Monday, February 3, 2014

Anatomy of A Tantrum

I so don't want to jinx it, but I think we are turning a corner on the tantrums.  Two and a half to three and a half was a really hard year in the parenting of Leo.  So many larger than life emotions.  Resisting needed sleep.  All the glory and pain of figuring out that you are your own person.  It has been ugly at times, but also a pleasure to witness.  I'm so proud at how he's navigated these choppy waters of sentiment - and still it.  It's not smooth sailing, but it's clear that he's learned a lot about how to ride a wave of rage or despair - and even reach out for support.

Below is a tantrum I caught on video a few months ago.  There's nothing remarkable about it.  It was, like most of his outbursts, about something I did not anticipate causing a tantrum.  He tried to reign it in several times before succeeding.  I didn't handle it perfectly (for example, I don't know why I engaged with him about the subjective size of the piece of english muffin he was upset about and if I had it to do over, I wouldn't have called it a silly reason to be least not so soon after), but I hope I helped guide him through.  The sound is quite loud when he is crying and much softer when I'm talking, so it's hard to catch the dialogue, but I included it under the video.

I recently got together with a few other mothers to talk about toddler behavior and strategies for coping.  Most of their kids were a bit younger than Leo and a bit older than Zoe - so right in that rough spot.  With Leo being a bit older, I'd hoped I'd have some advice to share, but mostly could only commiserate.  There's really not all that much to do beyond trying to keep your own energy calm and encouraging them to match that tranquility.  Which can seem like trying to reason with a wild animal.  Still, it's developmentally appropriate and kids do grow out of it - no matter how long it seems to go on.  I know that by the time I think I've figured out strategies to get through challenging behavior, it seems to be over.  It's never clear to me if I had any hand in actually diffusing the behavior or if that stage just ended.  If I do think I've got method figured out...well then Zoe will make sure that whatever approach I've adopted with Leo will not work on her.  I consider it a success if I manage not to throw my own tantrum most of the time.

*Leo crying*
Mama: Leo, can you tell me what's wrong?
*Slams plate*
Mama: Hey, please don't do that
Can you tell me why you are upset?
Leo: I'm upset because you took a piece of my english muffin.  It was mine
Mama: I know, but before I took it I said, "Can I have a little piece for Zoe?"and you said, "sure"  And then I took a little piece for Zoe and then you started crying.
If you didn't want me to take a piece, why did you say it was ok to have some?  I just took a tiny little piece for Zoe.
Leo: It was not tiny! It was medium!
Mama: It was pretty small
Leo: It wasn't
Mama: Zoe can you show us the piece?
Can you show us your piece of english muffin?
It's pretty small, yeah.
Leo: It's not pretty small
Mama: Well, how can we fix it?
Leo: I don't know
Mama: Do you want a new english muffin?
Leo: I don't want a new one.  I want the one I already had.
Mama: My poor baby
Leo: what?
Mama: my poor baby
Leo: what?
Mama: I said, my poor baby
You must be really frustrated.
Leo: No, I didn't want her to have any. *Inaudible* You big clumsy lump!
Mama: You can not call me names.
I'm still on your team
I'm still trying to help you
*leo coughing*
Mama: How about if you finish what you've got left
Leo: no
Mama: and we go read a book in the family room
Leo: no
Mama: Dinosaur book
Leo: what dinosaur book?
Mama: The one we were reading yesterday. Dinosaur Days.
I love you.  I'm sorry you got upset.  I really thought it was ok.  You said it was ok.
Leo: I just still want to watch a show.
Mama: You want to watch a show.  Do you think this kind of behavior is the type of behavior that earns privileges?
Leo: No, but I want to start over and watch a show.
Mama: Why don't we start over right now.
Leo: ok, but I don't know how to start over
Mama: Why don't you take a deep breath
*leo takes deep breath*
Mama: that's a good start
Leo: but just, sorry.  I just, sorry mom, I just...huh? what? Huh? You are giving me my piece of english muffin?
Mama: Yeah she's giving you your piece of english muffin back.
Leo: Thanks, Zoe
Mama: That's really nice, Zo
So now the problem is fixed?
problem fixed?
Leo: mmhmm
Mama: Oh, good
Leo: Now I can watch my show. Now I can watch my show.
Mama: Wait, wait, wait, wait, I don't know if it's that fixed.  You still kinda threw a pretty major tantrum over what seemed to me like a pretty silly thing.
Leo: why?
Mama: Because three year olds are bonkers.
Leo: *sniff* I know.
Mama: I love you.

It's true that these kinds of tantrums were a daily - probably more - occurrence in our house for a stretch.  (Have I mentioned that my hair has grayed rather quickly this year?)  Now they are rare and much easier to bounce back from.  I hope that's some comfort to any mamas out there currently in the thick of it.  I should probably bookmark this page for myself for a year from now...I have a feeling Zoe is going redefine tantrum for us.

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