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Attachment Parenting and Tantrums: How do they mix?

(24 Posts)
RoRoMommy Wed 09-Jul-08 20:30:12

Hello everyone, and thanks in advance for any advice.

My lovely 15 m.o. DS has just started throwing temper tantrums when he doesn't get what he wants. Sometimes what he wants is unclear, and he gets frustrated that we can't understand him. Sometimes what he wants is dangerous or fragile, and he cannot have it. Sometimes it's me, and I am leaving for work or trying to cook dinner, etc. You get the picture, and I am sure many of you have gone through this before.

He starts with a little whining, which quickly escalates into screaming and then crying. Mostly crocodile tears, but if he's left to kick up a fit he'll have some real tears.

We have been practicing attachment parenting up to now, so responding to his cues consistently. In a way I see his behavior as another cue, that is, a signal that he wants something, and I want to respond. But I can also see the position (of my DH and mum), that giving positive reinforcement to this behavior is a bad thing, because it will encourage him to express his desires in this way. The other factor is that he is pre-verbal, so he can't exactly tell us what he wants, which I can understand would be very frustrating.

Could other attachment parents weigh in on this? What's worked? What hasn't?

Thanks in advance.

gingerninja Wed 09-Jul-08 20:34:05

Hello RoRo!
Hope you're well, I'd be interested in your responses as my DD is a tantrum queen at the moment and I'm struggling to be consistent. I'd love to be AP'like and feel like I really need some guidance on how to handle them because at the moment I'm flailing around not knowing how to handle her. She definately doesn't respond to no at the moment so I need to be more imaginative.

PhDlifeNeedsaNewLife Wed 09-Jul-08 20:37:23

can't help. Ds's tears when deprived of what he wants are so crocodile-like he can barely squeeze them out. More serious tantrums so far averted by fairly simple distraction. Realise this won't last...


RoRoMommy Wed 09-Jul-08 21:30:44

Crap! Looks like we've got lots of problem and not a lot of solution so far...

Hi Ginger! Great to hear from you, but sorry you're having trouble. Remind me how old your DD is? Do you have any new photos?

PhD, we seem to be sharing the same threads these old is your DS?

gingerninja Thu 10-Jul-08 10:04:03

She's 22 months, her final molars are on the way I think which might explain her general irritability at the moment but it's mainly a communication thing I think. She has a pretty good vocabulary which is why I get frustrated that she chooses to whine and throw tantrums. Ho Hum

FWIW, I don't think responding to him or talking to him while he's having a tantrum is setting yourself up or in fact reinforcing his behaviour. If my DD has a tantrum I always try and kiss and cuddle her afterwards because I know how I feel when I'm not being listened to or over-rulled. You can start to explan to him that getting cross won't help (not that he'll understand his emotions yet) If you gave into an unreasonable demand because of the tantrum then yes, I'd say that was probably something that needs addressing.

The problem I have is that when I'm tired I'm irritable so am much less patient and less likely to deal with her tantrums calmly.

HaventSleptForAYear Thu 10-Jul-08 10:10:59

There's some interesting stuff in "how to talk so kids will listen..."

I try to apply it to DS2 who does not talk at all (18mths) but who may/may not understand what I'm going on about it.

I think the gist is to acknowledge their feelings 1st and foremost to defuse the moment (works well with 3.5 yr old).

So DS2 is in melt-down because I picked up the chicken-bucket (or was it because I picked it up in the wrong way???? grin)

I say, "oh, you are cross now because mummy picked up the bucket, you wanted to do it" ad nauseum.

Acknowledging their feelings, but then letting them get on with expressing them (ie not interfering after that or necessarily "giving in".).

HTH a bit - can give more details of book if you don't know it.

willweeversell Thu 10-Jul-08 10:26:42

I am not terribly knowledgable on AP but have read a little about it and have probably been 'practising' it without realising as it felt the most natural and happy way to do things.

My Ds (21mo) is also very tantrum-ey at the moment, a complete turnaround from his disposition to date. I put it down to his beginning to know his own mind much more but not be able to express himself (he only has single words and isnt always that consistent in using them!). hence its not unusual for him to have numerous tantrums in a day [sigh]

What feels right to me is to acknowledge him when he begins to get upset, get down n his level, ask him whats wrong and try my best to work it out, helping him to achieve what he is trying to achieve if its safe/practicle. if not then explaining that and ffering an alternative. Obviously a lot of the time he can't have what he wants and thinks the alternatives are naff lol!! If he then goes into full blown tantrum I just calmly say ' "oh dear (name) i'm sorry you are feeling upset, mummy will just go and do X and come and let me know when you are feeling ok again". Always a kiss and cuddle when he is calmer again. I feel this is responding to him in a kind and attentive way but not actively re-inforcing the tantrum, which is not going to be helpful for him long term.

