Sunday, June 2, 2013

Tantrums: Am I Part of the Problem?

(Editor's note [the editor being, well, me]: for some reason, the working title of this post--which has taken me over two weeks to write--was "Raising Little Jerks." I can't remember why. I thought y'all would find that interesting.)

I know I've been MIA for a while. To be completely honest (like I'm ever not completely honest), I've been trying to wrap my head around something that is very troubling to me as a mother.

Most of my recent posts have been about the issues surrounding my little Pie (who just turned four) and his meltdowns. He, like me, has an intense and gregarious personality. And he, also like me, doesn't know how to rein it in much of the time. So he's still having tantrums--not only at home, but at school.

After a big internal struggle, I finally decided to take the advice of Pie's school counselor and an administrator, and consulted a child psychologist. When the school staff first broached the topic, I admit my first thoughts were that they wanted me to get a label slapped on my little guy ASAP so he could be held back, medicated, kicked out of school...or who knows what else. I had been thinking he may have a sensory processing issue or, again like me, be a Highly Sensitive Person. I thought I might be able to solve Pie's problems myself with positive parenting concepts or a "Caught Ya Being Good" jar.

As a mother, my number one priority is to never, ever, ever allow my children to feel misunderstood (untreated anxiety and clinical depression totally effed up my childhood). Now, I'm all about acknowledging every utterance that passes their lips, validating every feeling they have, struggling to understand, examine, and rectify any internal battle they may be fighting. My boys will not have their childhoods marred by an undiagnosed or misunderstood cognitive or brain chemistry issue. Period. End of story.

I had been researching attachment parenting/positive discipline and reading Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. I was really digging the "time in" concept and teaching coping skills rather than sending my preschoolers into exile and expecting them to figure out how to deal with their emotions by themselves. I wanted to make sure they knew that I understood what they were going through.

So sometimes when Pie would have a meltdown over not getting his way, Prickly Dad would scoop him up, march him upstairs, deposit him in his room, and shut the door. On some level I was all for this, but I could only hack about 20 minutes of screaming before I would want to swoop in and comfort him and try to validate his feelings. A lot of times I'd go into his room and hold him tightly and whisper soothing words until he calmed down. Sometimes we'd end up playing or reading a story.

I described my "method" to the psychologist (along with the reason I was so compelled to make sure the boys knew I understood their feelings). Long story short...she wondered if I was unintentionally rewarding Pie's behavior. She suggested I consider leaving him in his room and letting him ride it out (coincidentally, Pie's teacher had suggested a similar strategy and recommended I read Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood).

I'm not going to say I was devastated, but my core was was pretty shaken for the next several days. Could it be that my insistence on validating my boys' feelings was turning them into little monsters? Was I a failure as a mother? (The answer to that question is obviously no, as my own therapist helped me figure out a few days later. I'm big into catastrophizing, all-or-nothing thinking, and sundry other cognitive distortions).

Unfortunately, I don't have an ending, happy or otherwise, for this story right now. I finished reading the Love and Logic book, plan on reading another one, and realize in my heart that no matter what I do, my boys know that they are loved, valued, and respected. That's the best spin I can put on it while I figure out what to do about Pie's tantrums.

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  1. oh i totally feel for you. Goblin is throwing some mega tantrums at the moment - we have had a very challenging week - its been unusual in that Hublet and I have both been at home together so we've been able to both see the issues and discuss them and we concluded that he had just gone full on mental this week. Hoping it calms down when we get back to a regular routine next week.
    But the point you raise about which is better, putting them in their room to get it out of their system or sit and talk with them and try and calm them down is an interesting and really tough one. I have to admit my strategy is entirely based around me rather than Goblin. If i am calm enough then I will sit with him and i will cuddle him and try to sooth him and do the whole positive parenting thing. But if i am tired and grouchy and at the end of my tether then I send him to his room "until he calms down" which really means until i've calmed down. because I think its healthier for him not to be around me when I'm that cross with him. Some people would probably argue that the inconsistency in that is unhelpful, but there is consistency - its just based around me.
    How long will Pie go for if left on his own? Does he have stuff in his room to help him calm down, like a music player - I ask more out of interest because I have found I can't give Goblin much when he is having a fit because he throws and breaks stuff. People talk about calm down corners with sensory play materials - but their kids obviously don't get worked up in the same way as Goblin. He'd trash a calm down corner in two seconds flat.
    Sorry, I appear to have written an essay - your post just totally resonated with how I've been feeling this week. Thanks so much for being so open and sharing.

    1. Hi Monko! By the grace of God, Pie has never destroyed anything when we put him in his room (and there are dozens of books in there). I just have to thank my lucky stars for that. As I gear up to crack down on his tantrums, I'm going to make him a "mind jar" for his room and show him how to use his CD player (to listen to "Angry Octopus" and such).

      BTW, thanks for the essay. :) It WAS a full moon this past week, you know...maybe that had something to do with all these tantrums!

  2. I can completely relate. I'm going through very similar issues, except my "little" guy is 6 and not outgrowing these outbursts. I've started reading (and TRYING to follow the advice) of The Explosive Child. Some of the information is geared a bit more toward older children/teens. But I really like the Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) approach that it recommends that has you first validate the child's frustrations/emotions and ask the child to help come up with a solution. Obviously that's REALLY hard to do "in the moment," but it's not impossible and has really started to help. And it is really helpful for working on the problems/causes when we're not "in the moment." You should look into it! Hang in there, Mama!!

  3. Thanks for sharing and being so honest...i am going through the same thing with my twins at the moment and often questioning whether i shall make it through today and what approach is best to take!

  4. Oh my goodness, I must reach through my computer screen right this instant and give you a great big hug!!!


    Because I'm in the SAME boat as you with my 4 1/2 year old son. He started having these RAGE tantrums that will last up to 2 hours about a year ago and it is so difficult to understand and deal with.


    You and I are cut from the same cloth when it comes to validating feelings.

    AHHHH.....let's help each other :)

  5. Hi, PricklyMom! I know exactly what you're feeling. My girl will be 4 years old soon. So far, no problems, but she's been complaining of belly aches, etc. However, when she was nearing 2, she started having these tantrums that lasted forever, and were pretty bad. Maybe your son's 4 is my girl's 2? I think the reason for this is that she wanted to do and explain so much but lacked the words for it- maybe he has a similar develomental step where he is just figuring out to do some new things and it's frustrating him?YOu say he doesn't like transitions, but reaching a new develomental stage is a transition, too, isn't it? Another thing that comes to my mind: I don't think rewards and punishments work, but telling him your boudaries would- you may do the same thing like a time-out but not make it feel as punishment. In our case, time-outs resulted in fear and even worse tanrtums, so I stopped that. Time-ins work, and validating works for us, too. As for your son's behaviour at school, I want to share something that a fellow mom told me yesterday. Her son is gifted and has melt-dons when he's bored (ie. talking about anything else but computers, or reading books), he has terrible meltdowns. They enrolled him in a school for gifted children once a week, and he's trhiving.So, maybe he's bored at school? Good luck to you and your children in figuring this out, hope you'll find a solution!