September 24, 2010

When kids tantrum, changing me

I am reading a blog of a woman with an awesome, spirited three year old boy and a sweet baby girl.  She and her husband are really struggling with the three year old's determination and behaviours surrounding this strength.  It reminded me of a parenting class I took, where the woman asked us, would you rather have kids who will challenge their peers as teens, or kids who are compliant and willing to go along with the gang?

A seismic shift in my parenting style came when I (mostly) stopped taking my children's shows of defiance as personally.  My first was really challenging my authority at 2 and I didn't like the position I found myself in -- it seemed like she was taking on my childhood role, arms akimbo and face fierce, and I was at the wrong end of my mother's finger.  And that was an experience I was very motivated to not relive.

This blogger wrote about her son's tantrum in a store.  Funny, my three-year-old son was having a tantrum in a store just the other day.  I no longer take these things personally (unless I am in that WRONG frame of mind, know what I mean?!), because I know that is what a three year old is wont to do.  And I do mean a full-blown, lying on the floor, screaming tantrum.  He was putting it all out there because he wanted to sit in the bin of the shopping cart, rather than the seat at the front.  Despite being told clearly not to, he continued to stand up and reach things on the shelves.  I told him to keep his bum glued to the cart bottom, gave him the reason (um, hello?  Head injury anyone?!) but to no avail.

So calmly and without opinion I said, I see you have chosen to not ride in the cart.  Practice makes perfection, I think, thanks to my daughters' assistance over the last 8 years.  This one is ten times as willful as those two combined and man, do I ever WANT to be mad at him!  I lifted him out, and placed him on the floor, where he proceeds to demonstrate his feelings clearly.

Because I am no longer taking this personally, nothing bothers me about it (except the cringe factor of the behaviour on display, but I've dedicated my "personal journey" (ugh.  for lack of a better term) right now to not taking these things personally.

Anyway, I said, "Wow, you feel really angry," and I told him that I would wait for him to be finished being angry.

I then waited at the end of the (not very long) aisle for him to be done.  Eventually a stock guy (older and very respectful, said he has a grandson the same age) asked him if he was upset (or something like that) and my son, horrified, got up and, chastened, joined me to finish shopping.

It is really helping me to let them have their stages.  My older two were really angry when they realised I was serious about them walking alongside of my bike with bin (replacement for car for school, too far to walk whole way).  Same thing.  I let them rant up the street and, while embarrassed about the public display, smiled through my gritted teeth and let them walk and rant.  The next day, they walked with reluctance (I want them to do about 4 city blocks, they are 7 and 6) and the next, they were running, laughing and racing me.

Studying the Adler method of parenting techniques (sounds culty, I know, but holy cow the thing changed my life, so ... skip it at your own peril man!) really gave me skills that I was lacking.  Like the idea that regularly acknowledging my children's feelings -- just paused to comment on the fun they seem to be feeling right now as I type -- gives them the positive feedback they crave (even when they are feeling sad and angry).  I mean, if you think about it, as adults, do we really want people to tell us to get over something crappy our husband does, or something that goes "wrong" with our day or plan, or do we want them to hear us tell them why it sucks?!

I guess I want the latter, and try to provide that kind of care to my friends (where I used to tell them how to solve their problems, ugh).  I now say, wow, that sucks, or whatever seems appropriate.  I am working very hard at saying the same thing to my kids, mostly in the hopes that they will trust me to hear them when they are teens, but also because it seems to short circuit the bigger tantrums.  And even I get impatient after a while.