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.
The Wizard of Wisecombe, Part I
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