Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Project Tantrum: Day 1

Incident #1: Not long after they woke up, Peanut Butter was sitting at the island with Christopher Robin when something triggered his whining/crying voice. I instantly asked Peanut Butter to come down in the basement and tend the wood stove with me. He was afraid for the first few steps that I was taking him to be spanked, but when he realized we really were just going down in the basement together, he cheered up. I checked the stove, and the big log I'd put in not long ago was blazing well. "Oh, I checked it, and it doesn't need more wood right now," I said to him. I held his hand as we went back up the stairs, and he cheerfully returned to his seat at the island, the problem forgotten (I can't even remember now what it was).

Incident #2: The boys were at the table eating lunch while I was trying to finish my Wii Fit workout, which had been incessantly interrupted for the past hour and a half, due in large part to little Raindrop's misery from a runny nose, congestion, and teething. I looked up and saw that Peanut Butter had stripped his clothes off. I asked him if he had gone potty, and he said no. I asked him if he needed to go potty, and he said no. I figured it was close enough to nap time that if I made him go, he wouldn't need to do it again, so I told him to go potty before putting his clothes back on. I accompanied him to the bathroom and assisted in the process, then gave him his clothes to put on by himself (something that most of the time he insists on doing himself anyway). He began to whine and cry and wanted me to do it for him. This was a battle, not a temper tantrum, so I realized I would have to deal with it differently. The problem: he wanted me to stop what I was doing and get him dressed. This is a familiar and tiring pattern with Peanut Butter. He'll follow me down the stairs to the basement and insist I carry him back up. I don't, but he then "punishes" me with his wailing cry that lasts until I deal with him. I never reward that behavior, but it continues anyway. This time he took his clothes off himself, but was insisting that I put them back on him. I suppose it's a power struggle. The crying tantrums usually spring from something being done differently than his way. My first priority was to stop the tantrum, so I insisted he stop the crying by the time I counted to three. He didn't the first time, but after a couple of firm swats on his bum, he gained control of himself and stopped. I told him to put his undies on, and he did, but started whimpering, and when I told him to continue dressing by putting his pants on, he began the crying whine saying, "Me want you do it, Mom." After another firm swat, he stopped again, and dressed himself. I felt like I maintained the upper hand in that situation, but it bothers me to have to prod him so much. I want him to be motivated to obey quickly and thoroughly without step-by-step coaching. I hope that will come as he gets a little older and is more able to motivate himself, or to be motivated by ideas, not just physical discipline.

Incident #3: Christopher Robin and Peanut Butter went outside, bundled in their snowsuits, hats, mittens, and boots, to shovel snow yesterday morning. After being outside just a few minutes I heard Christopher Robin's crying. I opened the window and asked what was wrong, and he said his boot had come off his foot in the snow. I encouraged him to put it back on, but his wails rose to meet me and he insisted he could not. This type of situation discourages me, because I want my boys to learn to solve their own problems when they can, not to sink into blubbering helplessness as a first response. But how to get them there? Since focusing on forming habits, I realized that, much as I didn't want to go outside in my exercise shorts to help, I needed to stop his wailing before the response became any more habitual to him than it already was. So I put Raindrop in a deep chair where she would be safe, ran to the basement, put on My Hero's big boots and my jacket, and ran outside to Christopher Robin. "Stop," I said. "First, stop crying. Be strong and brave." He stopped the noise and sniffled at me. "When you get into trouble, look around and figure out what you need to do to fix it." I dug his boot out of the snow and put it back on his foot. I explained that as he walked through the snow, he could watch out for deep patches and walk in Daddy and Mommy's footprints as much as possible to keep from getting himself into trouble again. I was encouraged by his self-possession, as if he really heard me and felt empowered to take control and watch out for his own well-being.

This incident isn't Peanut Butter's, and isn't directly a tantrum incident, but it certainly felt related, and I felt like I formed a new response to the "I'm too helpless to help myself" situation. I think if I keep responding in ways that encourage my kids to do their own problem solving when they can, we'll see some progress.

Most of the other smaller incidents were not so much avoiding tantrums as squelching the whining and crying that pollutes the atmosphere of our home. It's a lot of work, but I'm hopeful that a week or two of vigilance will produce good results. Charlotte Mason talks about getting your kids on your team...helping them understand that the real battle is between them and their bad habits and natural tendencies. Giving them examples of strength and courage, and helping them understand that only the strongest and most determined are able to overcome the urge to do what they want to do in order to do what's right. I want to find some stories that will inspire them in that idea.

I think I would lose hope of ever being able to parent well, if not for God's promises in Proverbs and James 1 assuring me that if I ask Him for wisdom, if I search for it like a treasure, God will give it to me.

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