Thats just my way, I think you can practise Ap but still be firm and set boundaries. x

CaptainKarvol Thu 10-Jul-08 10:28:22

I haven't got anything as wonderful as a solution (as if!) but with DS (2.4) I have been a very AP type right from the beginning. I didn't like much of the book 'the science of parenting', but I did think she was quite sensible on tantrums so I do a lot of what was suggested in the book. When DS tantrums I have been acknowledging his feelings, being as consistent as possible and offering alternatives wherever I can.

I give big cuddles when he has calmed down a bit, too. I've had to discuss this with DH, who started off telling me I was rewarding DS for being stroppy. As I see it, DS was out of control and scared, and needed a cuddle once he had calmed down again.

I also ignore tantruming if I can, just chipping in with a comment about how I can see he is very cross. And when I need to, I just get on with doing what I have to while he creates - particularly thinking of getting him dressed here! Oh, and I still end up thinking after all has calmed down, 'oh, you were hungry / thirsty / tired' which must have been part of the cause about 90% of the time. And I never think of it first, always last. Dur.

sfxmum Thu 10-Jul-08 10:34:58

what I find is that tantrums are part of their development and they will happen for a variety of reasons.
being aware of triggers, anticipating problems , watching out for tiredness and other discomforts, providing distractions and acknowledging feelings as well as providing safe boundaries all help
we can be tired ourselves and less able to spot 'trouble' and miss cues.
still I think that a child who is secure and happy deals with frustrations much better and tantrums are short lived.

sometimes when I respond less than adequately I find it easier to just step back take a deep breath and start again calmly, it can be time consuming but I think it works in the long run.

sorry if not very helpful I know there are no easy answers but plenty of sympathy

Lovage Thu 10-Jul-08 10:54:12

What others have said - I verbalise what I think he's feeling (you're angry because mummy won't let you have the x, you're upset because the [rule of physics is thwarting you]', get down to his level, touch and hug him if he's up for it (which he isn't always if it's me he's cross with). And then try to either find a solution that's acceptable to both of us (asking myself 'does it really matter if he does x?') or if not, distract. If I can't work out what he's upset about I just comfort him and ask him what the matter is. As he's getting older (nearly 2 now) he can nearly always indicate what the matter is, even if he can't say it, so that bit does get easier, IME.

The AP type book I found really useful on this was 'Unconditional Parenting' by Alfie Kohn. It's even more useful as they get older, but I think I read it when DS was about 12 months and starting to assert his will and it really helped me think about my long term goals in terms of 'discipline'. I really don't buy the 'you're rewarding them for a tantrum' by hugging them thing. Unless you never hug them at other times maybe! It must feel awful to be so wound up and unhappy and when he's feeling awful I want to hug him (as long as he wants to be hugged).

cupsoftea Thu 10-Jul-08 10:56:19

ask him to show you what he wants but think if you where in his shoes what the matter could be. Also distraction works to get him to move onto something else

Kewcumber Thu 10-Jul-08 11:04:25

If DS is really having a screaming hissy fit (ie past resonaing) I find hugging him works very well until he calms down. I thinkhe finds it quite scary losing control and frigthens himself a bit.

All the ususal caveats apply - tantrums far far more common when tired, distraction works OK if not too tired/too determined. Pre-verbal is a very frustrating age for many children - you might want to consider doing some signing - I didn't try it and wish I had because DS remained pre-verbal for quite a lot longer than I had expected.

I try not to say no much (ha ha ha!) - this morning I needed to borrow DS's Thomas swimming bag to take my lunch into work blush, he spotted me putting my lunch in it and immediately started shouting "my bag, my bag", "can mummy borrow it?" met with pre tantrum reaction so I switched to "yes it is your bag" "its a nice bag isn't it" "mummy bought you think bag" All of which he couldn't really disagree with. Bag was safely stashed n the car and tantrum diverted.

Big caveat though - I am only a semi-attached parent (can you be fully atatched and work 4 day?!) and I haven't read ANY books on it.

