I love both of my children immensely. Without having to think about it for a split-second, I would take a bullet for them.
But as of late, I don't want much to do with my younger one, Thing 2. She is going through a HORRIBLE phase right now. I mean, the-devil-must-have-bribed-her-to-be-this-bad horrible. Today has been a particularly rough day, but it's by no means abnormal around our house. The ENTIRE day has been filled with yelling, screaming, throwing her body on the floor, kicking her legs, and guttural noises that sound like The Hulk is breaking lose. Many other parents would say I just need to discipline more, but I'm convinced that is not the answer anymore. I never intended to be a spanker, but I've done it. I've tried time-outs. I've tried removing her from the situation and letting her cool off in her room. Nothing works. It doesn't really help her calm down any better and it sure as hell doesn't keep her from having the behavior again.
On worse-than-normal days (like today), I spend the day on pins and needles, trying to make sure I stay really calm and say things in a nice voice so that I can avoid setting her off. The smallest of things evoke the same over-the-top, emotional, angry response from her. For example, she came and sat with me in the recliner when she woke up from her nap. When she said she wanted to get down, I helped her down and said, "Hey! Do you want to play with your sister's pretend makeup while she is taking her nap?" and she immediately yelled, "No! I don't want to play with makeup!!" and then started with the guttural noises and flung herself onto the floor. This morning, I said we were having cereal for breakfast and after she threw a fit about that (don't know why), she came back up to me and said, "I want cheerios" (with a mean face, by the way). I said, "We're going to have Lucky Charms!" and she collapsed on the floor, screaming, "I don't want Lucky Charms!!!!!" For those of you that don't know, she screams like a banshee. Like, I've seriously wondered why some of my windows and mirrors haven't shattered yet. When my husband got home from work, he asked how my day was and I collapsed into tears. I had kept my cool all day, but it had been emotionally exhausting to see my child throw tantrums every few minutes.
So, how I am fixing this problem behavior, you ask?
Well, I've almost completely stopped trying to punish the behavior. She's two yeas old. I think that a lot of her reactions are just uncontrollable for her. I used to get angry over her behavior, but as of late, I just feel compassionate towards her. It can't be pleasant to have such extreme emotional reactions to everything. If she falls in the floor and throws a tantrum, I let her do it. I don't give her any attention and I don't try to stop it either. When she finally calms down a bit, I simply ask her if she wants me to hold her or give her a hug. I don't have a Ph.D. in parenting, but I guess my thinking is that I want her to know that no matter what her behavior, I will always be there to comfort her and I will always love her. In Buddhism for Mothers, Sarah Napthali writes, "Children have a right to their feelings no matter how intense or how socially unacceptable. We need to convey the message that there are no wrong feelings, only wrong behaviors." (The book also includes a great list of synonyms for basic emotions to help children begin to find just the right words to express what they're feeling.) And like I mentioned in my previous post, one of the most important things I can teach her is how to maintain calm in the midst of those intense feelings. And the lesson sinks in even better when I'm a good role model.
There are times, however, when she is screaming or causing so much commotion that it is too distracting for the anyone else around her. During those times, I simply take her to her room and tell her that she can yell/scream/tantrum there until she has calmed down.
We don't have less tantrums in our house, but we do have a little less stress. Once I quit fighting with her - once I quit trying to change the reality of the moment - I began handling those moments better. And most of the time, I'd much rather hand out some hugs than a time-out.