Monday, June 25, 2012

Toddlers & Tantrums

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We have all seen it. The thing every parent fears.
In grocery stores, in malls, in parking lots..... 
....the dreaded temper tantrum.

But you don't have to worry about that until at least 2 or 3 right?

Tantrums rear their ugly heads earlier than any parent wants to believe, even as early as 9 and 10 months. Sofia's were in full swing by 1 year of age.

Toddlerwise (if you've been reading this blog, you know this is one of my go-to resources) covers tantrums in detail and really helps a parent to understand what is happening, I'm a root of the problem kinda gal, I like to know why things are and to be able to see their progression.

Toddlerwise is very clear that there is a difference between frustration tantrums and temper tantrums. A frustration tantrum is when a toddler's body will not do what his mind would like it to do. This is frustrating for anyone, especially a little person who does not understand what he is feeling and why. I want to be clear that we are not dealing with frustration tantrums in this post, we are dealing with temper tantrums. However, if you are dealing with frustration tantrums and need a resource, Toddlerwise covers it in full detail.
According to Toddlerwise, a temper tantrum is "triggered by disappointment and frustration. It is a coping mechanism that occurs because an individual has not learned how to correctly manage disappointment. As future control over this emotion increases, the potential for tantrums decreases." 
But here is the important part. The part that directly follows the above line:
"Meanwhile, you still need to deal with it."

Haha, well of course! That's why we are here right? 
Of the three little devils that reared their ugly heads when Sofia turned one, the tantrums were the hardest beast to tame. I have found these can come on both in reaction to something obvious and just out of the blue (which of course then your Mommy gut kicks in and you worry that it is something else, only to find out it really was just a tantrum and you should have kicked your Mommy gut aside, but that's part of parenting, we learn just as much as our children are learning). There are many recommended ways of tackling the temper tantrum problem. I tried a few of the recommended methods and finally found the one that worked for my determined little daughter.

  At first, I would hold her still (as she screamed and writhed) until she calmed down and then I would let her go - this is one of the recommended techniques in Toddlerwise and also approved by her pediatrician. This didn't work for her because she was still getting something she really wanted - Mommy. So it was both confirming and denying her tantrum, which is just confusing to everyone.

Another recommended technique in both Toddlerwise and Parenting with Love & Logic is to leave the child alone until they calm down and/or put them in their crib until they calm down. I was initially apprehensive to put her in her crib because I didn't want her to associate those feelings with her crib (obviously I want her crib to bring forth a feeling of comfort and calmness since she sleeps there), but my opinion on that has already changed.

We began just leaving her alone, not touching her and not paying any attention to her until she calmed down. This is the hardest thing a parent can do, especially because I strongly believe that most children can pull off an Oscar worthy performance of "in terrible mental and physical anguish and in need of comfort" if they really want to. Even my sweet little 14 month old. Which is heart wrenching, even when you know it is fake.
The upside is, isolation actually works. The amount of time she spent throwing a tantrum began decreasing significantly and the frequency of tantrums spread out from a daily occurrence to now a wonderful rarity.

The hardest part about isolation is that you cannot be in the same room. I say this because, when our daughter would throw a tantrum, if I remained in the same room, she would literally crawl hysterically towards me and cling to me for life. This puts you in such a horrible position emotionally, because then you have to peel her off of you and set her back on the ground as her crying escalates and your heart shatters because you have just performed a cardinal sin - you've rejected your child.

This is why I have now begun to simply put her in her crib.

 I know my limits and I cannot handle watching my child in that much pain and anguish (even if I know there is nothing actually causing her pain) and then have to reject her too, it breaks my heart into a million pieces. Not to mention, there is a point in the tantrum where if it goes on too long, I do believe the child forgets what the tantrum is over and begins to escalate based on solely the frustration they are feeling and no longer the triggering event. Having to force your child off of you and making them sit back down can cause this to happen and then you are no longer dealing with a tantrum, but real emotional hysteria. Putting her in her crib works better for both of us, avoids this terrible pitfall and has a faster response time.

I have come to the conclusion that isolation is the best medicine for a temper tantrum.
You cannot talk a child out of a temper tantrum, just by talking you are feeding the monster.
If you feel uncomfortable leaving your child alone during these moments you can hold them; however, every child is different and this did not work for Sofia.

We began isolating Sofia whenever she threw a tantrum and this is what I mean by that: if a tantrum begins while she is touching me, sitting on me, in my arms - she goes straight on the ground. I do not touch her or talk to her. 99% of the time now she will drop it right away. However, if she is feeling especially determined and she continues to escalate, we must either leave her where she is on the ground and leave the room or put her in her crib. If we peek around the corner to check on her and she sees us she will literally escalate her cries and go into full Oscar mode. No joke.
This is what helped me to realize it is mostly an act and the acting gets especially good when she has an audience.

We spent a good week to 2 weeks using the above isolation method and I am not joking, Sofia went from literally throwing multiple tantrums a day to me now not remember when her last tantrum was.
Keep in mind, all children are different and just like anything in parenting, do your research, talk to your friends and family, talk with your pediatrician and then tackle the problem. 

Do you have experience with temper tantrums in young toddlers? How did you handle it? Did it work? Would you recommend it?

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