Deep breath. Inhale, exhale. Try not to lose it. Try not to cry. You are the parent. You are in control here. 1, 2, 3, 4 . . .
How is that someone who has been on the planet for less than three years and has a limited vocabulary can well up such a storm of emotions within me in a matter of seconds? Like a rapidly swinging pendulum I go from feeling overwhelming love and affection to having to talk myself down from losing my shit like a crazy person.
According to Alyson Shafer’s new book, Ain’t Misbehavin’, toddlers are among the most violent people on earth demonstrating an act of violence every three minutes. If this statistic is true than certainly I have an overachiever on my hands.
With my eldest son, tantrums were fairly uncommon and when they did occur it was relatively easy to distract him and offer a consoling hug. When he turned three, I was pretty proud of myself. We escaped the “terrible twos”, unscathed save for a few epic meltdowns and one early departure from Nana’s house. I had thought that I figured it all out. Now, I could sit back and enjoy my middle child’s second year, because I had the secret weapon to diffusing explosive situations. Stay calm, distract and offer a hug.
Somewhere in the universe someone was having a chuckle at my expense because the day my middle son turned eighteen months, the world, as I knew it came crashing down on me. He is that child – the one where everything is a battle. It starts in the morning: what to wear, what to eat, getting in the car, getting out of the car, leaving school, eating lunch, having a bath, going to bed . . . which car is his, what colour the plate is, what colour the cup is, etc., etc.
Sometimes the days stretched on and on. The tantrums bleeding together into what seemed like a never-ending fit.
Literally at a breaking point, I consulted experts (three to be exact) and read numerous parenting books (twelve to be exact).
He’s a spirited child. He’s determined. He’s smart. He’s driven. He’s alpha male.
We tried it all. Every strategy. We picked clothes the night before, we limited all the choices to two, and we had a schedule printed on the whiteboard in the kitchen and timers to announce warnings for transitions. We tried EVERYTHING!
Our boys attend a pre-school that is based on Adlerian principles that is in-line with Alyson Shafer’s approach. The main points are as follows:
– Everyone must feel connected
– Everyone must feel that they are an integral part of the team
– Everyone must feel that they matter
– Everyone must feel that they are supported
I have had the opportunity to attend Alyson’s lectures on numerous occasions and have read her two previous books, Breaking the Good Mom Mythand Honey, I Wrecked The Kids, and so I was familiar with the foundation of this teaching.
I have implemented several of her strategies and found this approach to “work”. Let me clarify: The tantrums don’t magically stop but changing how I deal with them decreases their frequency, makes them more tolerable and greatly reduces the stress level in the house (most of the time).
Let me explain. Ain’t Misbehavin’, is not simply a parenting book but an actual parenting tool. It is designed to be a consultant of sorts. Having trouble breaking bad habits? Turn to chapter 9 and read over the scripts. Having trouble catching some zzz’s? Turn to chapter 3 for a sleep solution. Since I am having trouble with tantrums, I turned to “the classics” chapter – conveniently located at the very front of the book. (If I were to be completely honest, I need to turn to every chapter!).
After suggesting the root cause of the behaviour, Alyson encourages parents to be supportive and re-route. Chapter two provides caregivers with scripts to use when children are “about to blow”.
It is suggested that the adult recognize the cause of the behaviour and verbally validate it: “I see you are upset that we are out of chocolate milk. I like chocolate milk too and it’s disappointing/sad that we finished it. Wasn’t it yummy? We will have to add it our grocery list for next time. Come on, let’s add it together.”
If that doesn’t diffuse the situation and the tantrum develops into a full on flail and wail fest that won’t let up, Alyson suggests moving YOU not the child. Once the tantrum has run its course, it’s best to carry-on as normal but make the child accountable for their actions.
It may have taken a few (hundred) tries but we’re seeing results!
– Flailing/hitting/biting: “I don’t feel safe around you. May you please calm your body or do you need to leave?” (Keeps flailing/hitting/biting) “Okay, I see you need some help leaving the room.” (Pick up child without emotion and move him/her to a safe place away from others). “You can join us when you are calm.”
– Leaving the “safe place” and not being calm: “I am still not feeling safe, so I am going to move myself.” (Go into washroom, bedroom, etc. and lock self in or go with other children to another room). When they follow (which they usually do), “I would like for you to join us and be calm. But I need to feel safe. Am I safe with you?” (Usually this is met with a nod and a gulp – a nice hug helps to diffuse the situation).
– Throwing things in a fit of anger: As difficult as it is, I try not to react and follow the first script. Once they are calm, I tell them: “It looks like you have a job to do”. They are much less likely to trash a room when they are responsible for the clean up. If this persists, follow Alyson’s advice and give their toys a “time-out”. Follow the logic: when you throw your toys it tells me that you don’t respect them and no longer want them. I have only had to donate one toy in two years.
I would be remiss if I did not point out some of the challenges that I experienced:
- It’s difficult to be diplomatic when you’re completely exhausted and at your wits end. On four hours sleep, I find most parenting strategies a challenge to implement but keeping neutral after the third screaming, meltdown of the day can test even the most patient of folks.
- Removing all emotion from your tone and body language is a challenge but when I do this, I am often amazed by the reaction from my kids. When I am calm and not engaging them in a battle and my attention is not focused on them and so the battle is no “fun”. That old adage, what you feed grows and what you neglect dies couldn’t be more true.
- Adlerian philosophy is a mind-shift, and it can seem stilted and awkward until you become comfortable with the principles.
- It is difficult for parents to relinquish some of the control and the power.
What makes the investment in this framework so rewarding for me is seeing my children be capable, valued, and supported members of our family who demonstrate more independence, problem solving skills and emotional “maturity” than I feel they would if we did not subscribe to the Adlerian philosophy. It works for us – maybe not everyone.
As a side note, Sam has grown-up. He got tubes put in his ears and experienced instant relief from painful pressure. His vocabulary has blossomed and the temper tantrums, while not eradicated, are much less frequent and in addition to what the experts had to say he is loving, extremely funny, charismatic and actually quite sensitive. Who knew when he was whipping plates across the room?
If you would like the chance to win a copy of the book, please leave us a comment any day this week letting us know. The competition ends at midnight on Friday, April 22. We will draw for and announce the winner on Saturday, April 23, and Mom Central will mail out a copy of the book to the winner after April 30th.
Disclosure – We are participating in the Ain’t Misbehavin’ program by Mom Central on behalf of Wiley Publishing. We received a copy of the book to review and gift card as a thank you for our participation. The opinions on this blog are our own.
photo credit: http://www.anoagibson.blogspot.com