Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sing It Aretha

So my awesome brother's awesome little son is now two and according to latest reports, sometimes throws tantrums. The sudden onset and venom of which kind of startle my sweet brother. So I told him my strategy for dealing with the irrational, full-blown tantrum: Respect.

Yes, it's pointless, ridiculous, silly. The flailing child's sense of self-importance is so vastly disconnected from their pudgy, insignificant little self. But for the child, this is very serious. The subtext of most tantrums is, "I'm a real person! With opinions! And needs! Heed me!"

While you can't hand over the lollipop or postpone bedtime or whatever else they're demanding at the moment, you can indeed fill their need for validation and respect. So my M.O. is to reflect and articulate: "You are mad! You are so upset right now! You are so frustrated that I put honey on your sandwich because you did not want honey!"
In honor of Jesse's upcoming birthday, a shot of one of his first, though certainly not one of his last, screaming fits.

Now, whether or not you are willing to produce a new sandwich is a whole 'nother story. And if this tantrum doesn't wane forthwith, the child should be banished to time-out or bedroom or whatever to cool down. But putting words to the child's feelings doesn't mean giving in to their demands, and I find that half the battle is won by just showing the child that 1.) you get it and 2.) it matters to you. Because sometimes we don't notice how often we treat little children like ridiculous little pets (yes, I realize this is because they act like ridiculous little pets), when really they want to be treated like little men and women.

Fast forward to teenagers: My two admirable young men are demanding that I become even more attuned to this issue. They are so good in so many ways--and yet on occasion they spray paint the garage floor and put wooden spoons in the dishwasher and growl at their siblings and drape dirty socks over the piano and a million other things that require parental correction. And their need for manly respect is even higher because they believe--silly things!--that they are men.

If I snap a criticism at them as if they were little kids, they'll balk and argue and talk back. None of which is okay, and all of which earns them negative consequences. But if I take a deep breath and address them with the tact and respect I would give another adult--voila--the whole issue is avoided.

I'm a firm believer that parents should demand and enforce respect from their children. I'm the mom and, yes, you must listen to my lectures sans eye-rolling for as long as I care to deliver them. But authority can be wielded in tandem with respect. Not only does it grease a lot of wheels, it's the right thing to do.


  1. I enjoyed this post. It is very wise.

    Word Verification: unnag, which I think is a sign that the post was meant for me.

  2. Well put! I think I have become a bit of an expert at putting my child's wishes/demands into words for him since Isaiah couldn't say what he wanted for so long. We often collapse on the floor together until I can figure out what's bothering him. Sometimes it's a bit of a guessing game, but he always feels better 5 minutes later. I think the cuddles on the floor are also an important part of the success of it for me.

    Your wisdom is far beyond your years!

  3. I need to do better at this. I am going to take the advice here that I give others in working with teachers: repeat back the concern that people express before responding. Helps you process and make sure you heard it correctly.

    Good stuff Angela.

  4. Roko was here today. The "two's" are terrible because two year olds have so much to say but not always the skills to say it. Roko spent the day saying-or rather screaming things like "Harry!", "Bria!", "Down!", "Out!". During dinner at Applebees he spent time screaming over the guitar and clarinet hung on the wall, that he couldnt play with. I know that Kelly gets frustrated and embarrassed, but we've all been there, and even during his screaming-fits he's still the cutest ever.

  5. AMEN! Beautifully said!! I don't have teens yet but man does it work with little ones. As long as I take a minute to think before I react...that is always the key!

  6. You're not supposed to put wooden spoons in the dishwasher? Who knew.

  7. You're not supposed to put wooden spoons in the dishwasher?

  8. ok--sooo did not read nancy's comment before i made mine. interesting that of all that wise wisdom, that is the thing that stuck out to both of us as blasphemy.

  9. Well said, Angela! I have noticed both my tendency to ignore children's feelings and how much happier we all are when I treat them like the real people they are.

    Happy Mother's Day to one of the best moms I know.