Friday, March 7, 2014

Temper tantrums

I remember throwing temper tantrums when I was little. I have learned to control my temper and I expect most children do the same in time.  However, I am surprised by the attitude I see among parents who are told they are not supposed to shorten the tantrum of their child, and that it's good to let them cry, to put themselves to sleep, etc.  I agree that it makes children easier to manage on a short term basis, but as a parent I worry more about long-term consequences than about my short-term well being. My instinct tells me it's wrong to let a child cry or let him be unhappy if I can help it, and I see no reason to ignore this instinct. 

Is it good to ignore an angry child - especially in the first few years before they can communicate well? does it make them feel unwanted? unloved? what if the tantrum happens because they are sick or tired or hungry and cannot communicate that to me? is it not 'my job' as a parent to try figure out what is wrong vs. just ignore my child? 

What do I do then? 
I first try tell or show them something interesting that draws their attention.  Its success depends on how well my imagination/brain functions at the time, and of how willing they are to accept an alternative solution. The latter part depends on the cause of the temper tantrum. Also, I dislike lying - so what I tell my child is usually something that I think is true.

I try to remember there are times when it does not matter who is right or who is wrong. This is often hard to do. For example, it is very annoying if children do not eat when the food ready. However, this may just mean they are not hungry enough now and prefer to eat in an hour from now, which is unpleasant but not the end of the world.

I sometimes compromise, sometimes distract them with things they can do that are useful (most children love to help) or just try prevent tantrums by avoiding things that are known to obviously cause them like a trip to the store. If I was in the store, and Edward wanted a particular object I would get it if I did not have a strong objection against it. If I object, which is more often than not the case, we discuss my objection and I try to persuade him that I am right. Sometimes we end up buying a different object that I think is more useful/fun. It helps to get them involved in the shopping, e.g., the child/children put(s) the fruits and vegetables in the cart.

 Should this happen?  I think it's normal to want things, and to go through a negotiation process to get some of the things we want. I  did not ask my parents for toys at their age because I was more interested in observing live things like chickens or dogs and also because there weren't many toys available in Communist Romania. Here we rent. There are plenty of tempting toys and we don't have pets so far. We are lucky that the stores in Switzerland have repetitive and unimaginative enough merchandise that by now (we've been here for two years) we have had most of the toys they wanted from the grocery store. They only have a few toys that stay the same all year round. So, visiting the store is less complicated now.

From time to time I bribe my son (I am not proud of this, but it sometimes works). e.g., IF you stop crying now you will get a candy. It only works if they do not usually get candy and so I try to do this only rarely.

Once they are older, sending them to their room can work. I have tried this a few times.

I try hard to keep calm and behave as the adult. This is bound to be very hard at times. My mother always tells the Robert be calm joke: A man walks on the street pushing a crying child in a stroller and repeating "Robert be calm. Robert be calm. Robert be calm. Robert be calm". An outraged woman stops and tells him "How can you ask a child so young to be calm? He cannot understand you." The man replies: "Madame, I am Robert".

Needless to say I am not an authority in parenting and never will be. These are just some observations. In general, I try to behave naturally around children and not stress them out or myself too much.

I believe that temper tantrums are related to being stubborn, a bit of a perfectionist, and also that in those moments the child sees only what he wants while everything else disappears. When someone is angry or upset (adult or child) their whole "horizon" collapses to a point of interest or distress and they miss seeing anything else. One cannot easily stop this horizon shrinking. OK, sometimes, it is best to wait for the moment to pass mostly on its own. However, I think it's never good to argue in such moments whether the angry person is an adult or a child or to try to teach them who is the boss lesson. Discussions should be had a little later on when everybody has calmed down.

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