Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tantrums and Control

There was a little girl
With a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.

And when she was good
She was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.

I have this child (minus the curl). She throws tantrums. Most children do, I guess. And most parents don't see how other people's children behave in private and so can't gauge their own child's tantrum behavior. Still, I think my daughter ranks up there with the greats in terms of attitude and anger and rage. I'd like to be wrong on this.

Parents often tell their children, "I hope one day you have a child like yourself." That would be easy: when I see my own traits (good or bad) pop up in my children, I know how to deal with them. But neither Darwin or I threw screaming tantrums, so we're in unfamiliar territory here, and we're still trying to devise coping strategies.

Spanking usually isn't the answer. It doesn't "break" her out of her mood, and she fights so hard against it that by the time one gets her held still enough to spank, one is tempted to hit way too hard. Isolation (with a parent holding tight to the doorknob of the room) at least keeps her off the scene, but she rages in her room and throws things and says stuff that I would have been horrified to say to my parents.

It's finally become clear to me that my daughter throws tantrums because she hates feeling powerless. The tantrum is a way of controlling the scene, making everyone dance to her tune. As a result, any action on our part is escalation, even trying to isolate her, and she escalates harder. She resists, sometimes violently, to being carried up to her room, and her rages are such that I fear one day she'll hurt someone -- she has enough self-interest not to hurt herself, but not enough foresight not to hurt someone else, such as her parents holding her down. Some evenings and I Darwin just stare wearily at each other across the doorknob of her room, wondering what it is we're supposed to be doing.

Heading off the tantrums at the pass seems the best option, and so we've begun counteracting our own natural tendencies by trying to stick to a schedule. That way she knows what goes on when, and bedtimes and lessons don't seem like draconian parental measures designed to punish, but just what happens when. And it works, mostly. I also spend a quantity of time reminding myself, "I'm the parent. I'm the parent." I don't shy off correcting her when she gets fresh, because I don't want to tolerate sass. But I do try to give her choices when possible so that she feels like she has a modicum of control. And when we see her building up a head of steam we remind her not to "lose her mind", which sometimes brings her back from the brink.

Perhaps this sounds a bit desperate. It's not, really. These huge tantrums don't occur all that often, and usually she's a fairly well-behaved, if strong-willed child -- far more helpful and organized than her sisters, most of the time. But when she does tantrum, it's memorable. And coming off the easy days of summer into the more structured school year is making Miss Control a bit manic. Her sister, on the other hand, deals with the change by becoming very lazy. I don't like that, but at least I recognize it.

16 comments:

mardijo said...

Hi,

I write to let you know that sometimes we are asked to raise children like your daughter.

But first, are you absolutely sure that your tantrum-prone daughter has control over the normal functions of life that her sisters and peers have?

25-39 years ago when I was living on the edge of Mt. Versuvius I tried to keep three steps ahead working out what my daughter was likely to want - and pretty much whatever that was, would be just fine with me. I reserved the fights for the issues that I absolutely had to win.

Now she's forty, a great professional lady with a husband who tolerates the occasional outburst and four lovely children. And very much in control in her own domain. And we always knew that she was never going to be the junior in any field of work for very long!!

But .... she did turn out to have poor gross motor control. Won the races on physical strength, but looked like a duck. Had difficulty with things like buttons and laces but lied extremely convincingly so that it wasn't obvious. She also turned out to be hyper-actively allergic to the dreaded red and green cordial and other nasties. When we finally got some help after years wasted with social workers etc, the therapist looked at me and said "HOW have you been coping?" I cried.

So ... I cry for you. But take heart. Have all the tests done. Maybe there is nothing wrong - but at least you will know. And there may be something wrong that you can do something about.

Cheers and God luv ya

cliff said...

Agree. Have her checked out by a trustworthy pediatrician & psychologist. Pray. Good luck. I'd almost trade you the tantrums for the 15 y/o wannabe in the dating scene...

mrsdarwin said...

Mardijo, thanks for sharing your experiences. I'm pretty sure that gross motor control isn't the problem -- she's pretty handy, but also, she's an exquisitely graceful ballet dancer. I don't think I'm just being a doting mother when I say she has talent far beyond anything I've ever seen in a child of her age.

