Taming Temper Tantrums
by Aisha Pope
I was in a mall store with my son who was about 16-17 months old and was a pretty talented tantrum thrower. He didn't have a problem walking around the mall; he just hated going into the actual stores; so I could count on him to get upset when we walked in. We went into one particular store, and he started the tantrum and fell out on the floor kicking and screaming. I had been doing some reading “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” by Harvey Karp, MD, about coping with tantrums and learned that I needed to validate his feelings, and since he would not be likely to understand my verbal validation, I needed to show him with my own tone and affect that I was hearing him. So, I sat on the floor (in front of God and everyone) and said, "Jayden, you're mad. You're mad, mad mad! You're so mad." I used a tone that mirrored, but didn’t mock, his tantrum tone. He stopped, looked at me as if to say, “She gets it,” and then crawled into my lap and gave me a big hug! We sat there for a few minutes, and to my surprise, he was patient for the rest of the short time we were in that store! After that, I guess to show him that I respected his feelings; we cut the shopping trip short.
Comments from Jane:
I love this story for so many reasons. First, Jayden’s behavior is so developmentally appropriate. What child doesn’t have a temper tantrum to show his displeasure when he or she doesn’t have any other skills for self-expression. Too many parents don’t understand how helpful it can be to simply allow children to have their feelings and have faith in them to handle their upset and calm down. In a very subtle way, dealing with their feelings in, a supportive atmosphere, helps children develop the sense that they are capable. Instead of trying to talk children out of their feelings, or calling it “misbehavior,” do what Aisha did. Just validate them.
Most adults haven’t learned to understand their feelings language. As children, many of us were told we should feel what we felt. Even worse, we might have been punished. In Positive Discipline the First Three Years, and Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, we discuss the importance of helping children develop their “feelings” language by understanding that what they feel is always okay—even though what they do is not always okay. Once you help children calm down by simply validating their feelings, you can then help them figure out what to do that is respectful for everyone concerned if follow-up is necessary. In Jayden’s case it wasn’t.
I so admire Aisha’s courage that she cared more about helping Jayden deal with his feelings than what others might think. In the process, she provided an excellent example for any parent who was watching. I wish we all could have watched the second success story shared by Aisha.
To Bed using his Own Power
When Jayden was around 15-16 months old, we had never done any formal sleep training, and he still needed to be rocked or nursed to sleep. I decided to work on breaking him of this, and started by setting up a good bedtime routine. That routine would end with a story, nursing in the rocking chair. So he wouldn't fall asleep nursing, I would stand up and walk around the room carrying him while we said our prayers. We would end at the crib where I'd lay him down. As soon as I laid him down, however, this peaceful scene would change. He'd stand right up and start screaming. The next hour to hour and half would be spent with him standing up, me laying him back down, him crying, me wanting to cry, and so on.
One night I decided to change the routine just a little. When we were pacing and saying our prayers, I put him down and let him walk. I said, "Time for bed," and he walked himself over to the crib, holding my hand. He reached to be picked up, and I picked him up, gave a kiss, and set him down on his feet instead of laying him down. He immediately laid down. Ever since then, when it's time for him to go to bed, I have him walk to his crib instead of carrying him. I set him on his feet and he always just lays down on his own. Now that's not to say that every night he drifts peacefully off to sleep with no protesting, because the going to sleep part is still a challenge some nights; but we no longer spend half the night just fighting with him to stay in the crib at bedtime.
Comments from Jane:
I would love to hear if this works for other parents. Your child may not respond exactly as Jayden did, but your chances will increase if you understand some key concepts—which can be used to solve many behavior challenges is many creative ways.
- Sleeping is a natural bodily function that babies are born knowing how to do. Too often loving parents don’t understand that babies know how to sleep and “train” their babies to believe they can’t sleep without being rocked, nursed, given a bottle, walked around in a baby carrier, or taken for a drive in the car. (I know. I’ve been there.)
- Weaning is never easy for the Weanor or the Weanee, but it helps to have faith in both of you that you can handle this weaning process and both feel more capable once it is done.
- Everyone has personal power and we feel capable when we use it constructively, and rebellious or defeated when someone takes it away from us. Toddlers aren’t consciously aware of their personal power, yet they often rebel when parents are overly controlling. In Positive Discipline the First Three Years, we call this the “Me Do It” stage of life—that starts with toddlers and never ends. Aisha figured out a way to incorporate Jayden using his personal power to “fit the needs of the situation.” In other words, he used his personal power for cooperation and to feel capable instead of the rebel and/or demand undue service.
- Too often, parents train their children to use their personal power to manipulate others into giving them undue service. They may start to develop the believe, “Love means getting others to take care of me and give me whatever I want.” This does not instill a sense of capability.
Putting all this together means understanding that the best way to help children develop a healthy sense that, “I am capable,” is to find ways to let them use their personal power in ways that help them experience being capable. This could be something as seemingly small as letting Jayden walk to his crib, and then letting him lay down himself instead of laying him down. As Aisha pointed out, it may not always work perfectly, yet it is working perfectly when you have faith in your child (and yourself) to handle the ups and downs of life.