My daughter was so quiet, in her first two years, that at one point a family member confided worriedly to me that she was afraid my daughter ‘didn’t understand French.’ I had done a lot of reading about children simultaneously learning two (or more) languages, and I knew – if this person didn’t – that my daughter understood what was going on around her, and very well, at that. “It will come”, I would tell the family member, with more confidence than I felt. “Some children are on a different timetable than others.”
Unlike her older brother who, so excited to get his life underway, did everything early, my daughter simply wasn’t in any hurry: she crawled when she darned well felt like crawling. She walked eventually. Talking was no different. She spoke very little until she was two years old, but when she did speak, it was in full sentences.
She more than made up for lost time, when she did begin to speak. My daughter, I began to discover, has ‘a bit’ of a stubborn streak. Where I could coerce her passionate, enthusiastic brother into doing almost anything, at the same age, by simply giving him a choice and making it sound like we were about to do the most amazing thing EVER, (“Do you want to wear your red sweater or your blue sweater?”), my daughter always saw through my ruse: “NO! I don’t wanna get dwessed!”
It was at around that time that the temper tantrums started. Every strategy I had ever learned with her brother simply didn’t work on my fiery little daughter. When the tantrums started, apart from knocking my little girl senseless (which was not an option for me) there was little I could do except to walk away from her and let the temper tantrums ride themselves out. Once she had kicked and screamed her anger and frustration out of her system, then – and only then – could we have a reasonable discussion and come to a more reasonable conclusion (and consequence for her behaviour).
This was not a perfect solution, however. “Mom,” asked my son one day several years later, “How come you only give me time outs? How come C_ never has to take a time-out?” It was a reasonable question and one that required an honest answer. “Well honey,” I told him, as we sat quietly together, “They don’t really work for your sister. When I give you a time-out, have you noticed that they always help you calm down?” My son nodded in agreement. “Well, when I try to give your sister a time-out, she acts like a caged animal. The only way I could get her to stay in her room for a time out would be to chain her in.” Again, he nodded as he pictured the scenario I was painting. “I know it mustn’t seem fair to you, but it just doesn’t help your sister at all. So, I let her get her frustration out and when she’s calmed down, then I give her a consequence.” He seemed to accept that – even I used to give myself timeouts when my temper was getting the best of me and I needed to go into my room to calm down – so he knew I respected the technique.
There is a difference, though, between a 2-year-old temper tantrum and a 5-year-old temper tantrum. And of course, nothing beats the dreaded-by-parents-everywhere PUBLIC temper tantrum. On the Infamous Day in Question, we had gone to the mall after I picked the kids up at their school daycare, after work. C_ was really excited because she was going to a birthday party at a friend’s house the next day and we were going to the mall to buy the present. Any parent with school-aged children knows that going to the mall after school, just prior to suppertime, is not the most brilliant timing. Everyone is tired and everyone is hungry. I was prepared, though, and when we got into the main area of the mall, I knelt down to briefly explain my game plan to the kids. “We want to do this as fast as we can, so we’ll do a circle: we’ll pick up hamster food first; then we’ll buy the birthday present; then we’ll get the crayons E_ needs for art class; then we go home to have supper.” A perfect plan, designed to take the least amount of time, all while getting all of our errands taken care.
“NO!” emphatically stated my daughter. “I wanna get the birthday present FIRST!”
In retrospect (it’s been almost exactly twenty years), I probably picked a really poor time to Make a Point. I could see the temper tantrum boiling up, just on the horizon, and about to bear down on me like a runaway train. And at that particular moment, though, I had had enough. “No, I said,” decisively. “We’re going to stick to Mommy’s plan.”
“NO!” even more emphatically stated my now red-faced, angry little daughter. “I wanna get the birthday present FIRST!”
“C_,” said I, with a growing feeling of dread, “We do it the way Mommy said or we go home right now. No birthday present; no birthday party. You need to calm down right now.”
This same dialogue repeated itself perhaps three more times before The Meltdown was in full swing. My daughter was howling at the top of her lungs. In the middle of the mall. Right at that moment, you could have heard my precious daughter from outer space. I was embarrassed beyond description: imagining the disapproving glances from every one of the passersby. I couldn’t even meet their eyes, so complete was my mortification (I have since given many a parent an understanding and compassionate glance under the same circumstances, so I know that at least a few people probably commiserated with me that day).
It was time to do what I had told her we would do. It was time to go home. I turned to my 7-year-old son. “Honey, no matter what, just stick beside me and keep walking,” I quietly instructed. And I began to walk. With my daughter, now on the floor on her belly, hanging onto one of my ankles as I limp-walked – for miles, it seemed – slowly dragging her out of the mall.
The car ride home and the rest of that evening were not pleasant, as you can probably well imagine. When my daughter had finally sobbed herself to sleep, I called the Mom of the little girl who was having the birthday party the next day, to tell her that C_ would not be coming. She was so understanding that I was soon crying my heart out. “You did the right thing,” she assured me kindly.
I took my daughter to the mall a few days later to buy a birthday present for a party she did not get to attend. She gave her friend the gift, at school, the next week. It was one of the hardest things I have had to do as a parent: it broke my heart.
It was also my daughter’s last temper tantrum.
Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com