Thursday, February 14, 2013
Finding your calm in the tornado of tantrums
Bad habits are hard to break, especially ones that have been nearly hardwired into your brain for 30+ years.
I was on the fence at one time, thinking that allowing my children to freak out, scream, go boneless in the store and cry when I asked them to comply with something I wanted them to do, would only lead to uncontrollable and manipulative children that I wouldn't be able to trust to have the same respect for me that I thought I "deserved". This was where my backwards thinking began.
I wouldn't say it was the way I was raised that allowed me this skewed perception, even though I was raised in a spanking/punishment/grounding environment. At one time, I honestly believed that pure discipline created a stronger, more structured child. I didn't come to a different perspective because of some horrid moment, or a knock on the noggin. I came about the change because I wanted to and made a serious decision to change how I reacted to my children and the children around me. I don't personally believe any parent actually "wants" to yell at their children. They merely don't know what else to do.
Well, as cliche as it may sound, here are some tips:
1) Breathe: It may sound easier than it actually is, and you may think to yourself as you read this "I AM breathing. I'd be dead otherwise.", but that is not what I have in mind. When it comes to a struggle emerging within your child and you, when a request has been sent from you and isn't being given the respect that you wish it would, it's time to step back and take at least 3 solid, deep from the diaphragm breaths (in from the nose, out through the mouth, with a steady count of 1,2,3,4,5 for each inhale/exhale). This gives you 30 seconds to see what happens after you've made the request to your child. Sometimes, this waiting period is all it takes for your child to notice that something is different (that you are not yelling and freaking out), and change their patterns as well. Sometimes it doesn't work! Then what?
2) Give 2 Workable Options: When your first request hasn't been answered with anything other than difficulty and a stressful looking tantrum AND you've already played your first hand of 30-seconds of deep breathing to give your child time to respond, it's then time to send out a negotiable request. Keep them simple (IE: "You can walk to the car or I can help you", "You can pick out the book to read or you can go to bed now") and ALWAYS keep them in your boundary zone. Do not give your child an option that doesn't exist or that you really aren't comfortable with. This only leads to more confusion, stress, and unnecessary resentment on both your parts. The idea here is to give them a choice and follow through with the options you have set into place. Remember, children thrive upon consistency and structure. I haven't met a child yet that wants chaos and disorder (except that one "Damien" kid, but he's a whole other parenting blog altogether).
3) When all else fails, FOLLOW THROUGH: I cannot say this enough. YOU ARE THE ADULT HERE. You have the conscious mind to make the choices that have to be made once reasonable options have been set out into play and none have been chosen.
Reminder: There is a way to execute your option all the while keeping a solid state of respect between you and the child, and there is a way to merely follow through with anger and resentment that the child didn't make a choice. Never follow through with anger behind you. Always refer back to your breathing exercise before you go ahead and follow through. This again gives the child enough time to make their decision about which option to choose (if they choose any at all). It may be frustrating that they didn't choose any of the reasonable options you set forth for them. That's ok. That was their prerogative. And now, you get to show them that one of those options was your choice. And that's ok too.
Reminder #2: Unless you are honestly "the baby whisperer" and have magical spells and mysterious ways about you, your child will ultimately display a tantrum or just plainly NOT LISTEN at one time or another. This isn't because they hate you (even if they say it). It isn't because they are trying to annoy you (even if it does). These displays of emotional outpouring come from very simple sources, and as much as it will sound completely out of the box to look at it this way, you should feel honored they are bringing their tantrums to you! This shows an amount of trust that you will be there to take care of them, that they trust their tantrums safety and response to you, the parent.
Their screams and cries pierce you to the bone because they are supposed to. It's a primordial quality engineered into mothers and fathers to trigger the fight or flight response, based on our predecessors, commonly known as neanderthals.
All in all, it's not a perfect world, and I am by far and large, not a perfect parent. Nor do I want to be. I want to be the parent that my children deserves to have. One that trusts and respects them, and one that they trust and respect as well. This takes work. Especially after all the wiring has to be re-soldered together.
It took a while, but I am on the road to recovery from being a YELLER to a NEGOTIATOR, all with one purpose in mind - get everyone out alive. Note that I didn't say "alive and happy" because that doesn't always happen. It's a dream, and one that perhaps the amount of respect and trust I am willing to give will instill a sense thereof in my children down the road.
But not something I expect or even count on happening. Where's the fun in that?