Because I blogged about my daughter’s awesome day, the following night she had to break down into one of her more horrific tantrums. Shoulda seen that coming…
Usually on Sundays when I work M wakes up with her Grandma and then goes with my sister from 2pm until I get off of work. Yesterday we switched it up because of my sister’s work schedule, and I took M to my sister’s early in the morning, and my mom got her back at 2 instead. She had a difficult time when I dropped her off at my sister’s, not to mention we had to get up at 5am to get there, so she was extra tired.
With all this in mind, I got home from work and spent some time with her. We took a shower, and I participated in her shower games (she likes me to sit down in the tub with her and play), sang the songs she liked, etc. Then we did our normal bedtime routine and all seemed well.
And then… just as she was feeling safe and loved, of course, she let her emotions fly. My daughter’s tantrums do not look like a child screaming, crying, and rolling on the floor. Rather, she focuses on hurting me physically (hitting, kicking, pulling my hair, and sometimes biting). While attacking me, she laughs and giggles, which she knows makes me insane. She also runs away, throws things (then demands them back), and jumps up and down frantically.
her me both of us, in addition to the books I mentioned previously by Alfie Kohn and Siegel/Bryson, I also just finished Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Laura Markham and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame by Janet Lansbury, both of which I also loved. So I went into the tantrum with a strong conviction that I could handle it without a) losing my cool completely or b) using punishments/rewards.
Although I understood her reason for needing to let out her strong emotions, and would’ve liked to “talk” about how she felt that day, two-and-a-half-year-olds generally aren’t in a “talking” mood as they’re blowing up. My first priority was to deflect the blows coming at my head and stomach and unclamp the fists from my hair. I held her arms and legs away from me and said only once or twice, calmly, “That hurts. I won’t let you hurt me.” After a minute of her laughing and continuing to try to strike me, I said, “I’m going to stand away from you for a minute because you are trying to hurt me.” I stood next to the bed in the dark room, facing away from her, and tried to breathe and bring my blood pressure back down to some level compatible with life.
After I felt like I was no longer going to have a stroke, I went back to her. I said, “I’m going to sit next to you now. Would you like a hug?” Unfortunately, she went back into attack mode. I can tell that she’s experimenting with my reactions and testing her limits because she’d wait for me to be calm, then strike, looking at me like, “Do you still love me now? How about now? Are you going to lose control yet? How about now?” Thank you, books, for helping me see exactly what she was trying to tell me she needed! I was determined to show that I could remain calm no matter what she did (or at least demonstrate that I can control my frustration). I wanted to be successful at lovingly but firmly setting limits while guiding her through her tough feelings.
Here’s some things that worked: I asked, “Were you mad at mommy when she left you with Auntie?” M replied, “Yes!” I said, “Did you feel like kicking?” She said, “Yes!” I said, “I can’t let you kick me, but you can kick the bed”. So she’d kick the bed fast and furious. Another thing I tried was rocking. I asked her if she’d like to rock, she nodded yes, so I sat on the bed with my feet in front of me, she sat in my lap, and we rocked back and forth, back and forth. While rocking, she didn’t feel like hitting me, and she felt and accepted my affection for her as I was holding her. She would sometimes even kiss me or say, “Sorry mama”. Unfortunately, when I told her, “it’s time for bed now” she would rev up again. If I asked her if she was ready for bed, she would say no.
Eventually, at about 11pm, she was falling asleep while we rocked but refusing to go to bed if I tried to move her. She was willing to sleep where she was, so that is how we went to sleep, with her feet up by my head. If she wanted to sleep upside down, fine with me.
The important thing, I feel, was that we went through all of this without me losing my cool and without us feeling like enemies. The whole time it was like, “I’m on your side. You can’t hit me or hurt me, but I’m here for you while you’re feeling this way. I’ll try to help you if I can.” So although the tantrum was still long and awful, it did NOT end with bad feelings between us, or any guilt on my part. She got to see that I could stay in control no matter how many times she pushed my buttons (and boy does she know which ones to push) and that she wouldn’t be allowed to hurt me, leave the room to play or watch tv (because it was bed time), but she would be allowed to express her feelings and still have her mom there to support and love her.
Success! Exhausting, brutal success, but success nonetheless.