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Did We Handle This Tantrum Well...Or Are We Making Things Worse?

(6 Posts)
MollyMurphy Thu 24-Jan-13 23:30:12

Our son is a lovely 2.4 year old. I want to strike a balance between a supportive parenting style whilst still having clear boundaries. When he tantrums I don't want to abandon him to being hysterical as I feel like he doesn't understand and loses the ability to calm down and needs support. I want to convey that I will not give in, but I am sorry your frustrated and I'm here to help you through these feelings kind of thing.

So our toddler had a major meltdown in the mall the other day. He was playing with a train table in a store. I warned him incrementally that we would be leaving in 10min, 5min, 2 min etc and when the time came tried to distract him with a snack in his pushchair but to no avail. Cue screaming and hitting.

1. My DH carried him out of the store but was getting hit in the head so I told him to put DS in a quiet corner (as much as is possible in a mall) as I felt we couldn't just ignore the hitting and allow it to continue.

2. My son was hysterical - truely screaming, banging his head occasionally, lying on the floor kicking. I got down on his level and advised him I'm sorry he is frustrated but we do not hit. I several times repeated what he wanted so he knew I understood and there wasn't a communication barrier - that I heard him (something I heard Harvey Karp recommend). I then rubbed him on the back and encouraged him to calm down, offered him a hug and more or less waited it out.

3. It took some time and several people felt the need to make bone-head comments as they passed us which was embarassing. We finally were able to distract him to a degree and continued walking.

I guess I just wonder if this is what other people do at this age. I could see people criticizing me for paying him attention and thereby extending the length of the tantrum but then how can I play that supportive role if ignoring IYKWIM?

Thoughts or strategy suggestions?

BertieBotts Thu 24-Jan-13 23:50:44

This is what I used to do and still do to some extent (DS is four now) - you say you counted down incrementally with him. He will have no concept of what "ten minutes" is let alone that it's longer than "two minutes" (And I bet you use the colloquialism "In a minute/I'll just be a minute" too to mean a short time probably longer than one minute - confusing when you think about it!) - basically, this is pointless as what you intend as a clear warning is total gobbledygook for him and being taken away from what he is playing with comes as a total shock. (Also has the annoying side effect that he eventually realises that "In X minutes" means "You're going to have to stop what you're doing at some random time quite soon" and leads to an instant tantrum!)

What would be better is counting the time in something that he understands, so you speak to him and tell him that you have to leave soon, and tell him where you are going next. If you like, emphasise some fun thing about what's happening next, riding in the car, seeing Daddy at home, having a snack, etc. Toddlers like to know what is happening, it helps them feel secure. Explain to him that he will have to hold hands, go in the pushchair, go in his car seat (whatever you usually have trouble with him agreeing to) when X happens. Sometimes just the prior warning is enough for them to agree without a fight.

Then give him a concrete marker for time that he will understand - for example, say he can push the train around the track three more times and then it is time to go. If he can't count very well yet, then count with him three times. But explain before he does the three times, that after those three times, it's time to get into the pushchair. You can work choice into it too if the choice is not overwhelming or you think it will be quick. So at the park, you could say it's nearly time to go home, you have time for one more thing. Slide or swings?

When that's over then (hopefully!) he understands that it's time and comes along without a fuss. If not, then you remind him that the train has gone round three times now, and it's time to go. Remove by carrying if necessary. You can validate his feelings and help him feel heard - say I know you feel sad. You wish you could stay and play with the trains. It would be fun if we could play with trains all day. It's okay to be sad about that. Just matter of factly, because remember that a tantrum is just him being overwhelmed by "big feelings" and he should come out of it, but I don't think it's wrong to strap them into a pushchair if you can't trust them to walk safely.

Some people believe that any kind of attention is wrong during a tantrum. Others don't. (I don't). However you'll get to know your own child and whether they're being helped by the attention or whether it winds them up more. Whatever you choose you'll have people who disagree so to an extent you have to pick your strategy and stick to it, ignoring any comments. People do like to comment on things that are none of their business, especially for some reason when you're a parent!

MollyMurphy Fri 25-Jan-13 00:15:29

Thank you Berttie for the thoughtful post.

You make a very good point about the time countdown - what is 10min to a toddler?! blush We have the same intention of preparing him for what is coming but your strategy makes much more sense - "3 times around the track or one more slide"...far more age appropriate.

What I find is when he really kicks off I can't myself get him in his pushchair (though at the moment I am very pregant so that doesn't help). So I feel like I have to put him to the side and deal with it on site.

I feel very strongly about this concept of not leaving him to tantrum alone but its very different from how I was raised so I sometimes worry we are being to soft or are encouraging a given behaviour. Its tricky this toddler parenting! They really are so young even though they have come so far. Its easy to second guess ones self.

Firsttimer7259 Fri 25-Jan-13 09:44:28

My DD has SN and tantrums often. When she is like that contact with us makes it worse, so I put her somewhere safe with something to bite and allow her to calm down (biting helps her calm down). I go back at regular intervals to see if contact from me makes it better, if not I tell her Im giving her space and leave again. I try to show her Im there for her if she needs me and thats helpful to her but also allow her to express this rage she's in until she's done with it. When shes calm and able to respond again there are cuddles, iften initiated by her - like shes grateful. I also say things like 'feel better now'. I find it v hard to leave her when shes like this as I want to comfort and reassure but I do notice physical contact makes it worse and so this is the best way. Im often in her room with her as she does this, just not interfering with her. I might validate her by saying DD is upset or DD is angry. Its hard to do in public as people tsk at us.
Do make sure comforting isnt winding your child up. I do stop her from hurting herself - head banging, biting herself. I give her something to bite and say bit this not your arm, or dont hurt yourself. She is slowly growing out of this.
I think the setting time slots a toddler can understand as above is good too in terms of preventing tantrums but it seems like some tantrums are about expressing anger and upset and they just have to let it out.

BertieBotts Fri 25-Jan-13 19:14:58

I think your approach sounds like a good balance. Ignore the tutters! FWIW I don't think you're encouraging anything bad by being present with him - I'm sure you give him attention at other times too, so it's not like he's learning that it's a good way to get attention - he presumably knows plenty of good ways to get your attention which don't hurt your ears! And it's not like you'd say "Oh darling I had no idea you felt so strongly about this, let's not leave, let's just stay here" - you're sticking to the original plan, and he might be upset about that and it's okay for him to express that, but it's still happening.

By letting him express the upset you're teaching him that it's not an awful thing to be upset and that it happens and it's okay. When he gets a bit older you can work on less annoying ways of expressing upset/anger/whatever, and of course as he gets older he'll start to develop a sense of what is important and what isn't - toddlers don't have that so they will react in the same way whether their biscuit has broken, or they've lost their mum in the supermarket. Everything is the end of the world!

CubsMummy Fri 25-Jan-13 19:24:40

I think your response was textbook. My DD is ferocious in her tantrums and only at 4 are they now reducing in strength. We always set the boundaries and stick to them (like you did, with hitting not acceptable). Then we do the countdown (like you) and then remove her bodily if she won't come quietly.
Unfortunately she is an extrovert with a strong personality, so we've had some spectacular tantrums in very public places.
Some people are so rude and clearly never had normal children to raise!
Keep strong, firm but fair like you are doing and your DS will grow up perfectly normal.

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