options and I find option d.) works best and then there’s half a chance of moving to option c.)
Do your kids throw tantrums? How do you manage them?