Archive for December, 2013

Protecting Parents from the Inevitable Tantrum

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Let’s face it…we parents often set ourselves up. We know we are tired and our better brain knows that our children may have limited capacity to handle the expectations  put upon them. You often want control in a situation that demands more forethought, more structure and more strategy.

Yet, we carry on, plowing through to some ideal ‘happy’ that should happen for the birthday party or the family dinner, only to make our child and ourselves miserable. We come undone right in the process of trying to make life just right….until the child acts out to show us THIS IS NOT WORKING. You may find yourself as mad at your child as you are at yourself, and it all comes out in a tantrum.

Despite our best intentions, when it comes to the challenging child who is hypersensitive or any child [or parent] faced with too darn much, we may keep re-enacting the escalation cycle. And, dramatic punitive responses to a child’s misbehavior only serve to “add fuel to the flames” of frustration-fury.

So, Sammy is three years old and an excitable sensitive child. When he faces transitions or when in a larger group, he is at risk for becoming impulsive. He may pinch, poke, grab or call attention to himself in a fashion that exhibits his inability to self-regulate.  He is bright and anxious, combined with that sensitivity- a perfect mix for knocking over the drinks mom just set down or the blocks his cousin just stacked.  Why not walk by his little sister and accidentally step on her? And, now comes the out-of-control and needs-for-control swing dance of shame.

Sammy has become unruly in front of his guests. Mom needs to step in to control Sammy and to demonstrate she is aware that her son is “inappropriate.”  She lets him know, out loud, that he is going to have to take a “time out” and thereby be removed. We all know what happens next.

More primitive noises and running from mom. More embarrassing chaos, followed by some kind of top-down final solution. Sammy is now in his room, red in the face with rage and feeling like the victim. Mom is unable to cook or be with guests, as she has to pin him down or keep him in his time-out space, preventing further kicks and punches.  Every effort to say “when you are calm, we can go back,” triggers another primitive outcry.  This goes on for awhile before Sammy can leave, and even then, his armor is so thin, he has little capacity to manage his behavior above and beyond emotional impulses which remain raw. The next glare from mom or corrective plea could trigger yet one more outburst.

What to do?  THINK a great deal, in advance. Find the time to THINK and PLAN.  Sammy may need a slow morning or extra nap prior to a social event. He may need a small calm event only at the age of three. When small and calm are impossible, what is the strategic game plan. Who is going to be in charge of Sammy and what structured activity is he going to be engaged in. Do not expect a three year old to manage play with is younger sib and/or guests, on his own. No way. Set up a structured activity and have an adult be PRESENT and calm to manage the activity. Move through the planned activities in a short amount of time and keep the entire time on the shorter side.

When Sammy’s engine is waring down, direct him to the sofa or a back bedroom for some down time with an older teen to watch over him, so he has quiet attentive care.  Avoid verbal corrections that could provoke shame publicly. When needing to correct or redirect, do so with calm centered clarity that commands compliance. Do it without screaming. Be present for Sammy and this will help him redirect  and allow him to resist any acting out. You are holding him in place because he is three years old and absorbing the excitement. You are forthcoming out what is happening and what he is to do. He has a guidepost and that keeps him centered. Should he need removal; there is more support and direction than scolding and shame.

With the holidays upon us, take the time to THINK so you can plan and strategize about structure and prevent explosive tantrums that fester in cycles of escalation.  Be careful and take care of yourself and your resources so you have the capacity to THINK and PLAN to be PRESENT.