Every time Pari throws up a tantrum, I try to analyse what could have triggered it. I try to calm her down, expecting her to tell me straight away what the problem is. This approach would have been considered open-minded and mature if the person throwing the tantrum was an adult and not a 4-year-old.
But since we’re dealing with a child, my plea to speak up always falls on deaf ears and my child chooses to change gears, turning up her volume and aggression a notch higher. This is when panic slowly embraces me. I frantically run through a check-list in my mind as to what all could be disturbing my child. Based on my best guess I try to feed or put Pari to sleep. No prizes for guessing that it NEVER works.
What follows is, Pari’s crying and yelling and obstinate behavior stays put. She now pushes a concrete demand before me (like she wants a bar of Dairy Milk or a new toy or wants to watch cartoonat an odd hour, etc.). Mind you this behavior is most often triggered at times when I am pressed for time owing to work commitments or am in the middle of stepping out of the house and the like.
“It’s impossible to protect your kids against disappointment in life.”
― Nicholas Sparks
Trying to salvage the situation, upon insistence of my parents I used to disapprovingly, annoyed, beating up myself for doing it, cave in and let Pari be at peace with what she wanted. My parents would assure me that this way at least the child would stop crying, there’ll be peace in the house and I could carry on with whatever I was doing. The second Pari would get what she wanted, she’d be quiet, smiling and her chirpy self again. This way I might buy time but such chaotic episodes of bad behavior repeated at an alarming frequency.
What was the outcome?
Pari’s stubborness was getting worse by the day with well-practiced tactics. My parents were glad that their precious grand-child was happy and smiling and they were not required to discipline her because theoretically they were in Pari’s good books for making me yield to all her demands. The only person that was left guilty, disquieted, hurt and often sleepless about my child’s worsening tantrums was me.
During this phase, there were occasions when we had gone to attend a wedding or were outside shopping when Pari chose to throw a tantrum for a toy or the like. No matter how much distraction, comforting, cajoling I tried, but she refused to budge. The glares from strangers and questions from people we knew, were making my family edgy over Pari’s meltdown. My ability to discipline my child or rather of being an authority figure was being crudely questioned, that’s when my father pushed me over-the-edge and in a stern voice asked me to oblige and let Pari have whatever she wanted because “log kya sochenge” (what will people think).
“The battle you are going through is not fueled by the words or actions of others; it is fueled by the mind that gives it importance.”
― Shannon L. Alder
The mayhem continued many days, my frustration levels were at their peak and I was transformed into a fire-breathing dragon. Losing my temper at the drop of a hat, irritable and resorting to yelling often. That’s when the Almighty decided I had had enough.
One winter afternoon, I had to step out for some important work while Pari was taking a nap post-lunch. After an hour, when I got back home and was parking my scooter I could hear Pari throwing a tantrum. My immediate reaction would have been to rush inside, but that day something stopped me. I wanted to see how my parents would tackle the situation. Pari was insisting that my mother give her the pearl necklace to play that she (my mother) had worn to the wedding the night before.
My mum on the other hand was calmly sitting in the living room, reading her magazine. Pari was evidently agitated by her composure but my mum refused to budge. She neither let her expression change, nor raised her glance above the book. Pari was obviously feeling the heat because of the cold treatment she was getting. She raced to her grand-father, but today, surprisingly, my father just told her “what you’re asking for is wrong. Go talk to your grandma”. Pari was as shocked as me. I felt my feet turn cold as if I was cemented to the floor in the veranda. In less than five minutes, Pari was quiet, she had picked up her Lego set and sat to play as if nothing had happened.
That’s when I stepped in. I casually asked mum if Pari was up, did she trouble them to which my mother said, Pari has been playing like a good girl since she woke up.
That was the wake up call for me.
I had found the cure to the daily hue and cry. Ignoring.
I had to arm myself with as much information I could gather, put together strong self-control and be patient like my mother had been that fateful afternoon to make things work. The opportunity to test my new-found strategy came soon. This time Pari wanted to color all of the brand- new picture book. I knew it would follow ruining the book, trying to tear a page or two and that would trigger me to yell away like there’s no tomorrow. When she first asked me, I stayed put to what I was doing, but in my mind a stop-watch had started ticking.
With every millisecond Pari’s agitation, screaming and tears were threatening to wash away my new-found resolve. My head felt as it would burst any moment because I could hear my father constantly pressing down on me to let Pari have what she wanted because it was his time to sleep. I bit my tongue hard but kept doing whatever I was doing. After 15 eternally long minutes there was drop dead silence. Pari was exhausted and clearly shocked. My father had gone back to his room, angry at my (seemingly) irresponsible behavior. It took me 5 minutes to return to normal breathing, that’s when I walked up to Pari and asked her if she’d like me to read her a story from the new book. She looked at my face and gently nodded a yes.
I smiled. A warm, gentle smile happy with the achievement of not having shouted or lost my temper and have finally been able to control bad behavior in my child.There has been no looking back since. Ignoring when backed by positive reinforcement after the storm of the tantrum settles down can work wonders.
What have I learnt along the way?
- Most tantrums thrown by pre-primary children are for attention seeking. However one needs to carefully rule out hunger, fatigue, anxiety or sickness. Having a clear view of the relevance or futility of misbehavior by the child helps decide whether ignoring is the best intervention or not.
- When a tantrum is strictly to attract attention, ignoring works best. But to make it have a successful impact, everyone in the family must be on the same page. I had to take a stand and let my parents know that they had to stop intervening to let me discipline Pari effectively.
- Giving in at times will ensure failure of the strategy to ignore. You have to stand your ground and make it look effortless for results to show. Being consistent is important.
- Patience is the key. Being a parent of an obstinate child who can go hungry for a full day to have things done her way is no mean feat. In the past, there have been times, when I’d tear up but Pari wouldn’t give up. Today things are different. I have grown nerves of steel. I keep counting till 500 if need be, waiting patiently for Pari to finally calm down. Slowly, I’m beginning to see positive changes.
- Swallow the bitter pill of social discomfort. Having a child cry loudly, rolling on the floor of a toy shop, screaming away for a hairband other child is wearing at the wedding can be pretty embarrassing. At these times ignoring our embarrassment and discomfort and continuing to ignore is crucial. The perseverance and patience will pay off.
- Testing boundaries of allowance is a normal growth phenomenon. Our children learn by testing waters, learning to use the knowledge to evolve as experienced, intelligent individuals who are autonomous decision makers. But it is us, the parents who have to teach them the limits and appropriate boundaries where they should go.
- Ignoring helps build a respectful and caring relationship with the child.
- Proper implementation can help achieve effective, lasting results in controlling misbehavior.
- It works with children with whom time-out fails (like Pari) while giving them an opportunity to self-reflect and independently correct behavior.
* This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge 2016. My theme is Parenting.
Please find my other posts here.