Archive for January, 2010

A Note From the Past

A wise woman once wrote:

“You can’t wing child rearing despite finest attempts and I KNOW you love her. But she is little and different. Not at all like an adult…I believe in good parenting to the depth of my soul.”

Okay…[deep breath]

#1: Never organize your papers (especially letters and cards from the past) when in a ‘delicate’ mindset. I think I need to sit under a nice wide-spectrum light and combat the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I cried buckets when I read the card she had written.

#2: I heard you and I listened, Diane, for that matter I still am…20 years later.

I have yet to find a person for whom parenting comes naturally. It isn’t that I don’t believe they exist, for I’m sure they do, but the demands that raising a new life bring us are varied, ever-changing, and oh so challenging.I guess that’s why I’m such a believer in parenting classes. If for nothing else, it’s like being handed a toolbox with shiny new features and options guaranteed to improve and enhance. Even if you are already a great parent, getting to take home the toolbox adds clarity and commitment to everything you do.

I wish that I could tell Diane how much her not so subtle push towards that parenting class changed me, and altered everything that would follow in how I related to my children. I fell in love with parenting, the things I learned then and since altered me irrevocably. Not just that, but I was lucky enough to be in a position to help others become exceptional parents as well. Teaching parenting classes has been a true joy for me as I have shared what I have learned over the past twenty years with scores of parents.

I wish Diane could have met my little one, or even her own daughter’s two sons, now aged nine and four. They would have thought she was funny and weird, and they would have liked her a lot.

Diane passed from our lives in early 1994. In the eight years prior to that she infuriated, frustrated, amused, challenged and inspired me in countless ways. She had a quirky way about her, she lived her life fully and without compromise, and she left a legacy behind that I think of often:

  • Enjoy this moment, find humor in life’s dramas and embrace weirdness
  • Be the best parent that you can be, always and forever

A couple of months ago I blogged in Coaching Through Thought and Action – my life coaching blog – that “you must not come lightly” to life change or writing or whatever you set out to do. It bears repeating here. When it comes to parenting, you also ‘must not come lightly.’ As Diane so  eloquently wrote, you can’t wing it, despite your finest attempts. Take the time to think about it, to weigh what is right, to realize you hold such a precious gift in your hands.

I think of the twist of fate that brought parenting classes into my life. And I think of Diane often as I reflect on how those classes affected how I have raised my two children. She was right, “they are little and different, not at all like an adult.”

There are no ‘do-overs’ when raising a child.


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What are These? The Terrible THREES?!

When a tantrum comes, it can be epic. I mean, truly epic. With only two exceptions, they have happened at home and not in public. And believe me, my husband and I are quite thankful of that. The tantrum, filled with door pounding, toy throwing and blood curdling screams that leave your eardrums aching, usually lasts for about twenty minutes.

Our parents didn’t really ‘get’ how bad they were until we called them, first my husband’s parents, then mine, during an episode that lasted more than thirty minutes. It was fueled by no nap and lots of sugar and caffeine after a birthday party for my husband and it stands out in stark contrast to the rest in its duration and intensity. Our parents, all of them, were amazed and shocked. They assured both of us that we had never had a tantrum like that. They were sure, they all said, that they would have remembered as they listened to the screams carried thousands of miles over phone lines.

What causes these tantrums?

Lack of sleep.


Too much sugar.

Or…just because.

Enduring them, while not being able to simply snap my fingers and make them go away by ignoring them or some other quick fix has been humbling to say the least. I have searched my memories, over and over, trying to remember anything like this from my experiences raising my firstborn, now 21 years old, but keep coming up empty. This isn’t a matter of convenient amnesia, this is a matter of complete lack of experience with this form of outburst.

My firstborn tried throwing a tantrum once. She had seen the others in daycare do it, she was tiny, maybe eighteen months old, and she threw herself down on the floor and began kicking and screaming. I looked at her, said “Hah!” and walked out of the room. Out of her view I stood quietly around the corner and watched. Less than a minute later she stopped, looked around, and realized she had no audience. She picked herself up and continued with her day as usual. She never did it again.

So when Emily’s tantrums started this past November, just a month after her third birthday, I was completely taken aback. What was this? Where did it come from? Everyone had commented that she was such a good baby. She was sweet, talkative, lovable, obedient, and friendly – what wasn’t to like? And then the tantrums started.

We looked for causes. Is everything all right in her daycare? We reduced her hours in daycare from full-time to just three days per week at the end of November and we watched her responses to going to daycare carefully. No problems there, she seemed to really enjoy going there and was reluctant to leave at the end of the day. No one else besides us cares for her or is left alone with her, so all seemed fine.

We reduced sugary snacks and enforced naps. “You can play quietly in your room if you like, but you must go in there and stay there because it’s quiet time right now.” Almost without fail we would peek in and find her curled up asleep within half an hour.

We reduced television watching to one short show in the morning and nothing until after dark fell (this will get better as the days grow longer – less tv time!)

The tantrums are infrequent, perhaps one or two per week, but it remains a very disturbing and stressful situation for us. We explain to her after the tantrum is over and she is wiping her tears away, “We have rights. Everyone in this house deserves to not be yelled or screamed at, to not be hit. When you do this, you will be put in your room and the door will be closed until you can calm down.”

She nods and from what I can tell, understands quite well what we are saying. Early on, after a tantrum I would ask her, “Do you know why I put you in your room?”

“Because I was bad.”

“No, it is because you screamed at me (or Daddy) and tried to hit us. Screaming and hitting is not okay.”

Last night I asked her why and she said, “Because I screamed at you and Daddy.”

