Thursday, October 24, 2013

"No Way" (Two Year Olds, Tantrums, and Power: 9 things to remember)

We have a two year old.  In fact, he's 2 years and 10 days old now.  He seems to be very aware of the stereo-type "terrible two".

Okay, okay.  In truth, he's not ALL that bad.  He has learned "No Way" and especially loves using it at bed time.  Dear Randy had an hour long show down with him the other night, it was a special treat.

Believe it or not, he's our first one to really challenge us quite this way.  Yes, each of our three boys has gone (and continues to go) through periods that they want to test us a little more than normal.  This little guy though - he's fiesty.
"No Way Bed"
Azariah has a strong will.  It's not JUST about bed time, but that is frequently when we see it the loudest.  Do you have those days?  Whether your child is 2, 5, or 16 - we all struggle with how to deal with "tantrums".  Yes, they change as children get older.  (Just look at our recent political stand-off - adult tantrums).  So how, as parents, do we help children through those difficult times?

1) First off we have to recognize what is behind the tantrum.  Tantrums come when there is a struggle for power.  Two year olds are just learning that they have power.  They can do things on their own now that they couldn't do just a few days or weeks ago.  Life is exciting and they want to experience the power of being in control.

Unfortunately, quite often older children and adults experience the same feelings.  Be honest, you have those days too (that's why we even have power struggles with our kids - we want control).  Have you had a tantrum this week?  Not a full out kicking and screaming tantrum - maybe one just inside your head.  What injustice have you experienced that made you so mad you had to drink some coffee, or take a walk, or write a congressman?

2) Next we've got to legitimize the need for power.  We all have this basic need for power.  It makes us feel good to know we have control over a situation.  When I can pay my bills on time, I feel in control, powerful.  When my children behave in a certain way, I am pleased - because they have given me the power of influence over their lives.

Our children feel the same way.  They need opportunities to express and explore their power in the world.  Having power over their situations in life helps to feed a child's self-esteem.

3) We have to stop mid-tantrum and think about whether this is an important struggle.  I mean when my 4 year old throws himself down in on the floor in the middle of the store, because he wants to hold the left side of the cart and not the right.  (Yep, happened this week).  I have to stop myself from reacting  out of my need for power.  I have to remember that he is frustrated, his need for power is being thwarted.  Is it really important for safety reasons that he be on the right side of the shopping cart?  Maybe.  If it is not, however - I need to give up control.

Sometimes this means we have to apologize to our kids.  Talk about giving up power!  Yes, we actually need to humble ourselves and repent in front of them!  Believe it or not this is not only healthy for our kids, it is a healthy experience for us.  It is also VERY hard - remember, we believe we need to be in control.

I'm not talking about giving in to your child's every desire.  Children MUST also learn things like patience, self-control, delayed gratification, and humility.  My children don't get everything they want by throwing fits.  In fact, sometimes I sit back and let them throw fits - even in the store.  It really doesn't bother me if my child is having a full blown tantrum in the middle of Wal-mart.  If he wants a candy bar and that's not on my shopping list, we're probably not going to get one.  (Those are rarely on my list).

4) Seeking opportunities to give our children power is important.  We really struggled with this for a while with our 5 year old.  He was showing us through his actions that he wanted to express his power.  Things like chasing the cat, arguing with his brothers, and so forth.  They seem like minor infractions, but are definite expressions of this need. 

So how do I find these opportunities?  Some ideas include things like: Go on a walk and let your child be the leader, ask your child what they would like for lunch, let your child help with menu planning, give him a chance to rearrange his bedroom.  Letting him cut apples with a KNIFE (yes, even our 2 year old can do this with some help).  These things don't sound like big, mighty, powerful acts - they do, however allow your child new chances to be in control of the world around him.

5) During a fit, look for alternatives.  Manasseh is throwing a fit because he can't have cookie for snack.  I know that we don't have cookies... or they aren't healthy... or he's allergic to something in them.  As the parent I get to make the final decision about what he is allowed to eat.  He is 5 and does not fully understand all of my reasoning.  I can sit down and try to rationally explain things to him - he might understand sometimes.  The reality is, in the middle of a tantrum, no one really can think objectively.  Just think back to your last tantrum - what did you have to do to cool off?

I might let him know that a cookie is not an option today, but the next time we go to the store we can look at cookies that are up to my standards.  I could give him a few options for his snack (thus giving him power to choose).  I can ask him to come up with some ideas for next week's snacks so we can plan for things he likes better.  In looking for alternatives we empower our children.

Sometimes there are no alternatives.  We must help our children learn to accept disappointment and understand that they will not always have power to make all of their own decisions.  Even as adults, we must answer to other people who have power over us.

6) Use consequences that leave the weight on the child's decision, not consequences that burden the parent.  This is hard sometimes.  We often allow ourselves to be stressed by our children's decisions.  Instead of getting frustrated that my children are wrestling at nap time, I can let them carry that stress.  See, I can grumble and growl and make threats and let my blood boil because I am frustrated by their actions.  It really means that I'm letting them threaten my sense of control.

If we give them control of the situation, and define consequences ahead of time, then let them make their own choices - we don't need to be stressed.  The children may choose poorly, we may need to give a consequence - but we have given up our control of the situation.  Children can learn so much be connecting consequences with their choices.

How does this play out?  If you tell Sally and Joe that it is bed time, here are your expectations, these are the consequences for not following them.  Sally and Joe might decide not to meet your standards.  If they don't, you simply follow through with the consequences.  Sally and Joe learn that you really mean it and are ultimately in control of the house - but still have given them power to choose their actions at bed time.  You are able to focus on other things.  This works better with older children (my two year old doesn't yet understand consequences).

7) Emotion coaching is helpful!  Helping children understand why they feel how they feel at different times is extremely helpful in combating power struggles.  Once we begin to really grasp how our emotions effect our actions we can take control over our behaviors!  it's true - emotion coaching leads to self-control (read: power over self).  A great resource for learning about emotion coaching is Mary Sheedy Kurchinka's book, Kid's, Parents, and Power Struggles.

8) It is not healthy for children to have all the power all the time.  It seems like it would be easier to just let our kids make all of the decisions.  Then we have no reason for power struggles.  However, our children must learn that there will always be people they need to answer to.  There will be a boss, a love, a government, etc.  As I stated before, children need to learn things like patience, delayed gratification, humility, and self control.  These make a healthier, happier child.  Children with boundaries know they are loved.

9) Remember, you are the parent and you have the final say.  Even when you give your child options - you control the options.  As the parent, you control the situations in which your child expresses power.  It is easy to get stressed about our children's behaviors.  They are learning and growing, just like we are.  Take a deep breath.  Remember that you are the boss, even when Sam throws a tantrum.  You can help him through this.

Take a deep breath.  Your kids are going to grow to be healthy, loving adults. You can make it through those tough times and come out better on the other side!


How do you help your child through tantrums?  What do you do to soothe yourself when you're having that mental tantrum about something that seems unjust to you?  Do you have other tips to share?

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