Temper Tantrums

Temper Tantrums

by | Jul 25, 2020 | Parenting | 0 comments

Temper Tantrums.

I was not ready.

Baby Wrenny: Don’t let the smile fool you

Ok, I have to admit when I was pregnant I was pretty excited as a pediatrician to be having a baby. I felt like, “I know stuff,” and after years of helping teach people how to do parenthood, I had to have a leg up, right?

Wrong!! I wasn’t as prepared as I hoped, but I realize now NOTHING could have prepared me … not all the books and articles I’ve read, not my experience working with parents for years, and not over a decade of schooling and training. Everything was just hard, and I was humbled and awed by this tiny human that suddenly became my teacher.

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Sassy Pants

My daughter Wren’s recent lesson for me since turning 2 last month is “Be patient, Mom,” like she flipped a switch overnight and became a tantrum machine. She’s upset when I tell her to do something, when I do it myself because now she does want to do it, and lately for no reason.

The advice I usually give is:

  • praise often during good times
  • try not to reinforce bad behavior with attention (so ignore, don’t feed the madness)

The practical application of this advice is challenging though, and I ask myself often …

I wanted to improve my approach so we could survive tantrums sanely and safely. There’s a TON out there, so for simplicity’s sake, I’m bulleting my thoughts below! As always, take what makes sense and works for you, ditch the rest.

Discipline is not punishment, it’s teaching her so she can do better next time.

Emotional self-regulation is a skill that, according to research, predicts higher self-esteem, healthier social interactions, better academic performance, and future success. This is the GOAL.

An ideal approach to parenting is authoritative, which means firm but loving, warm but demanding.

  • Don’t underestimate her = have high expectations of her
  • Don’t regulate her emotions for her so she can learn this skill herself. For example, I know I don’t have to entertain her every time she’s bored or calm her every time she’s upset.
  • Don’t correct her emotions (she can feel however she does), but do correct a wayward behavior that results.

We’re playing the long game. In the moment of a full-blown tantrum, it’s tempting to take the path of least resistance (ie, ok, fine, you can have my phone). But, remember exhausted mommy (I say to myself) that your job as a parent is to raise a happy, independent child who will become a respectful, responsible, and resilient ADULT.

  • If I’m overly permissive, I might produce an entitled, lazy, and poorly functioning adult.
  • If I’m too harsh and authoritarian I might produce a repressed, sheltered, and very unregulated adult.
  • Find the middle … and I repeat this every day: she is not the boss of me.

Remember she’s not a tiny adult YET. Her frontal lobe (logic and reason) won’t develop fully until late adolescence!

  • She’s right hemisphere-dominant, tapping into emotions, creativity, and intuition.
  • Her memory doesn’t work like ours (think more Dory from Finding Nemo). So it’s important to repeat yourself until she starts recognizing patterns.
  • Knowing this, I don’t take her meltdowns/attitude personally
  • Don’t use too many words and too much emotion when disciplining. Less is more.
  • Be clear, be consistent, stay calm, and follow through. Anything less is confusing for her and makes it hard for her to trust you. She wants you to show her the way!

Be the example. I can get upset, sad, and frustrated too, but I’ve got almost 40 years of life experience and a mostly developed brain to reason with (and it can still be challenging). For a 2-year-old, all of the fiery emotions in her tiny body must be overwhelming.

  • Show her your emotions openly, be authentic, don’t hide it from her, name it, and then pull it together
  • By modeling behavior to handle positive and negative emotions productively, you’re showing her what’s possible.

Play so much! Research shows kids this age learn best from playing. LOTS of unstructured playtime can help kids learn self-regulation and emotional resilience (and have a productive place to put their energy).

  • The more time you can spend being goofy and fantastical, the better.
  • Being together without hovering and overprotecting helps her learn to do something, fail, try again, and build self-confidence.
  • At this age, experience is a better teacher than language.

Don’t label. Dr. Carol Dweck coined the concept of “fixed vs. growth mindset” and recommends not limiting kids by labeling them.

  • Example: I caught myself saying “ugh, you’re so naughty today” when Wren threw dog food all over the carpet (in slow motion after I saw it coming and asked her to put it in the dog bowl — my face turned red). What I could’ve done better was say, “We don’t put dog food on the floor, and not listening was a naughty thing to do.”
  • Stressing that the deed is wrong and not the doer teaches her that she can change her actions without internalizing “I’m just a naughty girl”.
  • It’s also best to avoid no-no’s like blaming, name-calling, threats, lecturing, warnings, comparisons, and sarcasm. I’m guilty of 4 out of the 7 at least once … Hey, I’m working on it!

Don’t “or else” her. Ultimatums aren’t very effective and hard to follow through on. Instead, make the consequence (or reward) of the behavior very clear and follow through no matter what.

  • Having clear limits, rules that are easy to explain and understand, and consistent follow-through helps you avoid power struggles and debates and build trust.
  • Then keep reinforcing, reminding, and redirecting.

Set her up for success. We know tired and hungry Wrenny are like a ticking tantrum time-bomb, so we can avoid many melt-downs just by anticipating. You’re the world’s expert in your child, so use what you know wisely.

So, yes, this is a lot, and if you have questions shoot me an email and we can dive deeper. I can also send you book and article references if you’d rather tackle this independently.

All in all, just remember that you can’t expect perfection of your kids or yourselves. You’re evolving and growing along with them, and your family is unique. By seeing challenging behavior as an opportunity to build character, you don’t need to get it all right, you just need to keep doing the good work.