Saturday, July 24, 2010

When the three-year-old has a hissy fit

Suzi has been pitching some serious fits lately. Several weeks ago there was a big one in the food court at the mall over Aiden not letting her ride in the front of the fire engine rental stroller. People stared--not just to see what was going on, but to make me feel bad. I could see it in their ugly, gaping expressions. Sorry, people, but I will not stop bringing my daughter out in public. Next time Megan and I are totally making them walk though. Then the other day my mom and dad took Suzi to Cracker Barrel and she reportedly threw an embarrassing fit over a $2 toy, making my dad want to sink into the floor and disappear. I am so proud of my mom for not giving in and calmly walking Suzi out of the store. Not all grandparents would do this. Tonight we were all tired after spending the day at Grandma and Grandpa's house and it was getting late, but she wanted to stay at Grandma's and play. She started hitting as we made her put her play dough away, so I took her straight to the van. She was screaming about a plastic pig she wanted to borrow from Grandma and Grandpa's house, but I wasn't about to go back because I knew the fit would only worsen. We've been in similar situations and she realizes we want her to stop screaming, so she will see how far she can push us to get what she wants. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't feel it's smart to negotiate like this. She went on and on about the pig as we drove, screeching and crying and gasping in between sobs. I felt so bad for her. I remember being there, at that age, so upset, too small to get what I wanted and unable to convey what I was feeling. Why don't they see how important the pig is?

And I throw fits too. I throw fits about toys scattered all over the house. I throw fits when I feel overwhelmed. I especially throw fits, at no particular person, when I lose stuff, because it pushes my buttons. I understand how it feels to be out of control of a situation and to get frustrated, so I try to listen to Suzi and help her when she's upset. I draw the line at hitting, though, and Jordan and I are disappointed that Suzi has picked up this habit even though we've never hit her.

I wonder if sometimes I am not understanding enough. At some point I read a book which told me to ask myself why I am parenting in a certain way. Usually I think of times when I might have reacted too harshly. The reasons I generally think of are relics from my past: Children should not hit. Parents should do whatever is necessary to prove hitting doesn't work. Jordan and I agree it is not okay to hit our children and we are proud to have never gone there for any reason. We have that going for us. Still, sometimes I feel my reactions are high in consistency and calmness but low in compassion. Where is that thin little line between compassion and spoiling, and how am I supposed to find it on the spur of the moment in the midst of such a ruckus?

Maybe I should've gone back for the pig.


Anonymous said...

My 5 1/2 year old is a fit-throwing PRO. She doesn't do it as much now, but when she does, look out! As a toddler she had at least 2 or 3 temper tantrums every day. Frequently, I had no idea why.

Here is my not-so-pearly pearl of wisdom: it's not your fault, and it's not your responsibility to always handle it perfectly. This stuff is related to age and temperament, and they're going to grow out of it in their own time regardless of what you do. In the meantime, you're teaching them resilience and coping skills as they work through this stage. As long as you're trying your best and mostly avoid melting down yourself, I think you're golden.

Rebecca said...

You definitely should not go back for the pig. You are right not to negotiate. You were right to take her to the van. What I would recommend in that situation is getting on her level and letting her know that you understand how important the pig is to her and that you wanted her to have it, but when we scream and pitch a fit, we have to leave right then. It's a natural consequence and natural consequences go a long way in teaching a child. You know that old saying "this hurts me more than it hurts you?" It truly HURTS to discipline our children. It aches deep inside to see them long for something or be disappointed, or see them excluded from something. When they miss out on something, it hurts them and that feeling is what sways them to not repeat the behavior again. You have to be firm and the same consequences have to happen every time in order for her to understand. Be consistent.

What you are trying to convey to Suzi is that she cannot communicate her feelings through screaming. Acknowledge her feelings, let her know that you understand and empathize, but that you cannot HEAR them when she is screaming. Encourage her to talk to you. Play games or use pictures to help her identify feelings -- he's sad. What does sad mean? What does sad feel like? He's angry. How do you know he's angry? She is frustrated because she can't convey what she is feeling.

I, too, find myself pitching a fit and realizing in the middle of it, the example I am setting. When you find yourself doing that, give yourself the same consequences. Stop yourself mid-stream and tell Suzi you are not communicating the right way, are you? And give yourself a time out. Go sit in a chair in front of her and tell her that you have to have a time-out. In five minutes, apologize to her and then tell her, calmly, but firmly, that she has to pick up the toys, or whatever else it is, and if it is not done, then institute the consequence.

This is the real key. Have a pre-established consequence. Post a list on the refrigerator. Toys that are not picked up when you ask her to are put in the basked (get an old laundry basket) and cannot be played with again that week. Then, put the basket in your room. That is a natural consequence. It's related and clearly established. Say "You don't want to pick up the toys? Okay, let's go over to the fridge then and find out what happens when we don't pick them up." And then, take her to the list, find the action and the consequence and read it to her. Then, take her back and help her put the toys in the basket and put it away. When she gets upset about it, empathize with her, but be firm. "I'm sorry you're sad, Suzi, but toys that aren't picked up can't be played with. Hopefully, this will be the only time you have to feel this way because next time, we'll pick them up."

There is a great book at the book store called Boundaries with Kids. It talks all about how to discipline with natural consequences. It also made me feel a lot better about seeing my children hurting. It notes there is a difference between hurt and harm.

You did the right thing. It's hard and it hurts, but it is the right thing and I respect you for it.

Megan said...

First of all, I really don't think people were staring at you. Especially not to make you feel bad. That was awkward though... it was awkward for me when Aiden was doing the same thing ten minutes earlier. They were tired.

Threes are so difficult. I'm right there with you. Oh, four, when will you arrive?