Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Toddler Discipline and Other Jokes I've Heard

If you're one of those people who's going to tell me that your toddler doesn't act out and/or responds favorably to discipline, then let me just go ahead at the outset and call you a liar.

See, I have been exclusively studying these wild animals (toddlers) for almost 5 years now, and I have come to the well-researched conclusion that they are uncontrollable acts of nature. As in, you'd be more likely to get a tornado to sit on your "Time Out Dot."

I've read the books and watched the Supernannies. I've heard about "coming down to their level" to speak to them in a non-threatening manner and I've attempted to remain cool in the face of confrontation.

Problem is, that kind of kumbaya advice only works for two kinds of parents: robots and yoga instructors. For the rest of us-- those of us whose blood feels like it's boiling as we watch our 3-year-olds writhe around on the floor while they are screaming like raccoons in heat-- OVER SOCKS, no less-- it's like asking us to put our hand into a fire and hold it there. The urge to react-- for me, at least (and my shortcomings are many, so perhaps this is just one of them)-- becomes impossible to resist. I MUST raise my voice, I MUST lift the maniacal child up by the back panel of her shirt (it's always a little rush when I hear the fabric tear just a smidge, means I'm getting my point across), I MUST drag her into a room where I can indelicately deposit her and invite her to scream to her little heart's content. It's not my fault: the crazy in her brings out the crazy in me.

Now I can already hear your harsh judgements seeping through your computer screen and spilling out into my living room... you're telling me that we have to remain in control, that we can't respond in anger, that by losing our composure they WIN! But sister, I've heard it all before, and I can assure you that you're wasting your time. I have learned the SECRET, and it has nothing to do with one minute per one year of life, Jo Frost.

NO, the secret (can you believe I'm about to share it with you? get giddy!) is THIS:


Yeah, I said it. You can do Time Outs, you can act as if the tantrum isn't happening, you can call the kid names (my personal favorite is Biggest Baby In The World, as in, "Right now you are acting like The Biggest Baby In The World"). DOESN'T MATTER. The trick is, they are going to OUTGROW the tantrums ALL BY THEMSELVES, and-- provided that you didn't do any permanent psychological damage to them during the toddler years (spanking may or may not fall under this heading, I'm not sure and haven't done it; but I can reassure you that mild pinching is just fine)-- they are still going to grow up to be fully functional, semi-productive members of society (or not, but that has more to do with their DNA than your reward charts).

How do I know this with such certainty, you ask? Well, I know it because I witnessed it with my very own bespectacled eyes.

My now-4-and-a-half-year-old daughter was once one of those rabid hyenas depicted in the photograph above. At 3 years of age she melted down always and often, to the point where I once was famously driven-- in a blind rage-- to TEAR DOWN and TEAR APART all of the lovely and beloved posters that adorned her bedroom, much to the petrified kid's abject horror. (In retrospect, perhaps this, too, would fall under the category of permanent psychological damage? Hmmm, I guess one day in therapy we'll find out.) I had tried ignoring the offensive behavior, I had tried rewarding the good behavior, I had tried Time Out corners. And nothing was working: she would still, without warning and for the world's most inane reason (i.e., being asked to get in the bathtub, etc.), ABSOLUTELY. LOSE. HER. SH*T.

And then it dawned on me in a glorious epiphany: These kids are no more capable of resisting the tantrum than I am to pretend I'm not hearing it. Toddlers are, I have come to discover, simultaneously highly sophisticated and highly unsophisticated creatures: At age 3, my daughter was as likely to paint a gorgeous sunflower on a blank piece of canvas (which I still have hanging on our wall) as she was to have an apoplectic fit over the color of the sweatshirt I'd laid out for her. And trying to reason with her while she was mid-meltdown was as futile as trying to reason with someone in the throes of an epileptic seizure; there was nothing that either of us could do other than wait it out, and grip each other gratefully when it was over.

Now, by stark contrast, that same kid is 4 months away from turning 5 and is, with a few minor exceptions, remarkably well-behaved. She is articulate, funny, and frequently praised by her teacher for being a stickler for following the rules. Now does this sound like a child who was raised in anarchy? Ah, but she was!

It is this wisdom that guides my interaction with our present 3-year-old. In a heartbeat she can morph from impossibly sweet and delicate nymph fairy into lunatic running screaming from the asylum, to the point where I'd swear she wasn't even my kid (or at least, I'd be actively wishing she wasn't my kid). And yet a few short moments (read: 15 interminable minutes) later, she is returned to us, confusedly shaking her head in disbelief as if she'd just been dropped back down to earth after an alien abduction.

Does my newfound insight mean that I don't get mad, or have stopped yelling at her when her head starts doing 360 degree rotations? Of course not! As I explained, I'm no better at controlling myself in the heat of the moment than she is, and I'm done apologizing for it. So we both screech at each other with reckless abandon, momentarily surrendering to THE TANTRUM control of our dignity and our bodily functions, somehow instinctively knowing the backs of our (adrenaline-addled) minds that This, Too, Shall Pass.

*NOW* do I get my own tv series, ABC?


  1. Oh, thank god. I read your wisdom just in the nick of time. My 15 month old (shouldn't he still be mildly lying in a bassinet somewhere?) has already perfected the head-thrown-back-screaming-rapid-fire-stomping/running-in-place -a-la-Flashdance tantrum. This happens for no apparent reason and at increasingly frequent intervals since I, clearly unprepared and ill-equipped, have yet to figure out how to nip it in the bud (which is exactly what I'm supposed to do, right? Seeing as how molding him into the perfect child is MY ONLY JOB currently). In my desperation, I had just placed "Raising Your Spirited Child" in my Amazon shopping cart when I read this reassuring (and entertaining - can we request video clips of these episodes?) entry. I now know I can cancel my book order and instead put the $15 towards a large Target wine cube. Cheers!

  2. This is hysterically funny!!!

  3. Amen, sister. I have recently come to this same realization. I am holding on for dear life until the (hopefully soon) time that my 3.5 yr old snaps out of her demanding, controlling, tantrum-ing ways and becomes the sweet sensitive angel that my 5 yr old has turned into.