She has many many good qualities, of course. She's a diligent worker and gets very frustrated when she feels that her sisters are getting away with doing less than she does. She's also exceptionally generous and will spend her allowance to buy things for others. It's just that when she starts to get worked up, she simmers with anger, and she needs to vent it in a more constructive fashion than tantrumming. Sometime she will write an angry letter or draw a picture or pound the piano, and that's fine. But when she gets overtired or feels helpless... watch out!

JMB said...

I really have no advice for you, just empathy. Our last child was so over the top that we joked that it was a good thing that God didn't send us this child first, or there wouldn't have been the others that preceeded her.

My little terror is a perfectionist, hard worker and very sensitive to injustice. She also has a very active imagination. She is very social and loves school. She wants to be an actress!

mrsdarwin said...

JMB, it sounds like our daughters were separated at birth. They would be best friends! My daughter is always putting on shows, or getting angry because she thinks it's time for a show, and we think it's bedtime.

mrsdarwin said...

Interestingly enough, Miss Tantrum breezes right through her math and doesn't find that reading comes as easily, while her lazier sister is a voracious reader and fights with the math.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Heh, my mom and I to a much lesser degree (not many tantrums like you describe) have a similar problem-- mom solves it mostly with physical crafts (beading, weaving, knitting, leather working, soap carving) and I solved it mostly with books (does she struggle with assigned reading, all reading, the reading you've gotten her to do? Obviously, I don't know her interests....).

There is something incredibly soothing about the patterns of braids, beading, the comfort of a joyful book. (Hank the Cowdog was my starter, then the Enchanted Forest Chronicles-- "Dealing with Dragons," etc.)

If she's great with math, beading or weaving geometric patterns might be just the thing. You could test it out by giving her graph paper and asking her to make patterns she might like to make, maybe with a book on Navajo horse blankets.

Julia said...

If you get desperate, Ross Greene's book _The Explosive Child_ offers a fine framework for helping children like yours (and mine).

Grandma Darwin said...

I think your instinct about the need for a schedule is sound. Darwin probably doesn't remember this, but when the kids were quite young I was pretty scheduled about things like eating, napping, daily routine. (The bohemian years came later when the kids were older.) In general I find that most kids do better with a schedule, perhaps because then they know what to expect and when. And a routine for eating and napping and bedtime led to less crankiness and wild attempts to negotiate.

Otherwise, my standard method for dealing with tantrums is ignoring them which works pretty well with toddlers (who just need to learn that screaming and kicking isn't going to get them what they want), but is probably not going to do much good with a six to seven year old child.

Anonymous said...

Plain Talk About Spanking
by Jordan Riak
http://nospank.net/pt2010.pdf

Anonymous said...

Ditto on ignoring the tantrum. I was a tantrum thrower--have a keen memory of lying on the floor kicking and screaming at about age eleven (which, I know, is way too old). My mom just went outside and took a walk with her friend, then they came in and talked about how embarrassing it was that I could be heard down the road. Worked on my vanity.

Anyway, I think I'm normal--but maybe I should get checked out for food allergies. Because I sort of still throw tantrums--not like the old days, but I snap and react, without much warning (even to myself).

Which is to say, I don't think it means anything when a kid does this. I just wanted the release of frantic physical expression. Regular exercise helps, and plenty of sleep.

joyfulpapist said...

Your daughter is an under-the-skin sister to my own sister, my number 3 child, and my number 1 grandchild. I don't know that I did a great job with my number 3 - though she has turned into an amazing adult.

But at least we recognised the symptoms when number 1 grandchild began to exhibit the same behaviours - perfectionism, a need to feel in control, and explosive temper tantrums.

At ten, she has what we call her strategies. She has learnt to recognise the symptoms and come and ask for help early, before things get beyond her. 'I need some Mummy time', or 'I'm feeling worried, and I want to talk about it'. She has also learnt to put herself out of harms way. 'I'm really angry right now, and I need to go and spend some time on my own.' (She shuts herself away, reads, draws, or plays her violin, and comes back human.)

Occasionally, especially when she is tired, it all gets away on her. I think her mother has had two major meltdowns in the last seven months, and they've been times of major change - so I think that's pretty good.

One of the books she found useful was 'A Volcano in My Tummy'.

By the way, my sister, my daughter, and my granddaughter all have severe food intolerances. But so do I, and I'm a calm sort.

joyfulpapist said...

