Parenting Perspective: The dreaded tantrum

April 2, 2010 9:39:15 AM PDT
As parents of two toddlers, my husband and I have quickly learned how to handle the dreaded tantrum.

It's amazing how quickly a happy, smiling little youngster can turn into a screaming, kicking, writhing bundle of rage. Often, what sets off the tantrum is one simple word: NO.

Wouldn't it be nice if we adults, when faced with disappointment s could just fall to the ground and yell out our frustrations? This would certainly relieve stress immediately. But, it's probably not the best idea socially (and, in my case, it could jeopardize my job.) So, as parents, it's our responsibility to discourage this behavior. The big question is: How?

My daughter Emma, 2, hasn't learned how to launch into the full-fledged tantrum that her brother, Luke (3-1/2) has perfected. For Emma, her half-hearted tantrum is confined to a little whining and crying, usually when we refuse to give her chocolate in some form. Fortunately, a two-year old has the typical attention span of gnat. So, if we distract Emma and change the conversation away from her source of stress, the tantrum ends. Easily done.

Side note: Chocolate milk has been banned from our home.

Luke's tantrums are not so easily extinguished. I've found, the intensity of Luke's tantrums are directly proportional to his degree of hunger and indirectly proportional to how much sleep he got the night before. Hungry, tired and unhappy is a highly-combustible combination!

A few weeks ago at bedtime, Luke performed his most intense tantrum ever: kicking, screaming and trying to hit Greg because it was my night to put Emma to bed. At bedtime, both kids seem to cling to "Mommy." I used to put Luke to bed every night because he made such a fuss and Emma didn't really care much either way, but then we realized Luke was getting rewarded for bad behavior. And besides, I want to put Emma to bed occasionally. So, we decided to switch each night - one night Greg puts Luke to bed and I put Emma to bed. The next night , vice versa.

When Luke went ballistic, Greg immediately put him in time out alone in his room and told him the longer the tantrums, the more nights in a row I would put Emma to bed instead of Luke. Luke finally settled down and for nearly a week, each night Luke wanted me to put him to bed, Greg and I explained I couldn't because of Luke's earlier tantrum. When Luke started to get upset, we threatened to have to extend the number of days. That quelled Luke's building rage.

After several days, I'm now putting Luke to bed every other night. The nights I put Emma to bed, Luke gives a half-hearted protest, but doesn't launch into a tantrum. He's learned the consequences of his behavior and our house is not A LOT more peaceful!