Thursday, August 30, 2007

Talking to tantrumers (and spanking debate follow-up)

After things got a bit heated in the response to my blog on “the spanking debate” (See the post from August 24), lactation consultant Jennifer Fletcher sent me an e-mail disclaimer about her stance against paddling and spanking, both in the home and in schools. See an excerpt from her note below. (By the way, Psychologist Julie Rose's letter to the editor on the same subject drew much more heated and more numerous responses. To read that verbal battle go here and click on "We're still doing this?")

In my response to one of the comments on this blog, I had discussed my attempts to both talk to Will after (and sometimes during – although that’s always futile) a tantrum and to encourage Will to say to other kids who push or hit: “Stop. That is not nice.” Jennifer had some good advice about choosing words that are effective when kids are angry or tantruming:

Here are her thoughts:

In reading a little further in your Blog space I noted that you try to encourage Will to use his words by reminding him that hitting is "not nice." Well, here is something to think about. When a child is really angry, he could care less about being "nice." He is angry, frustrated, and purely pissed off. Being told that something is "not nice" may tend to make it just exactly what he most wants to do, because at that moment he isn't feeling very nice at all.
With my boys I used to say, "I bet you're really mad!" or "Boy, that's a mad face!" Sometimes I would have to resort to, "THAT WON'T DO!" (They knew what that phrase meant!) Sometimes I would say nothing at all, just remove them from the situation. And I would never, ever make them say, "I'm sorry" unless they really did feel some contrition. Otherwise the words become entirely meaningless. Just something to think about from one who's been there.....

With each of Will’s tantrums I still struggle to find the right words. I try to offer him a couple explanations for why he can’t have the thing he so desperately wants in that moment (this is usually the problem) but it’s quickly apparent that he has absolutely no interest in logic. Rob and I are learning to respect his need for a good cry here and there. We try to acknowledge his frustration, offer our rationale for not letting him have a cookie for breakfast(as one example), perhaps offer an acceptable alternative (which never interests Will) and then let him know that we won’t keep discussing it since it only seems to be making him madder. Usually if we’re able to leave the room, he calms down faster. Then he’s not confronted by our power, which of course is the root of most tantrums – the desire to have power when you cannot. We do try to choose our battles, let Will make choices and comply with his reasonable requests. But when tantrum boy rears his ugly head, I am always searching for the best way to discuss appropriate behavior after the tantrum simmers down (this is the only time for real talking with Will, and for most toddlers I presume.)

A good while back, I tried Harvey Karp’s recipe (from “The Happiest Toddler On The Block”) for mirroring your toddler’s frustration by getting down on their level and trying to vocalize their frustrations with the same level of rage they seem to be feeling (“Will is mad, mad, mad…. Will wants to…..” hitting fists on floor for emphasis. Then following up with a more soft-spoken explanation of why they can’t have the thing that you totally understand that they want.) It’s a nice enough idea but I couldn’t pull it off. Will was neither comforted nor amused by my primate-like empathy and I felt like a goof and a lousy actress. Anyone else tried that trick?

I’d also really love some ideas about how to talk to your toddler about what to do (and what to think) when another child hits them or pushes them. Anyone have thoughts on that one?

And finally the disclaimer from Jennifer Fletcher regarding comments to that August 24 post: Since she commented on an earlier post regarding co-sleeping safety, she was concerned she might be mistaken for the Jennifer who weighed in in favor of paddling. Jennifer Fletcher says: “I am 100% opposed to corporal punishment in any setting, but most particularly in the schools … So do whatever you need to do to assure your readers that Jennifer Fletcher, RN, IBCLC could never condone violence against our precious little ones.”


Tina said...

The Happiest Toddler on the Block has been a very helpful tool for me. And they do have a DVD at the library for us burned out mothers

nickimay08 said...

Too funny, I tried the whole Happiest Toddler on the Block approach too. I just couldn't quite manage to pull it off either, besides feeling ridiculous every time I did it. We've been using the 1-2-3 Magic approach and it seems to work fairly well. Sometimes, though, especially with a strong-willed child, I really believe there are days when nothing seems to work :). I just think staying patient, calm, and consistent is key. There's a good debate about spanking at The Center for Effective Discipline takes the no-spanking side and makes some great points and suggestions.