Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Project Tantrums: Day 2

Yesterday we had a big explosion. We go to a friend's house on Tuesday mornings for a "mom's group." We moms talk while the kids play. Yesterday toward the end of the morning Peanut Butter told me he needed to go potty, so I went along and assisted, then "helped" him wash his hands. He loves to push the top down on the soap bottle to squirt soap into his hand, so I held it for him while he tried to do it. The top was stuck at first, but after giving it a try myself and getting it to work, I held it for him to try again. He tried several more times, was unable to get it, so as he tried again I pushed his hand down with my own, and the soap squirted out. That kind of unsolicited help awoke a monster of insulted anger in my little boy, and he began to wail and sob. The tantrum began before I had time to see it coming and avert it, and it was too late to stop it. He would not be appeased with anything. After more than a few unsuccessful attempts to calm him, I decided it was time for us to go home. That made him madder, and after the long painful process of bundling the three kids unwillingly into their coats and boots (or carseat, in the case of Raindrop), we loaded into the van and headed home. The example given in the handbook of a good response to a tantrum like that was to express a broken relationship: sadness, lack of interaction or response until true repentance is expressed. But we were on our way home just before naptime, and silence would certainly result in Peanut Butter's falling asleep on the way home, either ruining naptime, or else, if I did manage to get him in his bed to continue his nap, he surely would have forgotten the episode by the time he awoke. And I wasn't sure letting "the sun go down" without having resolved the issue or dealt with it was very wise. I decided a spanking would deal with the episode in a final way, so we could put the episode behind us without just pretending it didn't happen. Another book I've read about training children explains that when a child has done something wrong, often physical punishment is the healthiest way to deal with their guilt. They feel as though they have paid for their wrong, and they can move on. So I explained to Peanut Butter that his crying when Mommy helped him with the hand soap was naughty, and that he would be spanked for it when we got home. He defended himself in his high pitched, squeaky, "but I've been wronged!" voice. I explained that sometimes Mommy needs to help him even when he doesn't want me to, and it is not okay to cry about it. The ride home is about 15 minutes, and at that time of day I'm usually playing games in the car, like "I spy", to keep both boys awake. Today, whenever I noticed Peanut Butter's eyes getting heavy, I reminded him of the spanking waiting for him when he got home. That woke him right up. He thought of a new tactic to try in order to avert the promised discipline as we were getting out of the van to go inside. He decided he would ask me nicely, "Peese stop spankin' me, Mom." That's how I've taught him to respond when Christopher Robin or another person is doing something he doesn't like (rather than his ear-piercing wail or a hard shove). I remained undeterred, took him to his bedroom, sat on his bed with him, made sure again that he understood what the issue was, and got it over with. As soon as it was done I hugged him and told him how much I loved him, and let him see that as far as I was concerned, the episode was behind us. Then I told him that next time Mommy has to do something he doesn't like, or help him with something when he doesn't want me to, he need to be strong, take a deep breath, and hold those naughty cries in. "Don't let them out. Be strong and brave." He seemed to understand, and a few minutes later, when he and Christopher Robin began to fight about who was picking up which Lincoln Log, I stopped him, showed him how to take a deep breath and stop the crying, and exhorted him again to not let those naughty noises out. He listened, and did a good job. Hooray! I think I may have helped him understand the concept of fighting against the naughtiness. And a couple of seconds later, when I told Christopher Robin something he didn't like and he began to fuss and whine, I told him the same thing. "Be strong. Don't let those naughty noises out."

I have started insisting Peanut Butter make his voice calm and normal before he can tell me what he's grieved about. It all seems to be an exercise of learning self control. He's a strong little man. He just need to aim all that strength and passion towards learning the good and silencing the bad.

Chapter 9 in Laying Down the Rails is about breaking a bad habit, and one step she mentions is to "identify the core trait of the defect and take it in the opposite direction mentally; figure out what that trait would look like if it were used for good." What is the core defect of giving in to passionate outbursts of anger? Is it standing strong against them, like I've begun to teach him to do, or is there a more active response? I know when someone diets they're encouraged to replace the bad food with good, or to replace snacking with a different activity. Is there a different activity I could give Peanut Butter to do instead of the tantrum? I guess that's what I'm doing when I distract him from the tantrum by letting him help me clean the bathroom or tend the wood stove.

Ugh. The kids are awake now, and I return to the keyboard agitated and frustrated. I changed baby Raindrop's diaper, then put her on the floor and searched for something new for her to play with. I decided on the blue tote bag, picked it up and set it down in front of her. Peanut Butter decided he wanted to be the one to give her the blue tote bag, and started his wailing insistence. I asked him to come with me and help me clean the bathroom, and he threw himself down and continued to cry about the tote bag. I took his hand and asked him to come to the basement with me to check the wood stove, but he sank away and complained louder about the tote bag. Now what?? I put my hands over my face in despair. Now I'm showing him my disappointment and displaying a broken relationship, but what if it doesn't bring him to repentence??

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