Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tantrum management

For the last couple of weeks, Barak seems to have been experimenting with tantrums as a way of either expressing his frustration or getting what he wants. The golden rule of tantrum management, of course, is never to let there be a positive outcome to throwing a fit. I've got that one down. Once you know what you're not going to do, of course, you then have to figure out what exactly what you are going to do with the kicking screaming three-year-old on the floor. That part is more of a challenge.

When I can, I walk away and ignore him. Sometimes he escalates what he's doing so he'll have to get my attention, by doing something so totally illegal that I won't just let it slide. A favorite for a while was, when put in his room for a time-out, picking up the biggest, heaviest toy he could get his hands on and slamming it into his door. I ignored that too until I saw what the inside of his door looked like. Earlier this week, he tried that one. I went in there and told him, scarily, to STOP. I left and he did it again, and I didn't quite lose it but I certainly used more volume and anger than he's ever heard before to tell him "That. Is. Not. Okay." He hasn't done it since.

But I don't like the idea of escalating my response to match his. I try, I really do, to stay calm. And last night, I actually managed it.

We went over to my friend Chana's house last night. She had a baby a few weeks ago and I'd told her kids I would make them pizza this week. So at around 4 we trooped over there with a big bag of pizza dough, a jar of sauce, a bagful of vegetables and some cheese. (I forgot, and had to run back for, my pan and the parchment paper. A manifesto on the fine art of home pizza-making may be forthcoming--stay tuned). A fine time was had by all; much pizza was eaten (Barak held out for the sauceless vegetableless albino version I made last), and Iyyar ate more than anyone else, as usual. Barak spent about two and a half hours making trouble with Chana's three older boys, the youngest of whom is about a year older than Barak. Bedtime around here is usually around 6:15. By six, I realized that Barak was so worked up, and so wound up, that going home was liable to not be so easy. And I had a lot to carry. So I called MHH (this is why we have cell phones) and asked him to stop by and get us on his way home (we live across the street, so this is not a big deal). He did.

MHH got there at around 6:15. I handed him Iyyar and Iyyar's hat and fuzzy suit, and got Barak's coat and hat. And I tried to get them on Barak, but Barak was not interested in anything but running around in circles being silly. Never mind that all the resident children were already in pajamas--Barak wanted to jump around and scream some more, not go home. I managed to get him into his coat, with minimal cooperation from him. Then it was time for shoes.

"Barak, go get your shoes please." No dice. I was sitting on the floor and had no interest in getting them myself, so I asked one of Chana's kids to get them for me (the shoes were behind the couch, where they had been discarded for semilegal couch-jumping activities.) He did. "Barak, come here and put on your shoes."

Barak stopped what he was doing, looked at me, and instantly collapsed into a fit of hysteria. "I wanted to find my shoes! I wanted to find them! AAAAAHHHHH!!!!"

There are a few categories, I think, into which tantrums fall. There are the tantrums of pure frustration that cannot be expressed in any other way. There are the tantrums of experimentation and trying to get one's way--one might call those the manipulative tantrums, although I don't like that word. And then there are the tantrums that happen when a kid is so tired or so worn out or upset about something or not feeling good that the tiniest little thing will set him off. This was one of those.

"I WANTED TO FIND MY SHOES! I WANT TO DO IT! AAAAHHHHH!!!!"

Sigh.

I gave MHH all the stuff, and he carried it all down to the stroller. Then I gave him Iyyar, and he took Iyyar down as I manhandled Barak into his shoes--the size differential between the two of us is such that I can still do things like that. Then I picked up my coat and walked out the door. Barak, still standing there screaming, suddenly stopped, and a look of alarm spread over his face. "I needa pish potty." Good for you! I thought. Usually when he gets that worked up, he loses control and pees himself. "Okay, go potty. I'll wait for you." Barak went to the bathroom, came back, and started screaming again. "I WANTED TO FIND MY SHOOOOOOOES..."

I started down the stairs, and Barak came after me. "Barak, do you want to go in the stroller or do you want to walk?" "I wanna go in the stroller. I'm a baby." However, being a baby did not prevent him from wanting to buckle the seatbelt himself, which he was too worked up to do. I did it for him.

"I WANTED TO DO IT! AAAAHHHHH!!!!"

Barak at this point was kicking and screaming and flailing, but I was pretty sure he couldn't get out of the stroller by himself. We went home. I asked MHH to take Iyyar inside and get him ready for bed. "I'll take care of Barak. Don't worry." I parked the stroller and sat down on the back steps in my coat. And waited.

"Barak, I'm going to wait right here until you're done screaming. You let me know when you're all done."

"AAAAHHHH I WANTED TO FIND MY OWN SHOES!!!"

Then I took my knitting out of my bag. And started to knit a pair of gloves in sock yarn on size 0 needles.

Barak stopped. He looked at me. Clearly, he was thinking, this could go on for a while. And it's really pretty cold and dark out here.

"Imma, I needa find my own shoes."

"I know, sweetie. Are you all done screaming now?"

"Yeah."

"Okay."

The power of knitting, right there.

4 comments:

shanna said...

Wow. I should take up knitting.

Also, this is coming from someone who has not yet had the experience of mothering a three-year-old, but I have picked up bits and pieces of information here and there (ok, ok, I just read Ask Moxie) leading me to believe that three-and-a-half is far worse than either three or four years old. Something magical (or magically evil) happens around that age, and even the most wonderfullest perfectest children in the world turn into monsters. I imagine Barak will be back to his terrific sweet self in time for #3 to pop out.

Or so "they" say.

LeahChaya said...

I hope it has positive long term effects (the knitting) on the tantrum thing, but in any case, thanks for the smile - I can just picture it. . .

miriamp said...

I've got to try that! Wait, I don't knit. I do crochet, if I can find a hook and some yarn...

But I can so picture the 3 1/2 yr old screaming about wanting to do something that is already done. BTDT way too many times.

Deborah said...

Wow. Think it would work with a 16-year-old?

I will try it and report back.