Today on our way back from a nice weekend at Lake Rabun, that also came with a bit of sleep deprivation for Will, we stopped at the Varsity because Will needed to go to the bathroom and we’d agreed to buy him and Owen an ice cream to split as a mid-trip treat. He ordered a vanilla ice cream in a cup. I got a second cup so he could share a bit of the giant scoop with Owen. It suddenly occurred to Will that he’d prefer a cone but I was already splitting the ice cream between cups and explaining to him that a cup would be less messy in the car anyway. You can get a cone next time, Rob and I explained. But Will launched into tears before it was possible to come to a reasonable compromise. We’ve made it policy not to change course because Will is crying; if crying were an effective weapon for Will, he’d be sobbing all the time. By the time we’d made it to the car, he was entering tantrum mode, trying to wiggle out of his seatbelt, demanding a return to the ice cream counter and sobbing and sobbing.
For probably 40 minutes, we listened to Will cry in the back seat as his vanilla ice cream melted in the cup holder in between the front seats. He was welcome to eat it at anytime, but he was too focused on driving back to the Varsity to get a cone instead. It was incredible to me that a kid who loves ice cream so much could become so fixated on a silly power struggle with his parents that he would deprive himself of ice cream for 45 minutes and opt to engage in futile sobbing and pleading instead. When he recovered, he did so suddenly and beautifully and he came out of his tantrum as pleasant, polite and willing to comply as ever.
This isn’t Will’s first foray into tantrum land. He had the things in sometimes beastly ways when he was in his twos and then settled down for good in his threes. Or so we thought. Over the past couple months, the tantrums have returned occasionally – always when Will is tired, always over bizarre little issues of control and occasionally with a horrible ferocity. It’s quite common apparently for a reformed tantrumer to relapse sometime between four and five. Here Dr. Sears talks about why – and offers some advice for coping (scroll down to "Managing Tantrums in Older Children"). First on my list is to get the boy to bed by 8 or 8:30, even when we’re on vacation.
I’m also crossing my fingers that we miraculously conquer this second tantrum phase in the three weeks before we set out on our road trip to Colorado. Otherwise, Rob and I may need to bring along a suitcase full of patience and a couple sets of ear plugs.