Tantrums and how to deal with them
My heading hints that I actually know what I'm talking about! Perhaps I now know more than I used to, but I frequently feel I know nothing at all.
A few months ago, I had nothing to do for the tantrums except to pick him up under one arm or over one shoulder, take him to where I wanted him to be, let him scream and cry for up to half an hour to get him tired, and then go in and try to hold him to calm him down.
This could take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, and always involved a tricky period where if I moved or did anything differently he would restart the whole tantrum over again.
I brought a lot of tantrums on myself. I would be determined that he should wear the shirt/eat the food/ do the thing I had chosen, and it became a battle of wills - which I lost, time after time!
My attitude was: well, he has to learn, and if it takes tantrums to learn, well, so be it.
Then I found the book 'The Explosive Child' by Ross Greene which changed a lot of my thinking.
One of the main shifts was working out what was worth having a tantrum over. Greene advocates a 'three basket' approach.
Basket A is for the things which are truly necessary or else the child will die or self-harm. For example, you must enforce that the child shall not run on the road.
Basket B is for the things that are important right now and that the child is able to handle and learn.
Basket C is for the things that are not important right now. If you have a battle of wills and a tantrum over these things, it is a waste of everyone's time and energy.
For us, the things that went in Basket A were pretty easy to sort out. Then it was a matter of looking at our lives and sorting out what was important now, and what was not important now.
Basket C contains those things which in normal circumstances I would require of my child, but which I know Bright Eyes is incapable (at the moment) of doing. It currently contains, amongst other things:
- what Bright Eyes wears in general and who chooses it.
- what he eats in general.
- which door he gets out of the car and how many buttons he presses on the dashboard on the way out. (Obviously, I keep him safe...)
- Many age-appropriate chores such as cleaning up his room, making his bed etc which I might expect of another child.
- answering questions other people ask him which may be too complex for him.
- sitting up for meals at other people's houses.
A few things have recently moved to Basket B. This is because I know now that he can manage to do these things, and he gets plenty of positive feedback for them. Currently in Basket B are, amongst other things:
- wearing a hat at preschool.
- saying please, thankyou, hello and goodbye to people
- answering my simple questions.
- sitting at the table for at least two minutes at meals at home
- being dressed, with socks and shoes on when necessary.
Toileting is hovering between Baskets C and B at the moment. I know he can do it, but I don't push it if he shows reluctance. I do keep giving positive feedback for what he does do.
The book emphasises not trying to control a child, but trying to teach them how to control themselves. It can be a long road for tired parents and frustrated children, but it is a much better approach in the long run than simply 'requiring' certain behaviours, which a child may not be able to perform.