Your daughter is an under-the-skin sister to my own sister, my number 3 child, and my number 1 grandchild. I don't know that I did a great job with my number 3 - though she has turned into an amazing adult.

But at least we recognised the symptoms when number 1 grandchild began to exhibit the same behaviours - perfectionism, a need to feel in control, and explosive temper tantrums.

At ten, she has what we call her strategies. She has learnt to recognise the symptoms and come and ask for help early, before things get beyond her. 'I need some Mummy time', or 'I'm feeling worried, and I want to talk about it'. She has also learnt to put herself out of harms way. 'I'm really angry right now, and I need to go and spend some time on my own.' (She shuts herself away, reads, draws, or plays her violin, and comes back human.)

Occasionally, especially when she is tired, it all gets away on her. I think her mother has had two major meltdowns in the last seven months, and they've been times of major change - so I think that's pretty good.

One of the books she found useful was 'A Volcano in My Tummy'.

By the way, my sister, my daughter, and my granddaughter all have severe food intolerances. But so do I, and I'm a calm sort.

Sally said...

My older two were very tantrum-prone, for different reasons. My eldest daughter had sensory processing issues, so basically life was too overstimulating for her and she would just melt down from sensory overload. In her case, it really wasn't willfulness -- it was just that the way most kids act when they are hungry and tired was how she apparently felt ALL the time. She did outgrow it and by 5-6 years old tantrums were relatively rare. She is now 10 and really quite even-tempered and compliant.

My 2ndborn -- well, that was another story. She started throwing tantrums by about 8 months old and you could tell that she was MAD. The "terrible twos" started before she turned one and lasted until she was about 7-1/2. She is a very strong-willed, intense kid and has a low tolerance for frustration. We pretty much did what you are doing -- putting her in her room and holding the door shut while she raged and screamed. There really is not much else you can do, besides weather the storm and let her get it out of her system.

I was totally like that as a child -- I remember feeling so angry that I really felt like my blood was boiling, and laying on the floor kicking and screaming. Eventually I learned to handle my strong feelings but it took time. My daughter is now 8 and the tantrums have subsided significantly in the past 6 months. She is still amazingly stubborn and strong-willed, though -- the sort of child who will gladly endure a consequence simply to prove her point.

Try not to take the tantrums personally -- it is not about you. She just needs to get it all out of her system.

BTW, when our sweet-natured 3rd daughter was about 3, she started throwing regular kid tantrums (vs. the epic tantrums her sisters did) and my husband and I would just laugh and say "You'll have to do better than THAT!" because they were just so insignificant compared to Miss Vesuvius and Miss Krakatoa.

mandamum said...

Hey!

Two book recommendations-- Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's "Raising Your Spirited Child" (with or without workbook) and "Redirecting Children's Behavior" by K Kvols.

The first I find especially helpful for ideas on how to lower the temperature when it gets close to blowing. Any sort of rhythmic activity--swinging, drinking through a straw, chewing gum, bouncing a ball against a wall--can help calm a child who is starting to reach a boil. Also, she has a nice image to discuss with children - how they may feel helpless too when they hit the explosion point, and what they can do to keep from getting there.

The Redirecting book I thought of because you noticed the cause under the tantrums. One chapter of the book lays out various behaviors, helps tease out the underlying need that the child is trying (badly) to get met, and gives you a way to meet the need without rewarding or reinforcing the misbehavior.

I think sometimes the powerless-ness tantrum in a driven person can even be triggered by frustration with self --perhaps a type of perfectionism? -- so that you could just walk unknowingly into a day where she couldn't get things done to her level of expectation, and one more insiginficant thing makes it all go *boom*.

We're working here on schedules and such, to try to help dd 7yo who is irregular like me :) but therefore desperately needs structure or she can't make it to sleep at night.... And as you say, I'm the parent. I am the adult in this situation ...

Best of luck--and thanks for sharing your thoughts!

--Amanda

CMinor said...

I second the motion for "Raising Your Spirited Child"--much good sense there!

Our Hon. Daughter No. 1 was a diva according to the traditional definition of the word from a good year before the terrible twos to about 14--if I told tales on her now, she'd be red-faced! She's now 22, well-adjusted, well-behaved, and very spiritual; I worry about her far less than I do about certain offspring who were comparatively easy as young children. So take heart!