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the mommyhood memos: the nature of the storm: 12 things every parent should know about dealing with tantrums

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

the nature of the storm: 12 things every parent should know about dealing with tantrums

Tackling Toddler Tantrums

I started out with the intention of writing one post about dealing with toddler tantrums. Then it turned into a two-part post because I realized my “intro” story about Levi's first mall tantrum was long enough to be a post of it’s own and that separating the “tips” into another post would work much better. 

Then I started editing and shaping up my “tips” notes and realized that I had way more to say on the subject than I originally thought. So, in order to keep things more digestible for the average blog reader, over the next few days you’ll be seeing the rest of this “accidental” series in four separate posts:

  1. The nature of the storm: 12 things every parent should know about dealing with tantrums
  2. Preparing for the storm: 7 ways to batten down the hatches before a tantrum hits
  3. In the midst of the storm: 7 methods of coping with tantrums 
  4. The aftermath of the storm: 9 do’s and don’ts of post-tantrum follow-up 

Although I’m no parenting expert, I do have a passion for healthy families and I’m gaining more and more understanding all the time. I hope that some of what I’ve learned (and am learning) will be helpful for other moms too.

The nature of the storm: 12 things every parent should know about dealing with tantrums

1.     Tantrums are a normal part of the development process as children learn that they are separate beings from their mamas/parents. They are part of a necessary struggle which helps children to learn emotional coping mechanisms, cultural and family norms, and healthy independence. For most children the onset will occur anywhere from between 9-10 months to two years old. It is considered “normal” for them to reoccur through the toddler and preschool years, but generally cease somewhere between the ages of 4-5 years old. (Remember, these are generalizations.)

2.     Children will not train themselves. As parents we must teach them what is acceptable behavior and what is not. We must also teach them how to cope with difficulties and differences of opinion, as well as how to recognize and manage their emotions.

3.     There is a difference between discipline and punishment. Punishment is a negative consequence for something done that is wrong. Discipline involves teaching, guiding, coaching, and shaping, as well as various forms of positive and negative consequences. Additionally, discipline comes before, during, and after a behavior, whereas punishment only happens after. Discipline is both proactive and responsive whereas punishment is merely reactive.

4.     Tantrums seek results. If your child gets stickers, food, or coddling as a result of his tantrum (bribing him to settle down) then he will throw one whenever he is seeking those types of rewards. If, however, a tantrum gets him very little amounts of attention or even privileges taken away, then he will quickly realize that tantrums won’t get him the results he seeks.

5.     Illness, growth spurts and developmental leaps, teething, and tiredness all escalate your child’s tendency to melt into a tantrum. We still need to help our little ones learn to cope with their emotions when they are feeling “under the weather”. But when they are functioning below their normal capacity it's fair and loving to try and understand where they are coming from, give a little extra grace and help, and try even harder to avoid things you already know are trigger points for your child. 

6.     Consistency in discipline is key. It’s unfair to your child if you discipline one way at home and one way in public – she will never learn what you expect of her nor what she should expect from you. This not only decreases your effectiveness but also undermines your child’s trust. Some make the argument that you don’t want to embarrass your child in public, but I would argue back that you should be as respectful to your child at home when no one is watching as you would in a crowded mall when you are under public scrutiny. Be consistent not only in how you discipline, but in giving your child the respect she deserves.

7.     Let your yes be yes and your no be no… and make sure your husband/partner is on the same page. Children get confused when parents waiver back and forth with different standards and decisions. If you say no, stick with it and make sure to communicate with your partner so that they are not unintentionally undermining your authority. Follow-through in parenting, as well as communication, cooperation, and respect between both parents, are crucial elements for a child to maintain a sense of long-term stability and trust.

8.     Don’t make flippant promises or refusals. Some parents are quick to say “yes” while others are quick to say “no”. When said carelessly both can be detrimental and give fuel to tantrums that could have been avoided. Be aware of your tendency and if your child is pressing you and you’re unsure, tell him you’ll have to think about it. (This one is more applicable to children 2 years or older.)

9.     Remember that your child is an individual and is developing all the time. As helpful as it is to hear from and observe other parents and how they deal with discipline issues, you’ve got to work out what works and doesn’t work for your own child, and what fits within your family value system. (And I imagine this also goes for having more than one child in the home – a home needs consistent standards, but parents also need to take into consideration individual capacities and comprehension levels for each of the children.)

10.  Count the cost for the precedent you will set. Dealing with tantrums is hard work. It’s emotionally and mentally exhausting, and can be physically draining as well. But the work you put into teaching and training your child as they navigate through toddlerhood tantrum territory is nothing compared to the disservice to your child of raising him to think that he can get what he wants by disregarding others and pursuing any means necessary to satisfy his urges and desires.

11.  Be prepared for some trial and error. Sometimes you just need to experiment with different techniques to see how to best discipline your child when she throws tantrums. Since every child is unique, some things will work better than others. This is a learning process for you as much as it is for your child.

12. Choose your battles. Determine what is worth a power-struggle over and what is not. Your toddler will test you on this and that's ok. Stick to your guns if it's a non-negotiable, but don't step onto the battle field unless you really think the outcome/big picture is worth it. Only you as a parent can determine which specific battles are really worth fighting with your child. (The exception, of course, is when your child is bringing harm to another child/individual. Then it is not just your choice, but your responsibility to intervene.)

Dear friends, over the next several days I will also be talking about ways to help prevent tantrums, what to do in the midst of tantrums, and how to follow-up with your child after a tantrum. I hope that these initial tips are a helpful starting place for other parents too. What principles have you learned when it comes to the nature of tantrums?

still learning but committed to parenting well,

adriel booker | the mommyhood memos | 2011
do not reproduce without written permission

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At March 23, 2011 at 8:13 PM , Blogger A Little R&R said...

Great points here!!! I really like this post a lot. I especially liked your points on consistency and not flippantly saying yes or no (I catch myself doing the "no" thing way too often and then have to change my mind when I realize I was saying "no" purely out of habit!). I am looking forward to the next 3. :)

At March 23, 2011 at 8:56 PM , Blogger cooperl788 said...

These are all really great points! I think the last one has been the most valuable to me. It's the one I keep coming back to - is it actually worth it to pick a battle over where she sits in the cart? Probably not.

At March 23, 2011 at 9:06 PM , Blogger Colleen said...

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom here! I appreciate it because I sometimes feel very ineffective when dealing with this sort of behaviour and I don't want to raise a little monster!:) My son doesn't listen easily and when we tell him no, it isn't enough to make him stop doing something. He often reacts by laughing at us or hitting...or by banging his head on the ground. So though I do try to be consistent with my "no" and try to deal calmly but firmly with him when he does this, it doesn't seem to have any effect.

Anyway needless to say, I very much look forward to your next few posts. :)

At March 23, 2011 at 9:59 PM , Blogger Kerry McCullough said...

These are great. I've learned that whenever I get emotional, it never does any good. It ends with both of us crying and becoming a mess. If I can stay calm and not take any of it personally, I can be much more effective. I am having a lot of trouble figuring out time outs, though. I don't want to do them in his crib or high chair, because I don't want him to associate those places with unpleasant memories. At the same time, I feel like time outs are probably one of the most effective means of discipline at his age. I just have to figure out where I can do them :)

At March 24, 2011 at 3:58 PM , Blogger Courtney K. said...

I agree wholeheartedly on making sure you set your yes' and no's and stick with them. MY husband and I had a LONG discussion about that when my son started crawling and getting into things. It helps that we are on the same page and don't go back and forth with one another on rules and discipline.


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