The first night, Chris was in denial. He insisted this intense three hour long rage was caused by the remnants of her fever. We were all hopeful. Then the following morning during daycare drop off she started to roll around on the floor screaming and charging the little table and chairs like an incensed rhino. We knew that if we employed the time out method for every tantrum Molly would spend every evening up in her crib rather than hanging out with us which was highly uncool, even if she was acting like Shannon Doherty. So we went to the experts: some mother's of toddlers, the internet and our ECE worker to get some advice on causes and how to deal with a 23lb firey ball of rage.
What Causes Tantrums?
Basically it's part of normal development for a child to show their frustration when they don't have the current ability to express their emotions through words. Normal doesn't necessarily mean not crummy for the adult(s) responsible.
What NOT to Do?
Don't laugh. As hard as it is, especially when they're throwing their fourth tantrum of the day because you wouldn't let them eat grape stems that they've fished out of the compost.** Laughing at a tantruming toddler makes them feel like you're dismissing their feelings. This becomes a little stickier when their brother walks over and laughs in your daughter's face.
Things we Tried that Worked (And when they didn't work we moved onto the next item)
Let a Rolling Toddler Roll
We let Molly roll around on the floor and have her tantrum, pretending to ignore her antics - after surveying the area to make sure that she wasn't going to hurt her head.
The Game of Distraction
I thought we were done with redirection, however if we catch Miss Molly early enough in her downward spiral we are able to distract her with a favourite toy, game, book or food.
Over-praise the Other Child for Good Behaviour
When I was pregnant I used to joke that the best part of having twins was the ability to use them against each other in learning social graces. "Look Molly, Jack is eating ice cream and going for unicorn rides with Mommy and Daddy because he didn't throw a tantrum."***
Some people believe that 18 months old is too young, but when Molly gets too worked up or gets physical she gets a time out for about four minutes. We were giving her time outs in her crib, but after talking to another mom, we've decided to give time outs in a toy less playpen - this way she doesn't start to equate bed time or the nursery with punishment.
You may find yourself asking, "How can a toddler get physical?" Well, we were over-praising Jack for refraining from log rolling around the living room, when Molly took a break from the Tasmanian Devil routine to toddle over to the cat, grab his belly and shake it with all of her might. When Pan moved away, without a meow or a hiss, she decided to take things to the next level. She climbed up on the couch and started slapping him. Pan refrained from hurting the toddler and was even understanding when, after Molly's time out, we returned so I could show her the merits of being gentle.
While the cat didn't punish Molly directly he took it upon himself to take a giant dump in the downstairs shower that evening. It was his way of saying, "If you can't contain your crap, I'm not going to contain mine."
Our cat Pan, Chilling with his cast post surgery.
Talk it Out
We have had the least success with this method mid-tantrum and moderate success post-tantrum. One of my mother friends told me that she simply and plainly tells her son that she "will not negotiate with terrorists" and then walks away. Another mom I know told me how she sits her daughter down and tells her that she's available to talk whenever she's ready. I wish I had that level of patience the other morning when Molly tossed her Elmo chair against the wall mid-tantrum. I was just trying to get everyone out the door in time, so I just had to scoop up her limp as a noodle screaming body and take her out to the car.
We're still trying new suggestions day by day and over a week since the first big "incident" outbursts are lasting minutes rather than hours.
One of the hardest things to do when you're under stress while attempting to raise toddlers is to keep your frustration in check. We need to lead by example, and there are definitely days when I want to go Naomi Campbell, unfortunately my kids are watching far more closely than any paparazzi.
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*The correct answer is Naomi Campbell.
**I'm pretty sure that we are raising a pack of wild raccoons, not children at this point.
***We don't actually own a unicorn, however we took jack for rides around the house on his toy car and played with blowing bubbles while Molly log rolled around the living room floor.