Kewcumber Thu 10-Jul-08 11:05:53

I also do beleive in sometimes letting him have what he wants. No reason why I should always "win" and sometimes my reasons for not giving him something are a bit flimsy when I think about it. I do try to let him win a negotiation then rather than just giving in IYSWIM.

RoRoMommy Thu 10-Jul-08 14:56:21

Wow, this is all really helpful! I will look into the books you've mentioned, and try to "stay on his level", look him in the eye, ask him what's wrong, not give in too much but let him have his way sometimes, hug him lots afterward, and watch out for tantrum triggers like fatigue, hunger, boredom...oh, and will try to teach him more signs than just "milk".

...I am starting to feel like having a tiny baby was a lot easier than I thought it was at the time! But he's much more fun now, tantrums aside.

This has been really helpful, thanks everyone!

gingerninja Thu 10-Jul-08 15:13:27

RoRo, that probably sums up how my DH should deal with me so I'll show him this thread. grin

RoRoMommy Thu 10-Jul-08 15:15:02

That's awesome. You're exactly right. Must pass on to my DH as really does describe my behavior at times, esp the tired hungry thing. So I wonder where he gets it...

But surely you know more signs than just milk!

witchandchips Thu 10-Jul-08 15:27:21

Ignore tears + shouts, if it is something silly like the red cup rather than the blue, say in a calm voice "do you want the red cup instead?" wait for them to nod "well stop crying/come and give me a hug/say please/ask for it a nice voice - depending on how verbal they are"

if it is something they can't have start reading out a book that they like or start playing with something they like doing within sight but definately away from them. Chances are they will calm down and join you

btw in the post verbal stage i find catching the nice voice before it runs out of the door a handy distracting technique!

onwardandupward Thu 10-Jul-08 17:47:50

I have found it really helpful NOT to think of "tantrums" or "melt downs" or "kicking off". Because to me they are all ways of saying "my child is being completely unreasonable". Not saying that's what it means when other people say those words, but that's where my mind goes if I use those kinds of terms. And it almost certainly isn't that they are just being a little monster. It's almost certainly that they want something but they don't have the words to explain it, or it's actually impossible, or these big stupid adults just don't GET it. Imagine the child as adult mentally capable but seriously physically disabled and without one of those Stephen Hawking vocalisers, trying to ask for a cup of tea and being brought the notepad by the kettle, the kettle itself, and finally, with a flourish, a cup of coffee... I'd be screaming with frustration too, in their shoes.

Heading off an upset at the pass is really important. Showing you are doing your best to solve the problem which, if you are drawing a complete blank, can turn into doing something even more fun than whatever mysterious thing it was they were after in the first place. "you want the blue cup? You want the red cup? You want me to wear both the cups on my ears and make a funny face?" Really listening, really watching their cues for what it might be that they are after.

Avoiding the big triggers. If Mummy going to work is awful, but Mummy not being here because she's at work is fine, then maybe get child set up with whoever is looking after them and slip off when they are engrossed. Introduce the "goodbye" scenario at times when you have no clock pressure and can easily say "ok! I'll stay!" or "here I am again!" in just a few seconds. I think that's just a matter of finding ways to keep everyone happy until child is developmentally ready to cope with partings.

Making your house truly child friendly. Just don't have fragile things around, except in the attic. We've had years now of disposable plastic cups rather than glasses (though to be honest that was more about the rate with which I would inadvertently drop them rather than starting off as a child safety feature). Charity shop china - doesn't matter if bits get dropped. Having a towel or blanket on the floor if there are things you would rather weren't smashed. I always think it's better to discipline your environment rather than a small child... and when out and about, this would be about the age to be saying "I'm so sorry, sweetie, but that's not ours, so we have to leave it alone". And avoiding china shops.

And yes, all the things people have said upthread about comforting when the frustration does get all too much. I'm trying to imagine going to someone I really loved and bursting into tears because something really disappointing had happened, and having them turn their backs and walk away rather than giving me a big hug. sad Perhaps explaining it to your OH and mother in those terms will help them to understand why it's important to comfort. I don't believe there is such a thing as a naughty 15 month old. Or a manipulative one. [braces self for onslaught]

onwardandupward Thu 10-Jul-08 18:01:22

I blogged about tantrums ages ago. Pretty much from an AP perspective, actually. Some of what I just said in that marathon post is echoed there, but it's perhaps expressed more clearly...


Skimty Thu 10-Jul-08 19:00:28

I'm no expert but I think the naming the emotion thing is useful. DS (22mo)told me this morning that he was 'a bit cross' and this seemed to help. It's also useful if you name your emotions - 'Mummy's feeling a bit cross at the moment etc.'

