Over the past few weeks I have experienced some extremely frustrating moments with my three-year-old daughter. She is often stubborn, impatient, and prone to mini meltdowns, but lately these mini melt downs have become massive tantrums. Up until now I encouraged her confidence and independence because I feel these qualities will make her an awesome teenager and adult. Unfortunately these qualities in a three-year-old make her slightly difficult… Okay, at times very difficult! Most recently she has been throwing tantrums in public places. I am sure many parents have experienced that awful, awkward, downright horrifying feeling of watching their child throw an all out fit with a bunch of strangers as witnesses; the only problem is, when it is happening to you, you feel completely helpless and alone.
The big question is, what do you when this happens? Let’s start with what you feel like doing; throw a tantrum equal to, or grander than your child’s, sit on the ground with your head in your hands, or walk away leaving your screaming child behind. While all three of these make perfect sense when you are in the midst of child’s tantrum, none of them would probably bring on the desired result.
To be honest I do not know the right answer, I do not even know if there is a right answer; every child is different and children throw tantrums for different reasons so there may not be one method that would work every time.
I know I have tried several including pretending to walk away, picking up my child and walking out of the store with her struggling and screaming, threats that fell on deaf ears, and even bribery. I hate to say it but the bribery has always worked the best. Unfortunately I cannot afford to bribe my child every time she has a tantrum.
On a recent trip to a department store, I refused to buy my daughter yet another princess dress (believe me it was hard not to give in!). She threw a huge tantrum. I tried talking to her rationally (unsuccessful), I tried to pretend to walk away (problem was she did not follow me), I threatened to call daddy (this only made her cry harder and louder), I would have picked her up and carried her out of the store but was unable to due to an injured knee, I basically tried everything to no avail. After a few moments, I gave up and just let her have her tantrum despite the prying eyes of strangers. I stood with her and waited for a sign of what to do next as she carried on… and on.
Finally, she began wiping her nose with her dress and I suggested we go to the restroom to get a tissue. A huge wave of relief came over me as she agreed to this and began to calm down. By the time we got a tissue she was showing signs of being my sweet little girl again. I took this opportunity to hug her, tell her how much I loved her, but let her know how upset it made me when she acted like that. By the time we left the restroom she was smiling and holding my hand; a completely different child than the one she had been moments earlier.
As happy as I was, I felt very anxious. Will this last? Or is this like the eye of a storm, and soon the tears, crying and screaming will start up again with even more fury? Thankfully her happy mood lasted! Maybe in this situation letting her cry it out and express her anger was what she needed to get over it ad move on. Maybe my doing nothing was actually doing something; she is getting older and wants to feel like what she does and says really matters.
Letting her be angry and upset, rather than trying to stop her from expressing how she felt may have actually helped her feel better.
Part of being a mom is enduring these uncomfortable and very frustrating bursts of emotions our little ones experience. It can be challenging to think rationally and our actions may not always be the best ones. Maybe it is not what you do in the moment, but what you do after the storm that makes all the difference. There was a consequence for her behavior but there was also a reassurance of my love. The consequence displeased her but the unconditional love allowed us to move past the moment. Hopefully the two actions combined will help decrease the amount of, and magnitude of future tantrums.