And this is the message I want my daughter to understand. Not that she was bad or a monster or any other tongue-in-cheek references to The Exorcist that my husband and I may share between ourselves. The reason she was isolated from us is an issue of basic respect. I cannot scream at her or her daddy, her daddy cannot scream at me or her, and she cannot scream at either of us. It is simply not an acceptable way to show her disagreement, frustration or anger.

I will admit it, I worry about the onset of the warm months. Will her screams and door-pounding result in a visit from the police or the Department of Family Services? Part of me cringes as I think, “I teach parenting classes for crying out loud, what will people think?!”

As I shared my fears during a meltdown last night, my dad commented, “Heck, I’d call DFS if I heard that kind of racket coming out of a house!”  And since our daughter’s room is within earshot of the street (especially during a tantrum), I am hoping, desperately at times, that these tantrums will be resolved before the weather gets warm.

I have run down the list, done the research, and come up with three choices:

  • Ignore the behavior until it subsides
  • Social isolation (time out in her room)
  • Holding/gently restraining

I know my limits. I am simply not wired to be able to stand there and let my child scream in my face and make my eardrums ring or allow her to hit one of us. I have tried the holding/gentle restraining during one episode. It not only infuriated her worse, I am pretty sure I now have significant hearing loss (okay, I’m being slightly sarcastic). It seemed to make things worse, although I spoke to her quietly and tried to rub her back while she did everything she could to, a) get loose, and b) hit me, while still screaming at the top of her lungs.

This leaves social isolation, or a time out. Her bedroom door sticks slightly. And when she is in a tantrum mood, she becomes so upset she loses the ability to manipulate the door open successfully. She screams, pounds on the door, bellows to us to ‘let her out’ and throws her toys. She does not, thankfully, hurt herself (except inadvertently). What I have found interesting is our reaction. We want her back out with us and we often go to her long before she has gotten all her anger out and try to speak with her, asking her if she would like to come out.

The door is typically slammed in our face, even as she screams at us to let her out. In time, sometimes as little as five minutes and sometimes as long as half an hour, the tantrum passes. She emerges, tear streaked and hiccuping and walks up to me as she did last night. She wraps her arm around my leg, presses her head close and peers up at me, “I’m sorry,” she says.

“What are you sorry about?” I ask.

“I’m sorry I screamed at you and hit Daddy.”

“I’m sorry you did too, honey, because I don’t like having to put you in your room or hear you so upset.” I hug her to me, “I love you.”

“I love you too, Mama.”

And with that, we sit down to eat dinner.


If your child is engaging in tantrum behavior, you might try these following steps:

  • Attempt to find a cause – too much sugar, too little sleep? Examine who your child has been spending time with – extreme anger can in rare cases be a sign of some kind of abuse.
  • Structure the environment – remove the possible causes of tantrums from the environment. We do not allow Emily to have any sugary snacks or soda on a regular basis now. Our house also has a rule in place for my mother, “You cannot return our daughter to us within twelve hours of feeding her sugar or chocolate!” Have a safe place for your child to go when they need a time out. We use our daughter’s room because this is her sanctuary. It is the place she goes to rest, to be by herself, and to pull herself together when she is feeling out of control.
  • Post the Rules – Experiencing the tantrums led me to think about some of our (primarily unspoken) rules of the house: no hitting, no yelling, politeness by saying “please” and “thank you, ” being kind to the animals, cleaning up your mess, and more. Think about what yours are and have a family discussion about it. Consider posting a list of the rules for everyone to see and refer back to it when any member of the house violates a rule.
  • Agree and Assess – It is vital that you (and your spouse or partner) agree on a plan of action and maintain a unified front. My husband is a bit of a marshmallow in comparison to me. She screams once and that’s it, she’s in her room. He will let her get at least a handful of screams in, and possibly a hit or two at him, before he even threatens to put her in her room. This is something we have had to work on, because we have both seen that she reacts with far more belligerence in his presence than in mine. We talk about it, when we are calm, and we assess the situation afterward and alter our behavior if we feel the tantrums need a different approach.
  • Write it Down – If you are seeing regular tantrums, chart them out. Details to include would be:
  1. Date and time of day
  2. Possible causes of tantrum
  3. What child did during tantrum
  4. What you did to combat it
  5. How long it took for your child to recover from the tantrum
  • Don’t Live in Fear – As I have watched these tantrums unfold in the last few months I have come to a realization. If they continue, I will have the police or possibly DFS at my door. This will, in all likelihood happen of the tantrums continue into spring. And really, I’m neither afraid of it nor resentful. In a case like this, if a child were being abused, I would want the authorities to intervene! I would want my neighbors to take the chance at upsetting or embarrassing us and report a child screaming in our home. It will be quite obvious when they arrive and see her that she has not been hurt and I will calmly explain the steps we have taken to deal with the situation.
  • Love the Child, Not the Behavior – I will admit that it is hard for me to not be resentful. It seems that long after the tantrum has ended, my nerves are still a jangly mess while our daughter is as carefree as a bird. But I love her, and while I do not like or appreciate the behavior, I love my daughter deeply. I take pains to make sure she knows that I love her no matter what. I state clearly that her behavior has hurt my feelings, but that I still love her and always will.
  • Seek Help – If your child is having screaming and violent tantrums multiple times each day – if they hurt themselves or others – if it takes them hours to calm down afterwards – these are all signs of a potentially far larger problem. Consult with a pediatric psychologist and bring notes on how often the tantrums have occurred, the potential causes, and what you have done during each episode.

In closing I simply want to say this – our responsibilities as parents include loving, protecting and teaching our children, even during the most trying of times. But that doesn’t mean we have to be screamed at or hit. We have rights too. Teaching our children what those right are, posting them for all the world to see, and sticking to them through thick and thin, will infuse your child with a sense of respect and common courtesy that is direly needed in our modern world.

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