My forray into parenting has been exciting, terrifying, shocking, super fun and interesting. Each stage with my now 20 month old toddler has come with new joys, exciting moments, laughter and of course a few challenges here and there. That brings me to today’s topic. Tantrums!
Thank goodness it seems like they are happening fewer and further in between, but toddlers are definitely a different breed of human. I remember hearing the analogy that toddlers are like night watchmen who are always checking around to make sure that everything is alright. It’s so true. No matter how well my son knows the rules of what he is allowed to touch and where he is allowed to go he will always look right at me and do the exact thing he knows he isn’t supposed to be doing. Sometimes it’s aggravating and sometimes it’s hard not to burst out laughing depending on what he’s doing at any given moment.
As for the tantrums. The tantrums started randomly sometime around age 18 or 19 months. My son has strong opinions and when he isn’t allowed to do something that he wants to do he definitely hasn’t developed the coping skills to deal with the rush of frustration he experiences. So what did a typical tantrum look like in my house? Well it started out with him expressing his frustration vocally by yelling, screaming or crying. Then over time it began escalating to him smacking us (my personal favorite), throwing things or hitting the walls. And the absolute worst tantrums have involved him banging his head on the floor, although that tends to happen as a form of protest once I started implementing discipline.
We have been managing his not-so-delightful behaviour in a few different ways:
Distraction – especially when he was several months younger distraction was an awesome way to catch him before his frustration bubbled out of control to help him to focus on something else. We would do this by giving him something interesting to play with or sometimes I would sing his favorite song to help distract him. Anything I could think of in the moment to catch his attention really. I have made up so many songs on the fly especially since the advent of the tantrum! One of his favorites is the “cool down” song – cool down, cool down, it’s time to cool down…
Redirection – we do some form of this on a daily basis. I think of it more as teaching him the way. When he does something that isn’t appropriate I get down to his level, look him in the eyes and tell him that he’s not allowed to do that. Then I give him options of what he can do instead. For example, when my little one threw his fork on the ground at dinner this evening to let us know he wanted to get out of his high chair, I picked up the fork, gave it back to him, asked him to hand it to daddy nicely, and asked him to say “all done” when he is finished dinner and ready to come down. The thing with redirection, as with all things parenting, is that it involves a ridiculous amount of patience and repetition. The great thing is that I have seen so many improvements over time. He knows what he’s allowed to do, but he tests the water a few times each day just to make sure the rules haven’t changed.
Toy be-gone – one of the things that I do to deal with the issue of my son throwing things is just take the toy away. Baby boy has a habit of throwing his toys when he wants some attention, or hitting the wall with his toys. I will get down to his level and give him a warning like “if you hit the wall one more time it’s gone”. If he does it again I swiftly take it away. Then I usually ask him “what are you going to play with now?” and I encourage him to occupy himself with something different in an appropriate way.
Time-outs – so apparently there is some debate as to when time-outs should be used with toddlers. In my house, they started around 18-19 months. I knew it was time to start creating consequences with my son when the redirection stopped working with certain things. When I started to feel like I was talking and talking and warning and warning and he had realized that nothing would happen if he did it anyways. I had to draw the line with the hitting. Baby boy started hitting me when he was frustrated. If I told him he couldn’t do or have something, or if I told him he had to get into his car seat before he was “ready” I was getting slapped. He knew he wasn’t allowed to do it, and even though we had many redirection conversations about being “gentle” the hitting ensued. So I implemented the time-out. It definitely didn’t go smoothly the first few times
I created “house rules” which are pretty basic. No hitting, yelling, biting or throwing things. If he smacked me or made the motion to smack me I’d give him a warning. “If you hit mommy (or if you hit mommy again), you’ll have to sit in time out”. Then he’d smack me (again), and I put him in time out. I would sit him down on the bottom of the stairs in the house, get down to his level and tell him that he is in time out because he hit mommy, and he has to sit quietly for 1 min.
Holy patience. The first time-out took 2 hours and I probably put him back on the “naughty” step 200 times. And I’m not exaggerating. He was screaming and crying and getting up every time I put him back. I was sweating, my arms were sore for 3 days, and it took every last drop of patience to continue putting him back in the spot without saying anything, let alone not raising my voice. My strategy was just to keep putting him back on the spot until he chose to stay without any additional verbal instructions. He acted out and that’s when he had the full on tantrums (head banging on the floor and such) when he realized that I was serious and he wasn’t in control of the situation. I remained calm to the best of my ability and just picked him up and put him back in the spot. OVER AND OVER AGAIN. It was crazymaking!
It was a battle of wills. I felt like I was at war, but I decided to steer the course because he has to learn that it’s not okay to hit mommy or anyone else. In the end he did sit. I put down my iphone on the floor in front of him with the timer on for 1 min after several prior attempts, and somewhere between his stubbornness and my perseverance he stayed in the spot until the timer went off. After following through on 2-3 separate occasions the process has become more streamlined. He knows that he has to sit, and that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to put him back in the spot a few times, but putting him back a few times is more manageable than the insane 2 hour marathon process I went through the first 2 times I enforced a time-out with him.
Time-outs are not a daily thing in my house, and they are not the first go-to, but for certain behaviours, especially hitting, they definitely have their place. The great thing is that by establishing boundaries and consequences with him, we have curbed the hitting. He knows what happens when he hits mommy or daddy, and as a result you can see the little wheels turning in his head when he gets frustrated. Often his hand will stop in mid air because he knows that if he goes ahead and hits one of us there will be a consequence.
I joked with some of my friends who are also parents of toddlers that the tantrums were a part of my initiation as a parent. Each stage comes with so many different challenges and so much joy and excitement. Of course this post focused on one of the major challenges I faced but that’s not to say that being a mom hasn’t been one of the most fun and fulfilling journeys to date in my life.
I’d love to hear about the adventures you have had raising toddlers! Am I alone here? I sure hope not!