The otherwise adorable toddler stage is when temper tantrums are most likely to begin. The best way to handle one, although it may be the hardest thing to do, is ignore it. (The same holds true for husbands.) There were many times when I sat, pretending to read a book, hands clamped white-knuckled and teeth clenched, to show the screaming mass I was unimpressed with such fireworks. With older children I put them in their rooms until they were “able to be around people again.”
One of reasons they throw tantrums is to get attention, or to manipulate their parents. If they see it’s not working, eventually they stop. Now this “eventually” may take several months or even years, but it will happen. Of course the worst is when they try this stunt in public where they know it will be most effective. Children are great little blackmailers, knowing you probably won’t destroy them (or even ignore them) in front of all those other people.
On one occasion I took the screaming child out to the car, leaving a half-filled grocery cart. I strapped her into her seat and pretended to read, completely unimpressed, until she screamed herself out. When we returned to the store, she was so exhausted she fell asleep with her head on the cart handle, which I had cushioned with a package of hamburger buns. If an explosion does occur in public, it’s best to leave the area. If possible go somewhere private, like the car, and let them wear themselves out where the whole world won’t witness what a terrible mother you are. I have to say from personal experience that yelling at them and spanking them, which is your natural reaction, does not help and will probably make things worse.
Tantrums often occur when children are tired or hungry, so be aware what triggers that behavior and try to head it off beforehand. For example, it’s not a good idea to go shopping during nap times or before lunch or dinner.
I used to think that one of my strong-willed daughters wanted things more intensely than I didn’t want her to have them, and sometimes she just wore me down. To this day my grown-up daughter says, “I remember standing at the door and screaming at you because you wouldn’t take me with you. I felt so frustrated I could have died because obviously you just didn’t understand that I had to go.” What they cannot grasp is that you understood perfectly, but were saying NO!
Sometimes tantrums may be a serious bid for attention. One of my daughters started having significant ones at twenty months, when her brother was born. I had the feeling she found having a younger sibling really traumatic. Again, tantrums could be a wake-up call telling us to pay more attention to the poor kid. However you handle these outbursts of temper, it’s important to show an increase of love afterwards because both parent and child need to reaffirm their affection for each other.
Children usually get over the inclination for these demonstrations by age five and often long before. Some mellow kids never have them at all. Of our nine children, only three were tantrum-prone. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky mothers who won’t ever experience one.
On the other side of tantrums, whining drove me crazy. Maybe it doesn’t bother anyone else as much as it bothered me, but I couldn’t stand it! I’d almost rather have a screaming child than a whining one. Recently I commented how grateful I was that my kids didn’t whine, when my oldest daughter said, “Mom, it’s not that we didn’t try. I remember whining about something and you sat down, picked up your book and said, ‘I can’t hear people who whine. When you talk to me in a regular voice, I’ll listen.’” She said she remembers trying very hard to make her voice sound “regular,” and when it did I gave her what she asked for.
Next time: Lighten up and Enjoy Them