Monday, May 30, 2011

How to Avoid Throwing a Tantrum

And I'm not talking about your toddler.

My youngest daughter is going to be two years old in November. The "terrific twos" (as I like to call them) started shortly after she turned 1 year old. Yep, my girl is an overachiever. There are plenty of times when her temper comes out and she gets so upset that you'd have thought I ran over her puppy - and then backed over it again. But as bad as her tantrums can be, mine can be worse.

How in the heck is a person supposed to keep their cool when their kid is throwing the 28,000th tantrum of the day? It's a good thing I'm not a spanker, because, at that point, my kid probably wouldn't be able to sit for a while. I've read a lot of things about different ways of disciplining, stopping, and redirecting her tantrums, but nothing seems to work well and talking about those would be a whole other post in itself. So, on the days where the tantrums are on the verge of making me run to my car and speed away, here is what I try to do to keep myself sane.

1. Take a time-out. 

My oldest daughter always looks at me with pity when I've gotten in trouble with myself and get put in time-out. But sometimes, I just have to leave. When I feel like I'm about to burst, the best for thing for me to do is just to run from the situation instead of trying to change it. Whether it's going outside, into the garage, or into my master bathroom, I go somewhere far away from my kids. For me, it's important to go literally as far away as I can because my children are not strangers to following me and even banging on the door if they know I'm on the other side of it. Parents give their children time-outs all the time to try and give them an opportunity to cool off and quite frankly, there are many times when parents need to cool off too. Taking just a few minutes to calm down and get my emotions under control makes it much easier to help my children when they aren't capable of controlling themselves.

2. Quit ANY negative self-talk.

There are many times when in addition to my emotions getting out of control, my mind gets out of control as well. I get mad at myself for getting so mad, I think of a thousand ways that I'm lacking as a parent, I criticize myself for letting my child get me so worked up. I know, I know. It's hard to keep from turning the situation into an evaluation of your parenting skills, but the truth is, EVERYONE has tantrums. Children have had tantrums since the beginning of time and if you are the parent that has figured out how to prevent a tantrum from ever happening again, you deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Seriously. Tantrums are just going to happen and the only conclusion you should draw about yourself is that you gave birth to totally normal kids. It's incredibly hard for me to turn off that negative self-talk, but if I can do it, it makes it much more possible for me respond to my children and whatever situation they're in with more compassion - not only for them, but for me as well.

3. Remember the reason for the tantrum in the first place. 

The real reason kids have tantrums isn't because they didn't get ice-cream for dinner. It's because something happened in their life that they didn't like and instead of just saying, "Man, that sucked," they simply don't know how to control their disappointment (or anger). There is not a single day that goes by that I don't have some moment that made me unhappy. Whether it's feeling like I don't have a good shirt to wear or I found out I got fired from a job, there are always things that make me feel sad or resentful. But unlike a child, I can (usually) keep myself from sobbing and flopping around on the floor. Kids just don't have the same control. Little annoyances for us are end-of-the-world disappointments for them. TRY to remember that there's not a single person on Earth that you can keep happy 100% of the time and your child is no different.

I had the perfect opportunity to listen to my own advice when today, Thing 2 threw the tantrum to beat all tantrums. I don't even remember what exactly set her off - I think maybe I didn't pick her up - and she started  SCREAMING and crying. She pulled on my leg, said "Please!" over and over, and then started pushing my leg and hitting me in frustration. She literally turned purple because she was crying so hard. One of my friends was at the house. Did Thing 2 cry at her? No. Did she cry at her daddy? No. Just me. At first, I felt like a horrible parent because I was trying my hardest not to give in to her crying. Nothing was wrong with her. She was just mad. And I certainly don't want to teach her that the way to get what you want is to scream and cry. Then, once the horrible-mother feeling passed, I started getting annoyed. I walked away from her when she started hitting me, but she just followed. I was about to go grab the 12-pack of beer from my refrigerator when my husband said, "Go lock yourself in our bedroom." I walked to my room with Thing 2 screaming and running behind me, closed the door, and read a magazine that I'd just gotten in the mail. She probably cried another 5-10 minutes before giving it up and just separating myself from her made all the difference in the world - for me.

It's SO easy to get aggravated and frustrated when your child is screaming at you and hitting you. Some days, I feel like I can't even go to the bathroom without her freaking out. And when you have several days in a row like that, it's hard not to get worn down. Now, like I mentioned earlier, how to discipline or change your child's behavior is a completely different post, but the only way to begin to parent in those situations is to make sure that you're in control when your kid obviously isn't. More than anything, parenting is an opportunity to make yourself a better person. Afterall, your kids will always let you know what you could do better....

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