Monday, February 9, 2009

Ending the Tantrums

Hmmm... This is interesting. I was planning to work on establishing a new habit this week, but when I flipped to the index of the Habits Handbook I've been reading I saw at the end a section on breaking bad habits, particularly, Temper Tantrums. This is a daily trial, many times an hourly trial, for me with Peanut Butter. Two mornings ago he awoke before Christopher Robin or Raindrop. It's unusual that he's up before Christopher Robin, and when he came out with his arms full of his blanket and his stuffed animal Puppy, I was in the basement tending the fire. I came up the stairs when he was on his way down to see me, so I scooped him up and we sat in our comfy chair together, and I told him how much I loved him. He asked me in a whispered voice to sing the "Peanut Butter" song, the simple one I half made up that uses his real name and tells him what I love about him. So I sang to him, and after a few minutes of snuggling, I asked him where he would like to sit while I started my exercising. He chose the couch, so I set him down and began. It wasn't more than a few minutes later, after such a good beginning some little thing that I don't remember now upset him, and he began his habitual wail, the one loud enough to wake the house and cancel all other noise. I have tried ignoring him, which doesn't work. I have tried sending him off to another room to cry it out, but it doesn't deter him from future tantrums at all. Spanking just makes him cry harder, and he won't be distracted from it when he's in the middle of one. The tantrums poison our days, and if anything they're becoming more frequent instead of less.

So my first focus will be on breaking him of the habit. Chapter 13 tells a story of a young boy who has had tantrums all his life, and how his family makes a plan to help him break the habit. The idea is to give him something else to do before the tantrum is able to begin. So at the first sign of it coming on, to give him a task, a privilege he loves to do, for him to focus on instead. For Peanut Butter, I think it will be to come down in the basement with me to tend the woodstove, or to help me clean the bathroom (believe it or not, it is a trememdous pleasure for a two year old boy to be allowed to wipe down a counter or the toilet with a cleaning wipe). I'll think of others, too. I think this is the most important step for now. To be on constant alert for the tantrum coming on and distract him from it. It retrains his brain, and loosens the grip of the bad habit on his psyche. However, inevitably I'll miss, and a tantrum will happen again. The next step, when one happens, is to express sorrow and a broken relationship. Not to allow the sun to shine again and all to be well when it's over, but to make perfectly clear that our relationship has been hurt. Always to express love, but that love is covered in sorrow, and there is no joy. When finally true deep repentence is expressed, then a talk about how we can make sure it won't happen again. I'm not sure how well my two year old will be able to understand this idea... the five year old in the story was given the task of running around the paddock four times when he felt the "cross-man" coming on. But if I can somehow get him to take responsibility for fighting the temptation for tantrums with his own will, I think we'll see much better progress. If I can't get him to understand that concept, it may just be my job for a while to make sure the tantrums almost never happen.

So. We'll see what happens. Today's task: catch him at the very beginning of each tantrum before it starts and give him something wholesome and appealing to do instead.

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