First of all, it should be known that I have never: received a Mother of the Year Award, been nominated for such an award or ever felt worthy of applying for said award.
Mother of the Year, I am not.
Nor never will be.
But……… (and that’s a big but) ………. I have the trial and error experiences of 2 foster children and 3 they’re-all-mine-can’t-send-’em-back children. And over the past 21 years, I’ve learned a few things.
Every mother’s nightmare is a child acting up in a very public place. The grocery store. The mall. The vet (one of my worse nightmares happened here.) A restaurant. Or, better yet, at a very quiet place, like church.
Or the library.
My sons and I were trying to read, doing the “first page test” as we call it, to narrow our library book choices. (We read the first page of a book and if we get so lost in the book that we don’t notice that we’ve turned the page? The book is a keeper. Very scientific, I know.) Two of us were distracted.
“Mommmmmmmy! But I don’t want to go home. I want to stay here! Mommmmmmmy! Noooooooo!”
A mother and her 3 year old were having a battle of the wills.
Now, let me begin this parenting critique with a full-blown pass for the mom in question. She was probably: sleep-deprived, coming down with a cold, distracted by marital problems/financial despair/the washing machine just broke after fixing the air-conditioning (twice) and the lawn mower died and the brakes of her car were replaced, all in the past 30 days. (That last pass was actually me this month but that’s for another post.)
Let’s just say, she was already at her wits end and we are going to give her a huge get-out-of-parenting-hell free card. We will simply observe the behavior at hand and discuss why the tactics never seem to work. Remembering, too, that the not-really-an-expert (me) has never received parenting awards, her own book deal or a guest spot as a consultant on Dr. Phil.
The scene as it unfolded….
#1 – “Stop screaming right now!”
Said, over and over, while looking at the reserve shelf. Never giving her child the attention she was begging for. Never looking at her. Never acknowledging her.
And said seven times.
Yes, I counted.
Because by the second time, I started to think, as loudly as I could, ‘This isn’t working. You need to change tactics.’ Needless to say, she didn’t pick up on my telepathic encouragement.
Remember the phrase: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?” She was driving us all insane with her insanity.
Time for her to move on to….
#2 – “You are being very bad. You are a very bad girl!”
I think I gasped. I remember an article, a long time ago, suggesting that you never tell a child they are “bad.” You can point out the bad behavior. But your child isn’t inherently “bad.” (Now, they also say, you shouldn’t tell your child is “good” either. And I’ve broken that rule many times. — yet, another reason I’ve lost the Mother-of-the-Year award — But I like to think I’m encouraging them to fulfill that prophecy. And that’s a good thing, right?)
And when that didn’t work she resorted to….
#3 – “You are making Mommy very angry!”
Now, I know we’re splitting hairs here but I am a firm believer that no one can “make you” be or feel anything. YOU make yourself angry by allowing your child to high-jack your feelings. And I’m not saying my emotions have never been high-jacked by a willful 3 year old with super-human-whining-and-crying-powers. I’ve just never blamed them outright and given them that power. You can choose how to react to a situation. You can choose to be irritated or amused or indifferent. Or you can choose to be the bigger person, because you are the bigger person, and understand that this is a tantrum, a miscommunication of a bigger picture and this tantrum will eventually go away – with or without intervention.
So when tactics #1, #2 and #3 didn’t work she pulled the…..
#4 – “If you don’t stop screaming we are never coming back to the library ever again!” card.
My son’s eyes about popped out of his head and he had to stifle a giggle.
First of all, never say never.
Second, don’t make promises you never intend to keep. (I know. I said ‘never.’ But in this case, it’s true.)
Seriously. I can use “never” here because if she’s taking her 3 year old to the library now, I’m pretty darn sure she’ll be taking her to the library at least once more before she’s……4.
Because, really? You’re going to deny your 10 year old a trip to the library because of what she did when she was 3?
I don’t think so.
And then the stratagem that all of us, if we haven’t tried, have thought seriously of doing……
#5 – The mom walked right out of the library and left her child standing there near the check out desk.
It was deliberate. It was mean. And, according to my son coming back from the restroom who saw it all, it was fast. Meaning, the mom was walking with deliberate speed that a 3-year-old could never catch up. Already down the steps and to the curb fast.
And that’s when the child let out a blood-curdling scream that brought me to my feet and caused everyone in the library to take notice. (As if they hadn’t already.)
My first thought was that the precious child’s fingers were caught in the automatic doors. Or her mother had just smacked her and seriously injured her. But my son, seeing the fear in my eyes, shook his head and said, “She’s okay. She’s just scared.”
When he described what had happened, I was angry. Abandonment is a very real fear for children. I’ve dealt with it in my own children on many different (foster/adoption/daily life) levels. That little girl couldn’t catch up to her mom if she tried. And she knew it. Those tiny little legs have a hard enough time keeping up on a good day, let alone on a day when she was far from home and had no idea how to get back there. Mom was racing away without her and as much as she wanted to stay at the library, she didn’t want to stay there forever.
Now, I know Mom knew she was coming back or would at least slow down so that her little girl could catch up with her. But her sweet cherub didn’t know that. She was being abandoned. Plan and simple. And that’s a fear you should never, ever, ever put into a child’s head. Ever.
I have to admit. Walking away from my child, to encourage them to keep up with me, is a method I’ve used myself. I’m not proud of it. And I remember the one time I did it, the fear in my foster daughter’s eyes brought me to my knees. It was a bad-mommy moment for me, for sure.
So, after this lengthy critique, what is the solution to a whiny, screaming, war-of-the-wills tantrum from a 3 year old?
I don’t know.
I DO know what worked for me.
Whenever my kids were annoying or whiny or pitching a fit in a public place (or anyplace, for that matter) I resorted to holding them. No matter how annoyed or angry or crabby I was, I held them. Close. In my arms, until the tantrum subsided. And if it didn’t subside quickly enough, I’d whisper. I’d whisper, Shhhh. I’d whisper, I love you. I’d whisper little mini-soliloquies until they quieted down. And then, I’d tell them what I knew.
I knew they wanted to stay/go/have that candy bar/etc. But today we have to make dinner/finish grocery shopping/eat some fruit because we just had ice cream/etc. And next week, when we come back I will make sure we have plenty of time for story hour/run in for just the items on my list/skip dessert at lunch so you can have that candy bar/etc.
I’d make sure they felt heard. I’d explain my position. And I’d assure them, that next time, I will take their needs and desires into consideration — as much as I can, that is.
Because the bottom line is: they just want to be heard. And understood.
That is the bigger picture in any tantrum.
The end result, not getting their way, becomes irrelevant.
What matters most is that you listened to them and you understood.