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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tantruming - I've Been Doing It Wrong

You know how the most obvious rule for getting a well-behaved toddler is to say something and then follow through with it? Apparently it's more difficult than I previously thought, since I had assumed I was doing it, and I was not.

I was following an old model. A model for babies. Not for toddlers. I was, in essence, teaching my kids to tantrum. Way to go, me. Aces.

It hit me last week. My kids were yet again crying and screaming about something ridiculous in public. We were at family art, and Natalina wanted to use glue, but this week's project didn't involve glue. She refused to take part in the activity and skulked around. When that didn't get her desired result, she went into puddle mode. Very embarrassing.

So, I did my normal "let's go" routine. I had to carry them both out, kicking and screaming. I've actually got a bruise on my leg. Even more embarrassing. And then I got them outside. And they calmed down immediately, promised to be good, and asked to go back in. And it dawned on me. This is where I usually say, "okay, let's try it again."

Am I insane? Am I that much of a sucker? Apparently I am because I have been doing this for months now. The pattern is predictable. Kids act unruly and embarrass mother. Kids are taken, usually forcibly, out of the place. Kids turn around and act like they might possibly be sorry. Kids get to go back and continue their day as if the entire incident never took place.


I mean, why would I do that? Lots of reasons, all silly.

1) I actually want them to have fun and do interesting things, and I can't understand why they wouldn't want the same thing and just be good from the get-go. Not wanting to deprive them of activities, when it appears the storm has passed, I want to allow them to do the fun things we should have been doing from the beginning.

2) I have been under the misapprehension that the girls are getting carried away by intense emotions they cannot help, and I have been thinking that their logic sets in after they have been able to calm themselves. I have been wanting to promote that logic and reward them when they appear to use it.

Haha, I'm such a sucker.

First of all, they are not 18 months old anymore. They can speak fluently, they know what they want and the proper avenues to take in order to get that. They can follow instruction and direction and they know enough of the world to understand how they should act to achieve their objectives. Runaway emotions, my elbow. They intentionally work themselves up into a lather because I allow them to. This is the reality I've introduced them to. If they think this is the way the world works, which they do, it's my fault for letting them think that. I have trained them to tantrum.

Secondly, we do plenty of fun things. They need me to guide them by setting a consistent example of how we will behave and how we will not behave. If I am saying, "No, we don't tantrum to get what we want," then I turn around and let them go back to the activity, I have sent them mixed messages. They then correlate tantruming, slight break, get what we want. That's not what I want. And it's not what they want, either. It must be confusing to be told one thing and then to have actions say another. And it's easier to act out when you are confused than when you know exactly what will happen each time.

So, this particular day, as they calmed down and asked to go back inside, I said no. I strapped them into the car (at this point they were blubbering, hysterical messes because my kids are very routine based, and this was not the routine). I drove away. I explained to them over and over again that we could try again next week and maybe then they would listen to mommy and behave. Over and over again.

They tried screaming. They tried kicking my chair. They tried crying loudly, softly, with words, without. They tried reasoning with me calmly. "I will behave now, mama. I am godin' to behave. I be good." I told them, that's great! I can't wait to see it next week. They were beside themselves.

I really shocked them. This is how little I follow the rule I thought I had been following. Do I ever actually follow through on my threats? Ever?

Well, I do now.

After that incident, I started the very simple act of doing exactly what I had said I was going to do if they acted in a certain way. I no longer allowed their change in demeanor after the fact influence me. I no longer paid attention to their wheedling and their toddler logic. If we miss a rehearsal here and they don't get a cookie there, well, that's that.

And it's easier. It's so much easier. Not only is it less confusing to them, it's less confusing to me. I no longer have to weigh the pros and cons in my head of any particular treat. Do they deserve it now even though they didn't a few minutes or an hour ago? Has the situation changed? Do they really really want to do it instead of just kind of want to do it?

None of that matters. You misbehave, you don't listen to me and fun things go away.

I know you'll all laugh at me since this is the cornerstone of good parenting, but I just saw the light a week and a half ago, and the results have been out of this world. I'm well on my way to having kids that don't embarrass me, and as parents, isn't that always the main goal?

Go ahead, poke fun in the comments. I deserve it.

If you like this blog, please vote on Tales of an Unlikely Mother is number 19, just scroll down and click on the thumbs up! Thank you so, so much.


  1. Oh my gosh, I certainly wouldn't poke fun . . . we all make mistakes.

    I try to be very conscious of any "threats" that I make. I had darn well mean it if I threaten to take them home if they don't start behaving. I have taken Little Miss home from a play date when she was acting up and not listening. We eventually returned but it was after a couple of hours and possibly a nap.

    Good for you for finding a way to fix something that wasn't working for you and the girls.

  2. You RRock (yes, with two R’s cuz of your magnificence!) for getting to the heart of it and plowing on thru. What a transformation for your family dynamic.

  3. Better to realize it now than never.




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