Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Taming Tantrums

Over a month ago I told you how I was at a loss regarding Little C's behavior. He was a tantruming fool and Hubs and I were at our wits end. We knew something had to change but we weren't sure where to start.

While at an appointment for P-Nut, our Pediatrician asked how C was doing. When we shared with her the behavior we had been experiencing (which was all completely standard toddler behavior) she recommended a book called 1-2-3 Magic.

Guys, I'm telling you it was a game changer!

The premise of the book is simple and you've probably even heard it before. Maybe your parents used it on you. You know, "you have until I count to three to stop doing that or else..."

According to the author, we have three jobs as parents. Job #1 involves controlling obnoxious behavior, Job #2 involves encouraging good behaviour and Job #3 involves strengthening your relationship with your child.

The obnoxious behavior they refer to as "stop behavior." This consists of:
  • whining
  • teasing
  • arguing
  • pouting
  • yelling
  • tantrums
  • etc.
Basically the things that your toddler shouldn't be doing are the behaviors you want to "count." For example, Little C has started to climb on anything and everything. Once I see him starting to mount the coffee table I will say, "that's 1." I won't start explaining what he's doing wrong or why he shouldn't be doing it. The idea is they are smart enough to know and they are also able to make a good decision for themselves.

In typical toddler fashion C will just look at me and continue right on climbing onto the table with a smirk on his face because he knows he shouldn't be doing it. At this time I calmly say, "that's 2." Hopefully this would be the end of the climbing for a child that is used to this system and in a perfect world you wouldn't have even needed the second count. But this is the real world and instead C ignores his first two chances to correct the behavior and is now completely on top of the table. At this point I say, "that's 3, take 5" and he is escorted to his room.

His timeout doesn't last for more than a couple of minutes but it was long enough for him to understand that climbing on the table is not allowed and will result in a "take 5."

As I mentioned in my scenario I didn't bother explaining to C what he was doing wrong or why he shouldn't be climbing on the table. The book explains that using too many words and reason when dealing with a toddler will get you nowhere. They call it the Little Adult Assumption. This means that we talk to our toddler like they are a small adult and that they have the capability to be reasoned with. The truth is simply that a toddler cannot be reasoned with. It does not mean they aren't smart, it simply means they don't hold the capacity to understand what we need them to.

As adults we instinctively want to explain things to our toddlers so breaking this pattern has been the biggest challenge for the Hubs and I. This method is designed to give the parents the control when stopping bad behavior but also gives the child the power to make a good decision for themselves. And trusting that a 2 year old is capable of making such decisions is also a big step to take. But I assure you, they are capable.

This is all pretty basic and I'm sure you've heard most of it before. At this point you may be wondering where the so-called "magic" comes to play. The "magic" occurs when your toddler responds to this for the first time. When you say, "that's 2" and he instantly stops doing whatever it is you need him to stop doing. He doesn't fuss, he doesn't cry, and most certainly does NOT throw a tantrum. He simply stops and goes on about his business. That, my friends, is magic as far as I'm concerned.

You've just told your toddler he can't have a snack before dinner and he instantly throws himself on the floor kicking and screaming. You say, "that's 1." He then stops with the antics, picks himself up off the floor and everyone carries on as they should. Pure. Magic. ;)

Now the premise is simple but the hard part lies in all the grey. Knowing when to count, agreeing with your spouse on what behavior should be counted, following the no talking and no emotion rule. It can all get tricky. That is why it takes a good deal of consistency as well as commitment from both parents.

There are times when I'm starting to lose my shit and I want to snap at C and explain to him why what he is doing is wrong. I want him to understand what I'm saying and I want him to say, "okay, mama. I get it." But when all I get back are blank stares and he just keeps on doing what he's doing or even worse says, "NO" when I ask him to stop... I get even more upset and now we are on the verge of an adult tantrum as well as a toddler's. These are the moments I rely on Hubs to remind me not to even waste my breath. He reminds me to count Little C then remove him when he reaches three. Then I have time to cool off, C has time to cool off and we can all go back to whatever it was we were doing. I've done the same for Hubs and although at the moment we may shoot each other an icy glare because we are already upset about what is going on, we then realize the other person is just trying to help.

Then there are the times when one parent feels like they are handling the situation and maybe the other parent is coming in late or had just been sitting there quietly until they feel necessary to jump in and now the toddler isn't sure who to listen to. Or the times when one parent doesn't feel that the toddler is necessarily doing something that needs to be counted when the other person does.

See what I mean? A lot of grey. But as long as you and your spouse communicate as much as possible most of these instances rarely occur and it can be as simple as it is intended. It really does work, or at least it has for us.

My primary recommendation to anyone that is feeling as overwhelmed by the tantrums and at their wits end like we were, is to seek help. Of course you don't need a book, a class, online research or anything similar to help raise your kids. Of course you are capable of figuring things out. But if those resources exist and you really are at a loss, then what is the harm is seeking out something that might be a good fit for your family AND might actually work?

I also want to say that this would not have been as successful for us if both Hubs and I hadn't been dedicated to giving it a shot. In fact we both read the book and would then talk about what we read and how we were going to apply it. That may sound ridiculous but when it comes to discipline it is so important to be on the same page as your spouse. Also, children and especially toddlers, thrive on consistency and routines so all the more reason having two parents on the same page is very important.

Bottom line, you don't have to feel helpless any longer. Give this a try or if it isn't for you at least find something that can help and can bring order and happiness back into your daily lives. It isn't all sunshine and roses all day every day but at least when you are armed with resources and guidance you can feel less helpless and more empowered and in control.

Good luck!

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