Thursday, April 30, 2009

Don't Fear the Tantrum

***cue the cowbell****

Katie and I were blog chatting about a discipline issue she's having and about how to manage kids when they do something they aren't supposed and I brought up to her my parenting theory that 3 years of parenting have led me to. (I say 3 years because before the age of 2, the kind of parenting you're doing is sooooo much different than the parenting you do once the 2's hit.) Anyway, what I've come up with is that in order to be a consistent parent, you need to NOT fear a tantrum. I am sure I came up with this revelation while I was enforcing a time out and basically not getting anything else accomplished.

I realized that so often when parenting, that kids do or want something that they cannot have or should not do. When a child is is told no there is a very strong likelihood of some kind of reaction and it's how we handle that reaction (or potential reaction) that sets us as parents apart. No parent that I know likes a tantrum/fit/etc, so in that respect we have some solidarity. However, one thing I know that I'm guilty of is that when you know a fit is coming on or know that something you say or do will bring a fit on, you give in to what will make the child happy just so they do not go apesh*t.

Sometimes being consistent and enforcing your rules is easy. You're feeling particularly assertive and strong that day and when a storm is brewing, you fend it off and enforce your usual consequences. You keep putting their little bottom back in time out if they keep getting up and you have the energy to walk back and forth to the time out spot and put them back. When the kid finally realizes s/he's not getting out of it, they relent and you have a nice conversation with them about what happened and how certain behavior is not acceptable.

But other times (the middle of the night, you haven't had your coffee yet, or when you just can't do it anymore for various reasons), you give in to whatever it is they want. And why do you do that? You do it because you do NOT have the energy to deal with the tantrum and the physical nature of enforcing the time out or whatever other consequence you give them. So in essence, you are "afraid" of the tantrum. I mean, how many times have you been out in public and your kid balks and you quickly figure out a way of averting the craziness that is coming? In this case, you're afraid of the tantrum because of the attention you'll get from others and having all eyes on you as to how you handle it. Or in the middle of the night the sweet child decides to throw an all out spinner and wake the entire house. So you give in and turn their stupid light back on so you can all go back to sleep.

So how do you get over this fear? Well, I don't exactly have all the answers on that one. One thing I have noticed is that since I labeled said fear of tantrums, I have gotten better at not getting as stressed out about them. I remember that tantrums are mostly normal and that it is my job as a parent to set my limits and hold fast to them. But that doesn't mean I don't lose my cool, yell, or just need a parental time out from time to time. And yeah, I still unconsciously find myself giving into that tantrum fear without even realizing it.

The other thing I've come to realize that in order to be a consistent and limit setting parent is that it is my job to outlast the kids. Outlast their tantrums, outlast their whining, outlast their frustration. And to be honest, that is exhausting. But if we are the ones who prevail, it sets the kids up for knowing that their parents mean business.

Of course writing all this down makes it so black and white and any parent will tell you parenting is the farthest thing from black and white on this planet. I always find myself excited to try out a new SuperNanny trick and then get frustrated because the way she does it on TV always seems so perfect and easy. (Of course, it's edited!) And then it leaves you all this room to second guess yourself too. "If he's on the time out chair, does he have to be sitting up straight or does leaning over count?" "When I put her back into bed over and over, do I need to wait for her to come all the way out of the room before I put her back or do I just pounce when she gets out of bed?" "How much dinner do they actually need to try/eat?"

Parenting is not for the dualist, I don't think. Just when you think you've found the answer to every question, your child gives you one more thing to figure out and leaves you stumped.


Bracken said...

You had no clue, but I just want to say "Thank you!" I needed this post so bad right now and it just couldn't have come at a better time.

Heather said...

Kids thrive under structure, limit setting & clear, consistent expectations of behavior. YOU ARE DOING AN AMAZING JOB of that...and trust me, few parents are (having worked 10 years in public education gives me a license to say that!)...

I heard a great quote at a workshop the other day..."It takes a village to raise a child, and the villagers are tired, overworked, underpaid & STRESSED OUT!" That about sums it up for me!

Erin said...

Love it! yeah, I still haven't commented on Katie's blog... didn't have a minute yesterday. But I need to get over there because we've really only just recently figured out Ben's currency, and, like Em, it's not really his toys either. LOL!