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Saturday, 08 June 2013 07:00

Epic Toddler Tantrum

I love this photo because it hardly looks like my Clara, and makes her look a little bit insane, which is just so perfect. I also love it, because it was sent to me via text when I was away for two days a few weeks ago, and Brian asked Clara to 'Smile for Mommy'.  It's precious.

This precious little girl showed me a side of herself yesterday that I had not yet seen before in the shape of a colossal temper tantrum.

She was sitting at her seat at the table - as she is in this photo - eating a snack after her afternoon nap. It began simply enough - she yelled "I'm done!" at me, expecting to me immediately released from her chair so she could go and play.

I have to confess that too often, we have responded to this sort of demand unknowingly - or only half-ways knowingly - and therefore strengthened her belief that demanding will get her what she wants. Sometimes it would happen that she would almost politely request something, and we would be in the process of filling her request when the demands came - which we would ignore, because we were already at work - and again it would be proved that demanding is a successful way to get her way in life.

Oops.

We didn't even realize this was happening, but yesterday, as I looked across the table at her and she began insistently yelling "I'm done, I'm done, I'm done!!!".  I realized that she had been doing this for too long.  This was behavior I did not want to see in her in another year's time, and so I must stop indulging it now. 

We had been trying to teach her some level of manners by insisting on the word 'Please' when she requests something, and when we began to instruct her to 'ask nicely', we would get an insistent and somewhat whiney 'PLEEEEAAAASE!' which actually sounds more like 'Cheese' when she says it, but anyway... It was also time to correct her belief that 'asking nicely' simply means saying the word 'please'. 

So I looked her in the eye and said "Clara, I know that you want to get down, but you need to talk nicely to Mommy. When you yell 'I'm done' at Mommy, that is very rude behavior and you need to tell Mommy you're sorry for yelling. Then you need to say 'Mommy, can I please be excused?'". 

Some people might say that this is a bit much to expect from a two year old. Those people do not know my daughter. She always - always - knows more than even I give her credit for, and is constantly surprising me. I will not undercut her intelligence or perception because she is absolutely capable of being held responsible for her behavior. 

She said. "No! I don't want to be nice to Mommy!"

And I said "Ok, then, you can stay there until you're ready to be nice."

She started screaming again. "No! I need to get DOWN!!!'

For awhile I tried to reason with her, explaining again and again what she needed to do. 1: Say sorry, 2: Ask 'nicely' - which now requires a full sentence as well as the word 'please'.  Again and again she refused, and became more and more difficult. She worked herself up full tilt and full on screamed in my face. 

She screamed. Loudest noise I have ever heard her make. I pulled out my deep and serious Mom voice and said "Clara, that is not appropriate behavior. It is not ok to scream like that." 

She looked me in the eye and continued to scream. Every so often she would break to demand to get off the chair again, at which I would try again to explain to her what she needed to do. Then she would tell me again that she didn't want to be nice to me and continue to scream.

After about five minutes I realized that this was one of those times when ignoring her might be the best option. I chose to ignore her, because I didn't want her to think that tantrums were a way to get attention, and I ignored her because I didn't want her to in any way be 'calling the shots' at that moment. I stayed close to her because she was flailing herself wildly on the chair, and I wanted to make sure that she wouldn't tip her chair over and hurt herself, but I stayed behind her so that it wouldn't appear to hear as though I was concerned with her situation. I did some dishes.

Occasionally I would walk to the living room and - still in view of Clara - I would talk to and praise Audrey for being such a happy girl, and tell her that I liked to spend time with girls who were so nice to Mommy. I don't know what child psychology would say about this - but my intent was to show Clara that I was MORE likely to pay attention to her if she acted calm and was nice, than if she was tantruming. 

The screaming continued, although Clara did stop for a moment to listen to what I said to Audrey.  It was a warm day, and all of our windows and doors were open. I was a little bit afraid that someone would think I was torturing my child and call the police... seriously, her screams were that awful.

After about 20 minutes of ignoring her (yup - it was at least a 25 minute screaming tantrum), I finally sat down in front of her again and reiterated what I had told her before. She must have worn herself down enough that she was willing to concede defeat and said, through her tears, "I'm sorry, Mommy."

Then, after a few more sniffles, she said "Can I be excused... please?"

I said yes. I gave her a hug. And she was all smiles and giggles and happy playtime for at least an hour. 

Looking back, I have to say that battling with her like this could have made me tired of mommyhood right then, but it seemed to have exactly the opposite effect. It was work. It was challenging. And it was invigorating. I had put some sweat and tears into raising my daughter - and I suddenly felt even more connected to her. She is my job right now - my purpose in a lot of ways - and putting some real exertion into the task and seeing small, but positive, results has refocused me for the time being. Like a small voice in my ear is saying "See, that wasn't THAT hard... and it was worth it!"

And it will be worth it. 

Have any of you ever dealt with massive and dramatic tantrums that changed your life or thought process as a parent? How did you handle them? 

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