I also only have a few ground rules which are rigourously enforced but I pick my battles in other areas.

(I sound like I've got it sorted but I really haven't)

Skimty Thu 10-Jul-08 19:01:36

We're not all cross in our house either!

thehouseofmirth Thu 10-Jul-08 20:39:57

Haven't had time to read other posts so sorry if this is a repeat but you might find this useful. Also do you have a copy of The Science of Parenting by Margot Sutherland? It's a brilliant practical book which offers scientific back up to AP theories and practice. It has useful stuff on tantrums.

RoRoMommy Fri 11-Jul-08 11:13:05

That's great. Onward, I have the same feelings about kids not being manipulative at this age, and certainly not little monsters. My feeling is that, whether he wants the blue cup or he wants me, if I can give it to him at that moment I will (unless there is some other reason that I cannot, i.e., the blue cup has a hot liquid in it, or I am late for work).

The mommy trigger is probably the most difficult these days. This morning he had three separate meltdowns from being taken from the room I was in so I could get on with it. First, when he had just woken up and literally had to be pulled off of the boob to be taken from the room by my mum (he'd been on the boob for probably an hour by that time, definitely sucking for comfort); I explained to him prior to removal that mommy had to get ready for work, and nana wanted to have breakfast with him, and would he like to go downstairs and play with his toys (cue vigorous head-shaking "no" with my boob in his mouth). She had to take him, he had a meltdown, but within ten minutes of being downstairs and eating brekkie and playing with his toys he was fine.

Cue meltdown number two when I went downstairs to get coffee and something to eat before getting in the shower--he saw me, wanted to be picked up, and wanted some boob. So, we sat on the couch and had some boob, then he wanted to walk down the street for a little while. So, we went for a little walk. Then I had to carry him back kicking and screaming to my mum so I could go upstairs and get in the shower.

Meltdown number three came shortly before I could actually get in the shower because he had a poopy diaper and my mum was otherwise occupied so I changed it. Then she came in to get him when I was finished. He screamed and cried as she took him from the room. But I was finally able to get in the shower, though as I was getting dressed I could hear him banging on the stair safety gate and saying mama, mama.

So I can see the value of setting him up to play and leaving quietly because he seems okay if I am not there. OTOH, I like to spend time with him in the morning (I loved taking a little walk with him, and having some quiet boob time), and I try to spend every moment with him that I can.

But this morning's meltdown marathon made me question being a WOHM altogether even though I love my job and in this economy couldn't do any better, and if I quit and was a SAHM our standard of living would plummet, so it's not really a practical option. Still, seeing him in such a state made me consider it.

What we're doing now is having him come with me to the bus (my mum walks him in the pram), so he sees mommy get on the big red bus and I wave from the door. He gets very quiet and subdued on these journeys, so I wonder if they're really a great idea after all. My only reservation with the leaving while he's otherwise engaged solution is that I've read in my AP materials that not saying goodbye so they can see you leave will make them insecure everytime you're not in the room because they won't know whether you're gone or just in another room, iyswim.

Talk about marathon posts. Obviously needed to get some stuff off of my chest! Thanks everyone for the great source materials and useful advice. If anyone has any other thoughts after my rant above, I'd be so happy to hear them.

onwardandupward Fri 11-Jul-08 16:45:46

These morning meltdowns sound really hard. Depending on your relationship with your mum, how about having her playing with your son in the room where you are showering/dressing?

There's lots of structural things, I think, about how you schedule what you do when - if he's in another room happily playing, then you maybe have the shower while the going is good and buy a coffee and something to eat on the way to work or something.

I certainly know working parents who have perfected the art of a quick silent exit when the moment is right, with very small children. Not sure about that insecure thing - you may well be right. I've been thinking about it from a best-fit-for-now-solution point of view rather than thinking about longer term possible consequences.

Perhaps do a lot of working on goodbyes and hellos with less important people, and teddies, and lots of peekaboo games and then more hide and seeky games so he builds up the idea of people going and coming back without it being the boobs which are going, necessarily?

Could you be a WAHM? Or sometimes a WAHM? Depends on the job type of course...

With some children, it works really well for Mummy to take them to the office, and then whoever it is comes and takes them somewhere fun, like the park. Or even for you to be at home and for your mum to come and take him on an adventure - it's often easier to be the person who is leaving rather than the person who is being left.

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