Last week I had occasion to be reminded of my six-year old’s capacity for stubbornness. Actually a few occasions. It is a challenging time for her. Her baby sister had her first birthday a few weeks ago and her big sister had her eighth birthday earlier this week. Her birthday is in August and it probably feels like forever until she gets to have her special day again.
Last Sunday we were getting ready to go to our friends’ house for dinner. I pointed out that she needed to do up her shoe before we headed out the door. One shoe was done up an the other was undone. This unreasonable request to do up two velcro straps set off a round of shouting – not just from her. She started shouting that she wouldn’t do it. I repeated my request and then she shoved me as her tantrum started ramping up.
I don’t respond well to being hit or shoved and she has a tendency to strike out at my partner, me and her big sister when she is frustrated, bored, etc. Telling her not to hit has not solved the problem. When she shoved me and yelled at me, I grabbed her arms and held her still while I growled at her not to shove me. I told her to do up her shoe and told her we were going and moved her outside and closed the door behind me since everyone else was already outside and ready to go.
She laid down on the porch and refused to get in the van or go. She wailed and fought and when we couldn’t convince her to get in the van, I picked her up and put her in the van and buckled her in. She immediately unbuckled herself and continued screaming and crying. The crying and rage continued most of the way to dinner.
The next night we had another tantrum as a result of her refusal to get into a bath which included bubbles. I decided to remove myself from the situation and give her baby sister a bottle while my partner read to our eight-year old. Having a battle of wills with her is not a route to success.
It occurred to me while she was crying in her room that the reason we but heads so much and that I get so frustrated by her refusals is that I am just as stubborn. I also don’t take well to being told I can’t do something I want or plan to do. I have had to learn over the years how to manage this frustration in a productive way. As an adult I talk about it being a positive trait that I don’t tend to take no for an answer. That realization made me think about how I could help her deal with her frustration and temper tantrums.
I also had a bad temper when I was younger. As I understand it from family stories, I am not the only one in the family who burns hot. I got into fights at school – typically as a result of other kids at school teasing me to get the out of control reaction from me. I typically lost those fights. My temper has been under control since grade seven or eight as a result of martial arts training. I learned the importance of controlling myself and skills to do it. I also realized that after a certain amount of training it would be dangerous to other kids for me to lose my temper because I knew techniques that could cause serious harm if I was out of control.
My unwillingness to take no for an answer also comes from my family. Family lore tells of my my Grandfather’s experience trying to get work as a plumber when he immigrated to Canada from Britain after WWII. He was told by the union executive that they didn’t take Limeys and he would never work in Toronto. His response was to tell them that not only would he work, he would take each of their respective jobs in the union. I am not sure if this record still stands, but as of the time I heard the story at his funeral he was the only person to have held all but one of the executive roles in that union.
After I finished feeding my daughter I passed her off to my partner and climbed into bed with my six year old to have a chat. I told her that I understood her frustration at not being able to get her way. I told her about how I was stubborn like her and that I also get very frustrated when I can’t get my way, including when she refuses to do something I ask her to do. I told her that I want to help her to figure out how to get her way more often. I told her that I don’t like yelling at her when she isn’t co-operating.
She thought that sounded good. We talked about picking your battles. I said that there are certainly times when it is worth fighting to get your way and times when it is important to reject what others are saying. We talking about fighting for others who need help or who can’t fight for themselves. We talked about finding things in common with people you disagree with so you can get some of what you need. I told her that I have learned to get my way by using my words. I talked about working with people to find common ground so that everyone can get what they need out of a situation. I told her there are times we need to let others have their way so that we can maintain a good relationship or so that we can get our way next time.
I don’t think she bought all of what I was saying and what we talked about, but we did come up with a strategy for dealing with temper tantrums. I’ve had the opportunity to make use of the strategy once and it worked.
Whenever she has a tantrum I am going to remind her to choose her battles. That is the cue for both of us to walk away and take a minute to think about what we want. For her it means she needs to calm down enough to think and decide what she needs. For me it means removing myself from a frustrating situation and dialling down my rising temperature. After a minute I will ask her what she needs. Then we will talk about how I can help her get what she needs in the situation. I told her that she might not get everything she wants, but we will figure out a way to get her way in some regard.
I have no idea if this is going to work long term. It does give me a strategy that I can use and stick to though. If nothing else I have given myself permission to walk away and I have an agreement from her to stop and think for a minute which may help to diffuse the situation.
What techniques do you use to manage temper tantrums?