Monday, November 21, 2011

Toddler Tantrums - Keeping it In Perspective

I am totally out of the toddler tantrum era (thankfully) and am fully immersed in teenage drama.  I don't know which is worse, really.  The toddlers are physically draining, but the teenagers are mentally and emotionally exhausting.  I love telling my toddler-freak-out-moment stories, but I'll refrain.  We've all been there, done that. 

I have a good friend that is dealing with a very active and inquisitive toddler and she has received some mixed advice lately.  She posed the question to a few of us and I wanted to share one of the responses she got.  I think there are probably several readers that could benefit from her words.  She practices Attachment Parenting better -- and more accurately -- than anyone else I know.

Here was the question:
This is so random, but I need veteran mommy help. Seems like (toddler) is having a lot of tantrums lately. Somebody recently told me that I need to stand him up and make him obey, that he shouldn't be allowed to have his way and that I should not nurse him after a fit as not to "reward" that behavior. Thinking on that. I try and reason with him, as he comprehends very well for 17 months. Any thoughts?
Here is the (fabulous) response:
A) I don't think children should be treated with less respect because they are little. B) if someone told (husband) to stand up to you and make you obey you would think they were a total jerk.

That being said - you don't deserve to be treated disrespectfully by (toddler) just because he is little either.

I don't want to raise obedient children, I want to raise thoughtful respectful adults. Respect begets respect in my opinion (well until they are 15, but I think that's a temporary freak out thing, kind of like being a toddler).

The problem with toddlers is that they are so frustrated in their little bodies because they cannot execute their big ideas. He's not freaking out to be spiteful or mean to you, he's just trying to get his point across using his improving communication skills. For all his life you have given him most everything his heart desired. Now his desires are getting more particular than just cuddling and nursing, which means that he is having to learn to not get everything he wants which sucks for him.

Our job is to teach them it's okay to have wants, it's okay if sometimes they aren't immediately fulfilled, and what the appropriate ways are to make those requests are and deal with the disappointments.

I think when a child tries to express frustration through a tantrum and a parent "stands up" to them with a scary show of force, it reinforces that that is acceptable behavior (a mommy tantrum) and also tells him that mommy has no better coping skills than freaking out too.

Going the alternate route of speaking in a very quiet voice and offering alternatives to the tantrum, and soothing words that you know he can take deep breaths and calm down reinforces that fact to you and him. If also forces him to lower his volume to hear you. Even if you achieve that reaction 51% of the time, you are reinforcing the message that most the time, overwhelming feelings can be dealt with calmly.

It is hard as heck to be calm when meltdown is occurring so that's why I focus on that scale being tipped rather than insisting on perfection in myself. For some reason this week has been really hard for her and I and a couple of times I have loaded everyone up in the car and gone for a drive.

I feel for (toddler daughter) when she wants something so badly and can't have it, while I just walk over and pick it up, or get it off the shelf. Now she is starting to self regulate and tell me she is taking deep breaths and thinking in the middle of her tears.

I don't do nursing sessions at this point to get a big tantrum under control (unless it's really a crisis), but at the age (toddler) is at, I would ask her if nursing for a moment would help her to relax and think more clearly and if she said yes I would nurse for a bit. That's been his comfort and how he regulated his emotions for his whole life- why should that change abruptly?

Also as nursing is changing, also pay attention to whether he is hungry/ thirsty/ tired , less nursing as he grows means different patterns of food and water consumption and of his blood sugar is down his behavior will suck....

Thanks Shannon, of, for those words of advice and perspective.  I have no doubt they will help another mama dealing with the exact same situation as our friend.  I have determined that it is easier to deal with a toddler tantrum than one of a 15-year-old not getting his way.  At least they are still cute as toddlers!  Good luck mamas!  This too shall pass.


Alli said...

Parenting is one topic where it's nice to talk about in general, with lots of theories. But when it comes down to day-to-day actions, it's hard to see those theories translate. I personally do not think that teaching a child how to obey authority, even when they're not happy about it, is not disrespectful. As a Christian, obeying is one thing that is my responsibility to teach my children. (And, yes, I place high value of obeying God myself, even when I want to through a tantrum about it.) However, it is also my responsibility to not embitter my children.
As far as the nursing thing goes, I admittedly do not attachment parent. I want to fix the actual problem, not default to giving my children the boob. Plus, I do not want to teach my children when they are upset or hurt that the best thing to do is eat. . .

momto5 said...

i don't think offering to nurse a child during a tantrum is offering to smother feelings with food, because really breastfeeding isn't just about food. it is about connection, comfort and a way to help them come back to this moment for a moment.
it can be really hard to remember to place yourself in your toddlers shoes. we can pretty much do most of what we want, and get what we want when we want it and most of the time no one is saying no to us about anything.
i think alot of times it is related to being hungry, tired, thirsty, but they have no real way to say it to you. so it is your job as the parent to think.... hmm is this trip at 2 pm really what i need to do? or did billy have a snack recently? or to make sure you bring things with you when you go out.

Shannon B said...

Alli, Perhaps it is semantics? I want my children to cooperate with authority because they have assessed the benefits of doing so, not blindly obey. This goes for police, parents, religion, teachers. I have a 15 year old son who I have also raised the same way who is a straight A student who has had a couple of adult teaching moments, but is overall a great kid who is becoming an amazing adult.

He has never been in a timeout or been spanked, buthas experienced natural consequences of actions (stay up too late playing video games and can't function the next day, video games have to be off for a few weeks and then we will try again).

My older toddlers do not nurse when they meltdown, but 17 months is just a baby who is starting to have toddler moments. I can help that baby to soothe whether it's a banana, a boob or a binkie, so in the future they will learn to fill that need BEFORE they are so overwhelmed. An older toddler I know better and can help anticipate that need and try to make sure they are dry-fed-hydrated meaning we will seldom have meltdowns.

When a child is in meltdown they are not receptive mentally to learning a lesson. No teaching moment there to be had. I don't reward or punish meltdown I try to help her through it, and then we resume life.

Ginger said...

"I don't want to raise obedient children, I want to raise thoughtful respectful adults."

Huh? Why can't you do both? When your little one runs out into the street, you need them to be obedient, not simply thoughtful. Teaching my child to obey my authority is respectful of them. They'll need me as a friend later; when they're young they just need a parent.

Frugal, AP Mama said...

Tantrums are a result of a build up of energy that needs to be released. If you have a fight with your spouse and go to your room and cry, you`re having a tantrum. We just get better at controlling and expressing our emotions as time goes on so we don`t have to break down over everything.

@Ginger There are times when you have to set limits for your children, but on the whole obedience is not something we should want. Children who learn obedience as children can wind up falling to peer pressure far too often as teenagers and adults, because they never learned to think for themselves. So yes, we dont want a child who runs into the street, so we insist on hand holding etc. But as the child ages, our job as parents is to teach the child to think through their actions.

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